Sunday, August 12, 2018

This Folking Weather (Plus Ry Cooder and Desert Blues)

For the second time in three years, I have returned to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival as a volunteer - just in time for one of the most extreme weather swings I have ever experienced in this province.

On Friday, helping to administer the tarp lottery, my crew and I endured a sweltering 35 degrees, Edmonton's hottest day of the year. Thursday felt even hotter, but that experience prompted me to bring an umbrella for shade the following day as there was virtually none to be found in our corral by Stage 1.

Saturday, with rain positively pouring down during Regina Spektor's set, it got down to 12 degrees, and felt even colder due to the damp. Despite having two layers on under my rain jacket, sitting off the ground in a festival chair with a reversible car blanket covering my legs and am umbrella trying to keep the back of my chair dry, I was still shivering.

I got up in search of warmth just as she wrapped up, but the merch tent had neither sweatshirts nor long underwear. I have both long johns and multiple sweatshirts at home, so I ended up getting fish and chips instead, which definitely kept me from succumbing so I could watch Ry Cooder's set.

Ry Cooder provided the soundtrack to a lot of movies I adored in back in the day: The Long Riders, Southern Comfort, Streets of Fire, Crossroads. His album Get Rhythm, with the eponymous cover of the Johnny Cash classic, remains eminently listenable.

At 71, he has lost none of his mastery of guitar (with or without bottleneck slide) or mandolin. In fact, I was once told that Ry Cooder is considered a virtuoso on pretty much any stringed instrument, and I have no cause to disbelieve that.

He was backed by a three piece r&b/soul outfit called The Hamiltones, who were as brilliant as you might expect backing up a legend like Cooder, and played two of their own tracks as well. (They normally sing backup to Anthony Hamilton, who sang "Freedom" on the soundtrack to Django Unchained.

The set itself was soulful, and you can get a taste of the instrumentality in this video for Prodigal Son.

Lyrically, it's not quite gospel music, but definitely spiritually situated, treading a line between disappointment and the need to get better:
Now you fashion-loving Christians sure give me the blues
You must unload, you must unload
You'll never get to heaven in your jewel-encrusted high-heel shoes
You must, you must unload
...and the hopefulness and forgiveness of faith, represented in a setting perhaps just this side of blasphemous:
Now, I wandered into a tavern
Where a music band was playin'
Now, the steel guitar rang out so sweet
I feel that I was prayin'
And I asked a comely waitress
"Is this a new teaching?"
Yeah, she said, "There is no God but God
And Ralph Mooney is his name"
I said, "Let me empty your ashtray, Mr. Mooney
And if the drunks interfere I'll be sad
But just as long as you sit there on the bandstand
And play your guitar like Buddha, I'll be glad!"
Now the father asked the prodigal
"Did you smell the sweet perfume and hear the angel band?"
He said, "Daddy! Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud, loud music
Is the only kind of truth I'll ever understand!"
The cold and the wet was easier to bear, with Ry Cooder and the Hamiltones warming us up from the inside out.

Other intriguing bands I intend to follow up on:

A lot of rockers like to call themselves rebels, but these guys are the real deal: a band of nomadic Tuaregs recording since the late 70s, and whose members have been both propagandists for and fighters in Mali's five-decades of civil war. Their style of music has been described as desert blues, and is a fascinating amalgam of styles.

A Ukrainian trio of multi-instrumentalists and vocalists who describe their sound as 'ethnic chaos', and which I won't even try to describe. They ran the gamut from frenzied to reflective without missing a gear. You can see a full radio performance of theirs here.

This young Australian has 40 different instruments under her belt, has a lovely voice, and accompanies herself using a technique called live-looping. Her big break came from a video of her doing a track called Jungle, by herself, in her bedroom, went viral. Not for every taste, but if you like sincere electronica with a broad sound, I suggest checking her out as well.

Last night I was unsure if I would go back for Sunday night's main stage performance, but writing this up (ahead of time, as I know it will not happen afterwards, and I don't want to break my update streak) has me jazzed up again, so after a massive afternoon nap to supplement last night's 3.5 hours sleep, I will gear up with my layers and long johns and head back out to Gallagher Hill to see Shakey Graves and Nick Mulvey and The Milk Carton Kids, only one of whom I have heard of.

Even past the half-century mark, the joy of discovering new music lives!

No comments:

Post a Comment