Archive for August, 2018

SLCR #317: Regina Folk Festival (August 11, 2018)

August 22, 2018

Festivals can be tricky to write about since you get a bunch of different artists, some you might not know anything about, and often not enough time for them to leave a lasting impression. And you – this time I mean you, specifically, whoever is reading this – probably don’t want to read a list of names with me going “it was fine” over and over.

Luckily for you, God intervened. An afternoon temperature of 42C before the humidex put a hold on our plans. We’d already foregone the weekend passes in favour of just the Saturday night, but the heat was such that we held off even further, opting to show up after 9:00pm. As we got exchanged our passes for wristbands, Pierre Kwenders was just wrapping up. We took a walk around the vendor area, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the food trucks so dead. I know it was later in the evening, but still. Only the places that specialized in cool drinks had significant lines. I think it was just too hot to eat.

Since we showed up so late, we left our chairs in the car and stood down at the front. Gotta be the first time I’ve done that at the folk festival in a decade. Between sets, Zoey Roy was doing a spoken word performance – very impassioned and got a great reaction from the crowd. I’m not sure that poetry readings will ever be 100% my thing, but when done well and in front of an appreciative, supportive audience, I have a better understanding of the appeal.

Of all the artists at this year’s festival, I was most excited for Tanya Tagaq. We’d seen her with the symphony recently, but this was our first opportunity to see a full performance. Her music is a modern take on traditional Inuit throat singing and she was accompanied by, among other musicians, a Theremin player. This is not music I would listen to every day but it fits certain moods very well. Specifically, the moods of “I want to completely discombobulate my brain” or “I want to get ready for war.” In a literal sense, I mean – if I had to grab a gun and charge into battle, I’d want this playing. Her music is powerful and vulnerable and otherworldly and scared at least one nearby small child. It sounds unlike anything else I’ve heard and makes me feel different than any other music too. When I was younger, I probably would have hated this. She sang for an hour and it flew by. Amazing.

Between sets, we found a bench, and, somehow, Rheanne. We run into her every year, apparently even when it’s dark out and we’re only there for a few hours.

On our way back to the stage, we passed a very drunk lady being walked out of the park by security. Or at least that was the goal; when we saw her, she’d stopped to give out high-fives, take selfies, and sing Sweet Child O’ Mine with other festival-goers. It’s not often you get to say “there’s a very patient security guard.” Anyway, I had no idea alcohol could make you so happy. I should investigate further.

The night’s headliner was Neko Case. I’d seen her a few times before, including once at the festival, and I always came away a little underwhelmed. In what I always felt was an unfair way, you understand. She’s so incredible that I went into her shows with sky-high expectations that were never quite met. This time, though, was easily the best of her shows that I’ve seen. It would be easy to chalk that up to my expectations but I don’t think that’s quite it. She seemed to really be inspired and emotional to be at the festival, having worked earlier in the day with Girls Rock Regina, a girls’ music camp (and wearing their shirt during her performance). She also talked about how excited she was to finally see Tanya Tagaq (they always play the same festivals but on different days) and dedicated a song to Zoey Roy. It seemed like she was really feeling the festival and that came through in her performance. Even if she was eating and being eaten by bugs because of the spotlights.

Case is touring her new album, Hell-On, which I’ve listened to, but not a ton. We got lots of songs off it, of course. Fewer of the old classics but “Hold On, Hold On” is my favourite of hers and she played that one, so no complaints here. But the best moment for my money was during the song Man, a song about masculinity and gender roles and also one of the rockier songs of the night. These two ballcap bro-dudes heard the opening notes and they were SO into it. They yelled WOOOO and threw up devil horns and hugged and rocked out like nobody’s business. And then they were joined by a third guy, and they all stood in a circle, holding hands, jumping up and down and pumping their arms to the music. The song is great. Their reaction was fantastic. The two combined? Perfect.

And then we went home. Makes for an abbreviated festival recap this year – I trust everyone had fun at Walk off the Earth and Shakey Graves and Bruce Cockburn and Michael Franti. Next year is the 50th annual folk festival, so we’ll see who they bring in. Better believe my expectations are already completely unreasonable and we’ve got seven months until the initial lineup announcement.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls with Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Cadence Weapon with Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2)
• Jonathan Richman (October 6)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• Colter Wall (October 16)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)

Advertisements

SLCR #316: Arkells (August 2, 2018)

August 20, 2018

This is relatively short and mostly about food but it’s also three weeks late, so whatever. This was our third year seeing a concert at the Queen City Ex and honestly, I thought it was kind of slim pickings this year. Two country acts, Burton Cummings, the Regina Symphony doing Michael Jackson and Prince songs, and the Arkells. I feel like we chose wisely despite my eventual realization that while I’d heard other musicians (Hawksley Workman, Frank Turner) say good things about them, I didn’t actually know any Arkells songs. Though I do confess some curiosity about how well the Symphony would pair with stifling heat, a giant plush Pikachu, and a corndog.

Mika and I went early this year, arriving at the fair shortly after 11:00am so that we could spend the first part of the day with her friend Christine and her kids. The kids rode rides and displayed passionate interest in every kind of carnival game. I sweated a lot and lost to Mika at both Whack-a-Mole and squirting water in the clown’s mouth. Also, I followed up some deep fried cheese curds with the stupidest thing I’ve ever eaten, deep fried bacon-wrapped Reese’s peanut butter cups. Eventually, we watched a scintillating performance from Doodoo the Clown, who was apparently in the movie Billy Madison. I don’t remember there being a clown in Billy Madison, but that might only be because I’ve never seen it. The kids had fun. Eventually, full of delicious sugars and fats, we were all overheated and so they headed home. With hours to go before the concert, we also headed home for air conditioning and a nap.

Dear future James, for your reference, if you leave the fair and come back, your handstamp will let YOU back in for free, but there are no in/out privileges as it pertains to parking.

Back inside, we went straight to the concert grounds for our openers, Sc Mira. You may remember that we saw them open for Buck 65 a few years ago. That felt like an odd pairing at the time, and even more so now when I did the “who did they open for again?” check through the old reviews. They felt like a much better fit with the Arkells, which makes it too bad that basically nobody saw this set. There were seriously maybe 20-30 people there when they started and it filled up a bit as they played, but really not that much. You wouldn’t have known it from their performance – it has to be challenging playing in front of a small, apathetic crowd (especially in such a big space) but they still brought it. Lots of new material and a marked increase in stage presence too.

With a lengthy break between bands, we went in search of dinner. Mika went one way to get some corn on the cob, which isn’t really fair-level crazy but non-glutenous options are scarce and limited. I went the other way in search of something I’d seen earlier, but I don’t know my directions got turned around. Luckily, this led to running into and chatting with Chad and his family for a bit. I eventually did find the “grilled cheese dog” that I was after, but whatever you’re picturing in your mind as a grilled cheese dog is more exciting and appetizing than what I got. Poor choice, me.

Dear future James, for your reference, just get the corndog with a pickle in it. You like corndogs. You like pickles.

We met back at the concert grounds, and dang. The Arkells fans are late arrivers, but when they get there, they show up en masse. The place was packed. We stood near the back.

It’s not entirely true to say that I didn’t know any Arkells songs. Mika’d played one of them in the car. Two others, I recognized a little bit from… somewhere? I don’t know. Being alive and often in the presence of background music? I didn’t know enough to sing along with anything, let’s put it that way. And yet, I didn’t really care. These guys had huge energy and were a blast to watch. Singalongs, clapalongs, running through the crowd, they were never not engaging with the audience. Fantastic live performers. And I did know one song after all, since the first song of their encore was Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Which seemed like a weird fit for about 5 seconds but then totally wasn’t. Would definitely go see these guys again. Worth the admission. Worth paying for parking twice. Worth that sub-par hot dog. Maybe I should listen to any of their stuff someday.

On the way out, determined to make one last bad decision, I got white chocolate cheesecake mini-donuts. The girl cautioned me that instead of your standard bag of mini-donuts, there were three of them. For $10. I was already committed to this idea so I went along with it. And I have to say, what they lacked in quantity they more than made up for in quality. These were sensational. Hot and crispy with cheesecake goo inside and white chocolate drizzle. I don’t even like white chocolate.

SLCR #315: Gateway Festival (July 28, 2018)

August 15, 2018

This show could have waited a few days and I’d have been fine with it. As far as festivals go, it had one of the most James-specific lineups I’d ever seen, so I should have been more excited, but it had been a really long week. I got home on time on Monday evening. Worked late and got home after 9:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Only left an hour late on Friday to begin my two-week vacation (woo) but spent Friday night mowing the lawn, cleaning house, and doing all the other stuff I’d been putting off before my in-laws’ flight got in at midnight. Mika had worked late all week too. We needed groceries and I wound up buying bananas and milk at Shoppers Drug Mart at 11:30pm, which I think is a nice summary of how that week went.

All of which was great preparation for driving two hours to Bengough, watching a bunch of bands, and driving two hours back after midnight. I was actually feeling better on Saturday than I was expecting; sleeping in until 12:30 helped.

Soon enough, tickets in hand and lawnchairs in trunk, we were on the road. The drive was uneventful, which doesn’t give me anything to talk about but that’s still probably for the best. I mean, it’s fun to tell the story of how I hit a duck in the ass with the car on the way home from Bengough a few years ago, but I’d still have preferred to not hit the duck.

I had promised Mika we’d make it there in time for Library Voices’ set at 5:15 but that was before I was slow and lazy in the morning. And afternoon. And pretty much always. But I was still pretty sure that we’d make it, and they started their first song as we were walking into the grounds. Close enough. We found a place to park our lawn chairs and sat back for the show. Library Voices are one of the bigger bands to come out of Regina in the past decade, and yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a proper concert by them, just short festival sets where they never play the few songs I know. Needless to say, that didn’t change here, but this was a quick fun hit of power-pop that started our festival experience off on a good note.

Onto the parade of mostly-local people I don’t really know much about and don’t have much to say about! Country singer Ellen Froese was up next with a mix of covers and originals. I enjoyed her set and she’s local, so I imagine I’ll see her again soon. She was followed by Seth Anderson. No band – just him and a guitar. He had a good sense of humour, playing off the sounds of soundcheck happening on the other stage during his set. (He may also have dropped a few f-bombs during one of his songs and it looked like maybe someone suggested that he please stop doing so, since we hadn’t hit the drunkening hour yet – but I digress.) I liked this too. Would see again.

Next was Zachary Lucky. Country singer. Deep voice. Probably something I’d really dig but I didn’t get to see much of him. I decided that I should get something to eat before the Karpinka Brothers, which seemed like a solid enough plan but it went awry. First I went to the merch stand to take a peek. Didn’t get anything this year. Next, I made the arduous trek back to the car – like, almost three or four whole minutes each way, some sort of death march – so I could get my glasses. I have regular glasses and sunglasses and whichever pair is not currently on my head is inevitably forgotten in the car. Finally, I had to survey the food options, settling on a food truck that made a waffle hashbrown sandwich. Basically, you get bacon and cheese inside two waffles made out of hashbrowns. It needed an egg for breakfast sandwich perfection but this was still pretty great and I’m going to try making hashbrowns like that here sometime. This, however, was not the speediest process – or possibly this truck had some efficiency issues – anyway, by the time I was back at my chair, the Karpinka Brothers were nearly done.

I went to high school with one of the Karpinkas (probably both, really, but Shawn was in my grade). I’ve run into Shawn a few times since high school. He’s always been nice and I’m always happy to see him and that’s not something I’d say about 95% of my graduating class. Before this, though, I’d never actually seen them play (apart from maybe a few songs in a Regina Folk Festival teaser set, but I’m not even 100% certain about that and it’s way too late for me to be fact-checking now). I still can’t say I really saw them, but I could hear them from the food truck of eternal wait and they sounded really fun. I’ll have to make it a priority to get to one of their shows soon.

I saw Megan Nash earlier this year and was looking forward to her set. She’s one of my favourite local musicians. She had a strict 30-minute set so she wasn’t as talkative as last time (or maybe it’s that she wasn’t all hopped up on cold medication), but this was still really good.

Onto the folks you may have heard of! First up was former Weakerthans lead singer John K. Samson, a self-described “lefty talk-singer from Winnipeg.” It sounded like there were some Winnipegers near us who were very happy to learn where he was from. Then he opened with Weakerthans classic One Great City!, which says “The Guess Who sucked, the Jets were lousy anyway” and has a singalong chorus of “I hate Winnipeg.” I’d say it’s still kind of a love letter to the city but said Winnipegers seemed to disagree. Anyway, I’ve seen John K. as a solo act before and he was all about playing his own songs and very few Weakerthans songs, but we got the opposite here. There were a handful of his solo songs, including Post-Doc Blues and Vampire Alberta Blues (neither of which are particularly bluesy), but most were Weakerthans favourites. A personal highlight was hearing Samson play all three songs about Virtute the cat in a row. Looking up the lyrics of Virtute at Rest, I saw on Samson’s website that the human from those songs is the same person in the song 17th Street Treatment Centre, which makes perfect sense but still blew my mind a little. As an aside, he played that one too. And he also played Aside.

Samson’s set started at 8:15 and in retrospect, when it was done, we should have moved our chairs from the beer garden side of the park to the all-ages side. 8:00pm is the magic hour where the hipsters and families disappear and the people who’ve been drinking at their campsites all day show up. Plus then we’d be nice and close to the main stage but still comfortably on our respective butts. Though I suppose we’d have missed out on some… colourful characters.

When the Gateway Festival released the initial teaser poster for the event, all of the musicians’ names were blacked out but some were done in such a way that you could kinda make a guess at who they were. I was 99% sure one was Kathleen Edwards. This got me hyped and I may have spent several days meticulously poring over the poster like it was the Zapruder film. Mika and I saw Kathleen Edwards at the Exchange many years ago and it was a great great show. Moreover, a few years ago, she essentially retired from music to open up a coffee shop called Quitter’s in Stittsville, Ontario.

If you think I’m going to make a joke about Stittsville, think again. I’m far too mature for that. Plus I live in Regina, so, you know. Plus Kathleen Edwards made all those jokes already.

ANYWAY my point is that while Edwards has done a handful of concerts since her self-imposed retirement, I really didn’t think she’d ever come out this way again. And here she was! This was exciting enough that we actually left our chairs and went down to the main stage. Edwards was in fine form and seemed to be relaxed and really enjoying herself. There was a nice mix of songs spanning her whole career (Sidecars was a personal favourite) and one new one she wrote about turning 40. After Empty Threat, she asked if there were any Americans there since we were less than an hour from the border, which led to a story about opening for Bob Dylan in Montana. She also dedicated the song Hockey Skates to everyone affected by the Humboldt Broncos tragedy earlier this year. Kathleen Edwards is a treasure.

Then we were back to the side stages for Elliott BROOD and as ever, I’ll play along with the spelling once. I should listen to these guys more but I always seem to forget how much I like them. Their energy was especially welcome coming after a series of folkier artists. They’re coming back to Regina in the fall and I was thinking about skipping out since I’ve seen them a few times in the past few years but this was fun enough that I might just reconsider.

Somewhere in here I went to use the bathroom and found that apart from the portapotties, there were also two urinals, of sorts. Big covered tanks with funnels sticking out of them. As they say, when in Rome, pee in a funnel and then go find some hand sanitizer.

Finally, we had the last addition to the festival lineup, recent inductee to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and former Barenaked Lady, Steven Page. I’d seen one of his solo shows with Mary a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so when they added him to an already stacked festival, I was stoked. Much like with Samson, there were more Barenaked Ladies songs than Page solo songs, including Jane, Enid, The Old Apartment, Break Your Heart, It’s All Been Done, Alcohol, and I Live With It Every Day. He closed with Brian Wilson, which you had to expect. For solo stuff, he played Surprise Surprise, Manchild, Linda Ronstadt in the 70s, and A New Shore, among others.

There was also a bit where he did some happy strumming on his guitar and Page and the rest of his band took turns singing bits of different popular songs that fit the music. And while I’m sure this is a bit he does often, I suspect the snippet of Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure that Page sang was specifically because Samson was there. I mean, it’s not a happy song and it didn’t fit the music, but I know Page likes it and had previously recorded it with the Art of Time Ensemble.

Page didn’t play If I Had $1,000,000, much to the frustration of some of the folks around us who were expecting a Barenaked Ladies greatest hits show. I don’t know who wrote what in Barenaked Ladies, but I suspect Page only played stuff that he wrote (or at least co-wrote). Tough break for anyone who was expecting the chimpanzee song. But hey, he still played a lot of hits. Possibly too many for some folks’ tastes – Page was about 20 minutes over his allotted time when it looked like someone notified him it was time to wrap it up. Even then, after Brian Wilson, as we were starting to leave, just as I overheard a festival volunteer say “there hasn’t been an encore all weekend, there won’t be one now,” Page and his band came back out and played Call and Answer. The Badland Country Band was set to go on at midnight and it was nearing 12:30 and a handful of folks were growing impatient. One of the aforementioned colourful characters tried to start a “BADLAND BADLAND” chant but it was as successful as you might expect. “Sorry guys, we’ll be quick,” said Page to the Badlands when he came back out. I’m sure he meant it, but Call and Answer is a six-minute song and I cackled. I dug this whole thing, though to be fair, going over time? Not cool. But I’ll chalk it up to miscommunication somewhere along the way, mostly because we weren’t staying around for the Badland Country Band anyway. As we walked back to the car, we heard them start into a cover of You May Be Right and I’m pretty sure they messed up the words. Timing must have thrown them off.

The drive home was duckless and uneventful, which is exactly how I wanted to wrap up the day.

I should mention that the entire two-day festival was packed with musicians I like and basically consisted of one big SLCR all-star reunion show. I’m not a camping person and Bengough is a long drive from Regina – it would be pretty taxing to take in both nights if you’re going to drive home each night. So we skipped the Friday, since the organizers were kind enough to put all my nice-to-sees on Friday and my must-sees on Saturday. But seriously – Friday night had Big Sugar, Terra Lightfoot, William Prince, Belle Plaine, and Yukon Blonde (along with The Kentucky Headhunters and Chixdiggit, who I’ve never seen before). In Bengough! Population: 337! This whole festival is kind of ridiculous!