Calgary Folk Festival

It's all a blur. Here's what I remember.

Major highlights:

Playing 3 concerts and 4 workshops in 48 hours. Absolutely insane. Couldn’t have done it without my hearty band of Pirates however. To a man, each one of these musicians stepped up to the plate and calmly knocked the ball out of the park. Over the weekend found we playing with musicians from Iran, India. On another with local Canadian bluesmen and Robbie Fulks and then another with members of el Grupo Fantasma, each time playing some amazing off the cuff music with not so much of as how do you do before hand. Talk about playing by the seat of your pants. Then there was the late night jamming sessions with fellow Festival participants from Scotland to Honduras and all points in between. All in all what a good friend of mine calls a “peak experience.”

Honky-tonk fiddler Sean Orr and accordion savant Don Weeda both tied for the “All Around Cowboy” awards this weekend by not only predictably kicking ass on our own sets, but by coolly dominating musically at the workshop stages playing music neither are readily associated with. 

Sean in fact showed up for all of the klezmer bands workshops and played wonderfully on the Turkish, Persian, and Armenian tunes we chose. His duet playing with Michael Doucet on “Allons a Layfeyette” at the accordion workshop was of particular note. Dr. Weeda made laid down amazing solos in the “West of the Middle” workshop. That's where we poor country Jews found ourselves onstage with 2 wonderful Persian/Arabic/Indian fusion acts. Calgary based santur player Amir Amiri was generous and wonderful, but Niyaz, a very fine is somewhat snooty group from LA (go figure, eh?) wasn’t exactly playing ball with the workshop concept. Don took it upon himself to blow their minds playing a note-style perfect solo to one of their compositions. Even the aloof Saz player looked up and took notice. Don did similar at the “Texas Hold ‘Em” stage when he ripped out a Columbian cumbia number with Grupo Fantasma.

The most attended of our appearances was the one I was most worried about hosting. Entitled the “War on Error” workshop it featured the Syncopators, Robbie Fulks, and Canadian acts Doug Cox and Jay Crocker. Robbie was a known quantity to me having shared stages with him many times in my Bad Livers incarnation. He was predictably witty and wry and a solid take-charge rocker. The 2 Canuck acts were up to that moment mysteries to me, but as it turned out they were fine fellows all. Jay Crocker brought a slimmed down version of his horn thick band, showing up with a drummer, bassist and organ player and Jay on a funky old Hofner guitar. He led the combined band through his own compositions, a ballsy move at what is basically an awkward forced jam session done in front of an expectant public. (His stuff is pretty cool actually, and those who know me know this is not light praise.) Mr. Cox, a fine slide guitarist himself, was accompanied by his musical partner Sam Hurrie who did the singing for his turn and played a mighty fine slide guitar himself.

Rather than the boring stock concept of round robin playing of our own material, I opted for the more dangerous ‘let’s all play together” shtik. It worked like gangbusters (and how) in Winnipeg. But that had more to do with the shared Texas repertoire and easy-going attitudes of the participants. Most of all, its mighty hard finding tunes that are both interesting that also everybody can play on without rehearsal. Taking the easy was out, I stuck to the traditional material choosing Jimmy Rodgers, Al Jolson and Titus Turner which everybody on the talented panel had little difficulty digging into. Robbie did very well with a Moon Mullican number, but stumbled a little bit when he tried to pull out “I Wanna be Your Boyfriend” by the Ramones. I’m assuming he guessed (incorrectly as it turned out) that my band mates were fellow post modernists putting on a country front. My bassist Ricky Rees of Layfeyette LA probably hasn’t been in the same room with someone who ever even owned a Ramones record much less know the changes to one of their tunes, and that's why I hire him in fact. It was a bold swing from Robbie, but ultimately a miss.

No fear however as the talented Mr. Hurrie led the assembled in a super funky and straight ahead reading of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” that had the entire audience on their feet by songs end. From then to festivals end, volunteers and audience members both told me it was the best moment they had at the whole festival.

Other moments of note were epic (and smoky) jam sessions with the fabulous D.Rangers of Winnipeg, the lads from Back of the Moon and dancing my ass off to El Grupo Fantasma who have become as fine a dance band as you will ever encounter.

Me and the wife stayed a few days afterwards to visit Banff and hike the trails, looking for Bears and such. It's damn pretty out that way and I fully plan on going back next chance I get. Got back to Calgary in time to see the amazing Rembetika Hipsters holding forth at their regular Wednesday night gig at the Pegasus. Sitting around a table, supping on a mezz and downing Mextaca brandy, they played the old school Greek-Oriental music like I’ve never seen live before. Bozouki, guitar, baglamas, fiddles and clarinet. Mark gives highest recommendation.

Came home to a house with a broken AC unit and triple digit temperature. Now it's absolute misery.

It all seems like a dream…