Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ottawa Folk Festival – Thursday, Friday, Saturday

As I’ve noted before, the Ottawa Folk Festival, now its second year under Bluesfest administration, is almost like two distinct festivals happening at the same time on the same grounds and attracting two very different kinds of audiences.

Getting virtually all of the media attention and drawing the kind of big crowds I hope pay the festival’s bills (and the deficit Bluesfest assumed when it took over) is an indie-rock – or, in the case of Lindsay Buckingham, mainstream pop-rock – headliner-oriented, Bluesfesty kind of festival that mostly plays out on the main stage and the bigger side stages. Clearly, this aspect of the festival is after a much younger demographic than traditional folk festival-goers. The festival’s move into September, when university students are back in town, was designed to attract that demographic – and, clearly, it worked on Thursday and Friday nights when there seemed to be bigger and much, much younger crowds than I ever remember seeing at the Ottawa Folk Festival.

Then, there’s the traditional folk festival centred on a smaller side stage away from the big boys, and on the Saturday and Sunday daytime workshop stages, with some occasional spillover onto the bigger stages. This is the aspect of the festival meant to attract people – like me – who have been going to folk festivals for years and years and decades, who go to folk clubs and concerts during the year, who don’t care much about what may be hip or popular at a particular moment in time.

Time and work constraints meant not spending much time at the festival on Thursday night. But I did get over to see the concert by Missy Burgess, who is among my favorite Ottawa-based performers.

Missy, accompanied by Todd Snelgrove, a fine and versatile lead guitarist, was playing on that smaller side stage I referred to and, sure enough, the audience gathered there were the folk festival veterans like me. There were lots of people I knew or recognized from past festivals and concerts. Despite the overpowering sound bleed from indie-rocker Matt Mays on the main stage, Missy did a fine show highlighted by original songs like “Don’t Go to Cincinnati” and some great covers including Keith Glass’ “Let There Be Peace,” Tom Waits’ “Time” and Charlie Chaplin’s classic standard, “Smile,” on which she picked out a bit of lead guitar.

I’m sorry I missed Ben Harper’s headlining set later Thursday night on the main stage. He was great from all reports I’ve heard.

I started Friday night at the same small stage – again with an audience of fellow real folkies – listening to the Pat Moore Trio featuring Pat on guitar and most lead vocals, and her most-excellent side-folks Ann Downey on bass, harmonies and an occasional lead vocal, and Pat McLaughlin on guitar and harmonies.

Most of Pat’s concert was devoted to country music – most of it original, she’s a very good writer of the kind of real deal songs that mainstream Nashville seems to have largely forgotten about – but she did lay down her guitar at one point and sang a great jazzy interpretation of Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” which seemed bolder and angrier than Ian’s more confessional original. Ann and Pat’s playing really shined on the song. The arrangement on Pat’s own “Cold-Hearted Man” was also had jazz (and blues) inflections.

After Pat’s set, I headed over to the main stage to listen to home town heroine Kathleen Edwards and her band play to a massive crowd. I enjoyed the set, particularly the second half when she seemed opened up to the crowd between songs, and most particularly on “Soft Place to Land,” when she picked up a violin and added a very impressively-bowed solo.

After Kathleen’s set, there were three shows, all at the same time, which I would have liked to catch. Brock Zeman, an interesting local singer-songwriter was at the small stage I’d seen Pat Moore on earlier. Timber Timbre, a rock band I was curious about because one of its members is the daughter of friends, was on one of the bigger side stages, but I opted to listen to Old Man Luedecke do the best show of the night at the Ottawa Folk Festival on the biggest of the side stages. It was also the concert that was most-rooted in authentic folk music.

You should know that banjo-playing Chris Luedecke, an excellent songwriter in his 30s, is not an old man. His song lyrics are those of a witty, keen-eyed observer of his own time but his musical style is inspired great Appalachian banjo masters like Clarence Ashley, Dock Boggs and Bascom Lamar Lunsford who were old men when they were rediscovered by folk revivalists in the 1960s.

Well accompanied by Joel Hunt on mandolin and fiddle, Chris’ hour-long set included favorite songs like the crowd pleasing “I Quit My Job,” and the particularly witty “Machu Picchu,” as well as several great sounding songs from the new Old Man Luedecke CD coming out next month.

As the evening drew to a close, I listened to the first three songs from Lindsay Buckingham’s 90-minute headlining set. While the guitar playing that helped make Fleetwood Mac the biggest rock band of the mid-1970s was unmistakable, it wasn’t enough to keep me in the park after a full working day and almost four hours at the festival.

I was looking forward to the daytime programming – which I consider the heart and soul of a folk festival – to kick in today. But the weather – oy, the weather. Steady rain mixed with thunder storms on easily the worst weather day Ottawa has seen all summer kept me home missing a number of workshop and concert artists – including John Gorka, The Once and Corb Lund – that I’d been looking forward to hearing.

See you tomorrow at the Ottawa Folk Festival.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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