Monday, August 29, 2011

Ottawa Folk Festival – Saturday

“I think there may be two Ottawa Folk Festivals happening this weekend: a variation on the Bluesfest scene at the main-stage and a variation on the traditional Ottawa Folk Festival scene at other stages,” I wrote in my previous post after Friday night’s offerings.

After Saturday and Sunday’s full day schedules, I’m convinced of that. During the weekend days, I felt like I was at a folk festival (in spite of the fact that the Falls and RavenLaw stages and the jamming areas still had to contend with overbearing sound bleed from the main-stage much of the time.

When we arrived on the grounds a little after noon, the Old Sod Band was playing for contra dancers at the Falls Stage and the workshop stages were all getting into gear. As I’ve mentioned before, the daytime workshops, for me, are the heart and soul of a good folk festival. Despite the challenges of a it being a festival that wasn’t booked with workshops in mind, Arthur McGregor and his team at the Ottawa Folklore Centre did a good job of putting together the workshop programming.

The first workshop we settled into was Storytelling and Mythology featuring Anaïs Mitchell, Garland Jeffreys and Gandalf Murphy. Although I didn’t warm up to the Gandalf Murphy band, I enjoyed Anaïs’ songs from Hadestown, her folk-opera about the Orpheus myth – which was perfect for the workshop’s theme – and Garland's great story songs about the New York City hew grew up in.

Then it was back to the Falls Stage to hear a set of accomplished acoustic pop songs by Ron “Doc” Weiss. Accompanied by a bassist and percussionist, the set was highlighted by Ron’s intricate acoustic guitar playing in a style not unlike Bruce Cockburn’s.

Then it was to the workshop area to hear an excellent session called Old Traditions, New Songs with Rick Fines, Vance Gilbert and Jayme Stone. Rick played songs he’d written based in the ragtime and jazz traditions, Vance did songs based on jazz – including singing in the voices of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Tom Waits, Vance is a dead-on impressionist – and a cappella balladry, while Jayme’s banjo (and his fiddler accompanist) took us around the world and back to the classical era.

The workshop schedule included several on-stage interview sessions and I was tapped to conduct an interview with the Scottish-Australian singer-songwriter Colin Hay, who first came to prominence about three decades ago as lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter of Men At Work, one of the most successful bands of the early-1980s. I had a great time chatting with Colin about his career and hearing him play a few of his excellent recent songs. (I left the festival grounds before his two-hour evening concert later that night, but I heard from several people that it was one of the finest concerts of the festival.)

We finished up the workshop day watching a nice Bluebird North songwriters’ round-robin featuring Rick Fines and two accomplished Ottawa artists, Ana Miura and Megan Jerome.

All in all, it was a great afternoon of folk festivaling and we decided to call it a day after the workshop area shut down for the evening. I really wanted to get some rest and be back on Sunday for a full day leading up to Levon Helm’s festival-closing concert.

--Mike Regenstreif

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