So the 2011 Regina Folk Festival came and went and my body has FINALLY adjusted back to some semblance of normality again. The Folk Festival is hands down my favourite time of the year here in Regina... and this year was definitely one of the most solid top-to-bottom lineups in recent memory. Plus, I was lucky enough to have the privelege of cohosting one of the daytime side stages, so I had a pretty cool perspective compared to previous years. I have to give some major kudos to Sandra Butel and company for putting together such an incredible lineup. It was definitely tons of fun!
So without further ado, here are some of the highlights for me this year...
The day began with an hour set during the lunch hour by e.s.l. These ladies put on a really solid set of cabaret and chamber pop tunes. Leader singer Marta Jacukieck-McKeever has a stunning voice. Plus their version of the Beastie Boys' "Girls" (sung by Cris Derksen) was a really fun way to get the ball rolling.
Grant Lawrence was once again the consummate entertainer, MCing the main stage again on Friday. I think it's safe to say that the former Smuggler is one of the coolest people in Canada. The guy is just effortlessy charismatic. And he's a heck of a nice guy to boot.
Fred Penner transported me back to my childhood with his mainstage kickoff set. You'd have to be pretty hardened not to get a kick out of his rendition of "The Cat Came Back." And the dude hasn't aged much since I was just a wee lad. Definitely an impressive set.
Shotgun Jimmie only had a teaser set, but he made the most of his 15 minutes. He's a natural storyteller and incredible songwriter. I'll definitely check out his full show next time he swings through town.
Braids' brand of dream pop sounded pretty phenomenal. The emphasis with this Quebec is definitely on experimental atmospherics. If you imagined the most mellow tunes from Stars combined with some Bjorkesque vocals, you'd have a rough idea of what this band's all about. They're definitely a band you have to take the time to absorb.
Andrew Bird put on an absolutely captivating performance. Using a loop pedal, Bird created some ethereal soundscapes with his violin and guitar. He definitely had the crowd transfixed.
Michael Bernard Fitzgerald only had a teaser set, but he certainly won over the crowd with his witty banter, soulful voice and mellow tunes. He would definitely be worth shelling out some hard earned moolah next time he hits town.
KT Tunstall absolutely blew me away. Obviously she is famous for her huge pop hits "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," "Other Side of the World" and "Suddenly I See," but she put on a consistently thrilling and energetic set. Joined only by a bass player and a drummer, Tunstall wowed the crowd with her raspy voice, showmanship and solid musicianship. I was expecting a good show, but she definitely surpassed my expectations. She was one of the highlights of my weekend and a great way to close out Friday night.
During the daytime, I got to catch some pretty cool performances and workshops. Zachary Lucky kicked things off with a solid set of Townes Van Zandt-esque tunes. This was followed by an amazing workshop hosted by Marshall Burns of Rah Rah and also featured the insanely talented (and fellow Tom Waits geek) Jeffrey Straker, Shotgun Jimmie and Grant Lawrence (who read excerpts from his book Adventures in Solitude). I can't lie... getting the chance to share the mic with Mr. Lawrence made me pretty giddy.
Shotgun Jimmie did a fantastic job of MCing the mainstage Saturday night. He's totally a natural for such a job. I think he could have a job with the CBC some day down the road.
Dan Mangan put on a phenomenal show, kicking things off in a perfect way. Getting the crowd to sing along to "Robots" in the pouring rain was quite the feat. But when a song is that good, it was pretty easy for the crowd to handle the downpour.
Jeffrey Straker put on a really entertaining show during a teaser set. His brand of cabaret pop went over really well with the crowd. He's another act I'll have to see when he's in town to do a full show. But anyone who digs Tom Waits can't be that bad, right?
Marco Calliari was quite possibly my favourite artist of the weekend. If you imagined a somewhat more subdued, yet more uplifting Gogol Bordello then you'd have a rough idea of Calliari and his band. Him and his tight band had the crowd in the palm of their hands. I think the entire crowd had perma-grin during the whole set. I know I did. Every year there is one artist I've never heard of who comes out of nowhere and captures the Festival flag. For 2011, it was definitely Marco Calliari. I really hope he hits The Exchange sometime soon. Wowza.
Hey Ocean! put on a brief teaser set (which I missed), but I got to see them put on a full show on Sunday during the day. This band has tons of fun, uptempo pop tunes and put on a great show. (And the lead singer isn't exactly too hard on the eyes.)
I'm not the biggest blues fan out there, but I was definitely taken to school by Taj Mahal. The guy is a legend and just has the indescribable IT that the greats possess. Mahal absolutely wails on the guitar and his passion and energy just resonates with people. I was completely blown away by his performance. This was a performer who I wasn't too interested in seeing at first... but he totally won me over. That's the beauty of a festival like this one.
k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang finished off the night. To be honest, I wasn't overly impressed. It goes without saying that lang has one of the finest voices out there. And her version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was transcendent. In fact, the hairs on the back of my neck were on end for that song. However, I found the rest of her set to be full of subpar, midtempo material. Perhaps it was just my fatigue kicking in, but her set definitely didn't fit my mood. I think some of my disappointment came from me expecting her to throw in a couple of her Reclines era country rave-ups. Oh well, you can't win 'em all I guess.
The daytime consisted of an amazing set of performances and workshops. The highlights for me consisted of Hawksley Workman (who was joined by Indigo Joseph and Michael Bernard Fitzgerald) jamming out during a workshop on a packed Scarth Street. As one of the MCs, I was dumbstruck after the performance, struggling to find the right words to describe what just transpired. I think I said something to the effect of "Wow... that was so cool." Not the most eloquent description, but I think it suited the mood. It was quite the jam to say the least. Sometimes all you can say is "wow." Hawksley has that effect on people. There was also another incredible workshop consisting of Library Voices, Rah Rah and Indigo Joseph. It was pretty awesome seeing some of Regina's best bands getting together and jamming together.
Fred Penner did a great job of MCing the main stage. The guy is definitely a pro. The Hard Ramblers put on a short but sweet teaser set of their fun "outlaw bluegrass." Library Voices are used to playing dark club shows, but they absolutely owned the big outdoor stage. Playing some selections from their upcoming album Summer of Lust along with earlier favourites like "Step Off the Map and Float," this Regina band once again showed that they can proudly stand side by side any band out there. They've got an endless supply of incredibly well written tunes, and tons of energy and charisma. It's pretty cool to see a local band become one of the highlights of the festival.
Coeur de pirate put on a fun show of cute, keyboard driven, happy-go-lucky pop tunes. She is so bubbly that I just had this urge to pinch her cheeks afterwards. After a teaser set by Fred Penner, Hawksley Workman closed things out with a stunning set. Joined only by a keyboard player, Workman showed why he's without a doubt one of Canada's most talented musicians. Since he didn't have a full band, Workman was free to tell bardic tales and rework some of his better known tunes like "Jealous of Your Cigarette." I would seriously pay good money just to see him tell stories and banter with the crowd. The guy just oozes talent and charisma. He's like the Prince of Canada.
From top to bottom, the 2011 edition was easily one of the best lineups of the Folk Festival in recent years. Once again, there was an incredibly positive vibe that emanated from the performers and the crowd. It's definitely money well spent for a pass. 2012 can't come soon enough! And maybe, just maybe, they'll book Tom Waits to perform. :-)