SLCR #253: Regina Folk Festival (August 5-7, 2016)

SATURDAY, 3:40 p.m.

Here we go again. Let’s see if I can talk about 15 bands in fewer words than it took me to talk about one.

I was honestly not super excited for the folk festival this year. The first band they announced was the Cat Empire, who I saw in Calgary a few years ago and enjoyed, but the rest of the lineup didn’t do a ton for me. Then Ry Cooder dropped out; to be honest, I know way less about him than I probably should, but I know the guy is a legend and I was looking forward to seeing him for that reason alone.

We considered getting rid of our tickets – we buy early when they’re cheap, which makes it easy to sell them later at cost if we need to unload them – but ultimately decided to go. Mika made the point that if you don’t support (what you see as) the weaker years, they won’t have money to bring you (what you see as) the better years. Fair enough. And sometimes acts you don’t know about can take you by surprise. Like last year. Lisa Leblanc? Never heard of her. Who cares? And then she tore it the heck up and was awesome and I’m sad that she hasn’t been back out this way since then. So there’s hope.

Each day, the gates open at 5:00, which on Friday is a bit of a pain for someone who works normal hours. I’m done at 4:02 (union reasons) but I figured Mika wouldn’t be able to leave the office until at least 5:00. After considering a dozen options, none of them ideal, I decided to drive my lawn chairs to the office on Thursday night so I could easily take them and get in the festival line on Friday. “Easily” being a relative term; the chairs are comfortable, but they’re also mighty solid. But whatever; I dragged them from the office, through the mall, then got to the park. I set up one of the chairs and had a nice sitdown, listening to podcasts and catching Pokémon until they let us in.

Walking up, I was surprised to see that there wasn’t much of a line. I got there at 4:15 and was on the corner of Scarth and Victoria. Last year, Mika made it to the line at 3:30 and was a block further back. It certainly seemed like there were fewer people in the park this year, at least on the Friday. The food lines were shorter too.

I was inside with the chairs set up by the time Mika made it downtown. I got our usual spot, though a few rows closer than normal. Taking a cue from Jeff, I took a picture of the weekend schedule and set it as my phone’s lock screen. So handy!

The Friday night host was children’s entertainer Al Simmons. I will say that lots of people enjoyed his shtick. I will also say that I do not understand those people. At one point I joked that he was my second-favourite performer of the evening and everyone else was tied for first. During one particularly interminable bit, a friend messaged me that Simmons was dipping into third place. Solid enough joke but absolute gold-star timing.

The festival was kicked off by Terra Lightfoot, who we saw open for Blue Rodeo earlier this year. I liked her well enough then and a few people I know said they preferred her to Blue Rodeo at that show. I hope those folks were at this festival because she was great here – almost like she was holding back last time. Great songs and a likeable, charismatic personality with lots of energy. As one of only a handful of artists I knew on this year’s festival, I was really looking forward to her set and she exceeded my expectations.

The first teaser was Twin Peaks, a duo from BC. I question the wisdom of choosing a band name that will be so tricky to search, but they were charming and fun so I’ll just put the link to http://twinpeaksmusic.ca/ here and now the world doesn’t need Google anymore. It feels good to know that I fixed the internet forever. They’re playing a full show at 3:00 on Sunday and I’m thinking about checking it out. I mean, let’s be honest, I never get around to the daytime stages unless Hawksley Workman is there, but I’m considering it.

Next up was IsKwé, a First Nations performer from Winnipeg who performed what I would describe as hip-hop-influenced pop. I thought this was pretty interesting; in particular, I really enjoyed the first song. She also covered a Björk song (Army of Me), though I don’t know from Björk and didn’t recognize the song. Mika knows these things. She should write these. Though I think I enjoyed this set more than she did so maybe not.

Somewhere in here, I got Indian food. I suspect I will write this sentence two more times in the coming days. Mika went for falafel, and later on, we split a box of salted caramels. Kettle corn truck, I’ll see you later.

The next teaser was by Twin Bandit, another pair of ladies from BC. I wonder if Twin Peaks are their mortal enemies? Or maybe best friends? OR BOTH? Someone write me some fan fiction about two bands you’ve never heard of.

DAMMIT I am out of time and will have to finish the Friday night wrap-up later. I skipped ahead and wrote the last part first, so uh here it is I guess:

The first night’s headliners were The Head and the Heart. I knew the name but no songs, so Mika played me some. They were pleasant, if aggressively dull – so much so that not only did I not remember a note ten minutes later, I think I was actively forgetting them as they were playing. Point being, I wasn’t really looking forward to them. I can tell you that live, they were much better than what she played for me. However, this still didn’t interest us much and we packed it in halfway through. The screaming girls down at front would surely have a different opinion of this performance. Maybe I am a stubborn old poop or maybe they just weren’t for me. Or maybe anyone would have struggled to follow the one-two punch of Ginkgoa and the Cat Empire.

=======

MONDAY, 8:25 p.m.

Okay, my plan of writing this in short, reasonable chunks over the weekend didn’t pan out.

Also not panning out: my plan of getting downtown in time on Sunday for the Twin Peaks set. Unsurprising. Oh well, I bought their CDs instead so that’s probably better for them anyway.

Feeling that I had to keep one promise, I did indeed eat Indian food all three nights. Specifically, the samosa platter with curried chickpeas and a Diet Coke. I mixed it up dessert-wise, though. Gotta expand those horizons. With mini-donuts.

Given that chronological order has already gone to hell, I suppose I could talk about Sunday now, since it’s freshest in my mind. I don’t have much to say about it, though. The mainstage acts were, in order, the Barr Brothers, Frazey Ford, Bobby Bazini, the Strumbellas, and the Mavericks. You know how sometimes I see a show and it’s good, but I don’t have much to say about it? That was all of Sunday night for me. Nothing was bad. Bazini was delightfully funky. The Strumbellas had fun banter and I enjoyed their sing-along clap-along tunes more than I was expecting to, especially the one song that I knew (it’s their one song everyone knows, even if you think you don’t) (even you). IsKwé was our host for the evening and she did a mighty fine job. We didn’t stick around for the very end – we left about halfway through the Mavericks – but this was all fine. Not the most memorable evening I’ve spent at the festival, but there was nothing wrong with it either.

As I mentioned above, that was all kind of my opinion about the Head and the Heart too. They were mightily upstaged by the bands that came before them. Ginkgoa, in particular, were the highlight of the festival for me. From France, they played an updated take on swing music, adding in some modern pop twists. The crowd loved these guys, going from “who?” to “OMG” over the course of their set – to the point that there were boos when they said it would be their last song. I bought their EP – it’s not exactly the one that’s featured at http://ginkgoa.bandcamp.com/releases. I haven’t listened to either yet to see if they’re entirely different; if they are, I’ll get the online version too.

Two years running that French speakers stole the show. I should have tried harder in grade school.

The next main stage act was the Cat Empire, who played another very energetic batch of tunes, though I thought the restricted length of their set (roughly an hour) may have hurt them a bit. They’d go on these extended jams that were fun enough, but when you only have an hour, I don’t know that you have time to do that too often. But whatever, I’m nitpicking. This was very well received and the one-two punch of Ginkgoa and the Cat Empire made Friday the best night of the three.

Before the Head and the Heart, I went in search of a Diet Coke but instead found the T+A Vinyl & Fashion tent in the marketplace, so I dug through their crates and found a 12″ of Love Junk by the Pursuit of Happiness for $7. This delights me.

Okay, so I covered Friday, then Sunday, then back to Friday. Time for Saturday. And I legitimately almost wrote “Thursday,” which would make this a recap of me writing my Tragically Hip review. Or, more likely, my procrastination techniques (usually logic puzzles).

The host for Saturday night was the artistic director of the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon. He did fine work and I will note that his job title is not “professional entertainer.”

Additional amateur entertainment was provided by the family in front of us. Specifically, the grandma, who brought a bag of dried apricots (“DON’T STEP ON THE FOOD” she said) and who loudly told one of the grandkids “Come sit by me. Mama wants to drink.” But alas, my fond memories of them were stained when they went home, leaving all their trash behind on the lawn like idiot garbage people despite the numerous bins all over the park. Fred Penner’s gonna hunt you down, grandma.

It is interesting to note that if someone was littering, letting their friends cut into very long lines, or obstinately parking their lawn chairs in the middle of the walkway and then getting upset if you tried to use said walkway for its intended purpose (hypothetically), it was a senior citizen. There were lots of older folks who were perfectly pleasant, though. Maybe festivals like this just bring out people who don’t normally go to concerts and thus don’t know how to behave? Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws, desperately attempting to delude myself into thinking that I’m still young.

Anyway. The first two main stage performers were Ayrad (Moroccan music from Quebec – and NOT my Sociology professor) and Boogat (Latin music, also from Quebec). These were both enjoyable and not at all like what I usually listen to. Again, not a ton to say about either of them; sometimes it’s just nice to kick back and enjoy something a little different.

The next act was supposed to be Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, & Sharon White, but instead wound up being Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. So it goes. Earlier that day, my dad said he’d be interested in my opinion of Skaggs, who he described as very talented but also a “hardcore conservative.” Coming from my dad, this says something. Anyway, I wondered how receptive a folk festival would be to that kind of talk, but apart from one “bluegrass matters” aside that I rolled my eyes at, politics were a non-issue. But yeah, this was really good. Kentucky Thunder (guitars, banjo, fiddle, bass) were amazing musicians.

Next up was Bettye LaVette. This is yet another one where I am not informed enough to say anything of value, but what the hell, if you were going to tune out over that, you’d have done it years ago. People loved this lady. They cheered when she said her age (70! I should be half as active then) (or now). They cheered every songwriter she mentioned working with, including Dolly Parton and Lucinda Williams. I cheered when some girl went WOOOOO and LaVette said “I’ll give you a quarter if you never do that again. That’s piercing. But you’re very beautiful.” So that was fun. And she sings real good too. I’ve got all the hot takes tonight.

Finally, we had the Sam Roberts Band. I did not figure this would happen. Two years ago, Roberts was scheduled to headline the Friday night of the festival when, in his words, “the world came to an end.” The lightning shut down the festival, and the rain made everyone flee, but it was the plow wind that ripped off sections of my friend’s roof and caused another friend to walk home over downed power lines. Maybe not a good idea. Don’t do that.

Anyway, we’ve had lots of late night storms this summer, so when I saw Roberts was on last, I didn’t think it would actually happen. Somehow, it did – we actually had beautiful weather for all three nights – so Roberts and his band and the fans all got to settle some unfinished business.

Oddly, I’d never actually seen Sam Roberts before, which seems amazing considering he’s been a big deal in Canadian music for 15 years now. Though in all fairness, I was never a superfan; never disliked the guy, but never quite understood why everyone else seemed to like him SO much. I think that maybe this was the perfect Sam Roberts show for me – a handful of new songs and deep cuts, but this was mostly a greatest-hits performance, and it turned out that I knew and liked more of said hits than I thought.

The night peaked when the encore was starting and Mika showed me her phone – she got an alert from the Weather Network saying that lightning had been seen in the area. This was perfect. Too little, too late, God. We made it all the way to the end of Don’t Walk Away Eileen, so now who’s omnipotent?

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

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