Friday, August 21, 2009

Edmonton Folk Festival: Wednesday

My very first Edmonton Folk Fest was a fabulous experience. Glad I had a seasoned folk-fester take me by the hand for the duration, or I would have been ill-prepared for the bring-your-own-seating, dance barefoot in the grass celebration that the weekend is.

The festival didn't officially get underway until Thursday (august 6th), but there was a kick-off show on Wednesday with the cool premise of creating an endowment fund with the ticket sales from the extra evening. That way, next time Edmonton hits a cycle of economic crap, there would always been money put aside to make sure Folk Fests continue to happen unhindered. Absolutely wonderful approach to festival sustainability.

But how to convince FFsters to shell out even more cash for one more night?

Simple. Give them a line-up of performers that they'd be stupid to pass up.

First on the main stage was East Coast darling Meaghan Smith. I'd never heard the chanteuse, but my roommate assured me it would be love at first sight. And damnit, she was right.

Meaghan managed to earworm my brain right off the hop with the track "Five More Minutes"" a flashback to a childhood where one begged for the privilege to stay up later when the summer nights began to get unreasonably long, and children were tucked away long before sunlight left the skies. It certainly contains more adult connotations for me, as well. It leaves me in the haze of recall of weekday mornings: longing for five more minutes in bed with the person I love. It's a real testament to her versatility that such obvious lyrics can stir up such contrasting memories.

After Meaghan had the crowd pumped up on her sassy neo-50's bluesy crooning, Clevelander Tracy Chapman took the stage. Chapman's liberal-politiking music found fabulous footing in front of Edmonton's folksters (I had to do it...). She delighted crowds with tracks old and new. "Fast Cars" and "Gimme one Reason" were clearly fan favourites, while renditions of songs (which I admittedly had not heard prior) like "Material World" and "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" tended to tug on the heartstrings. I wasn't sure exactly what I had been expecting from Tracy's performance, but I did end up thoroughly enjoying it. She was emotive and sincere... one of the best live solo performances I had seen in some time (Minor spoiler alert: this was just a taste of what was to come for me over the weekend). There's something sexy about a woman in a leather jacket, alone with her guitar.

Headlining the evening was Canada's beloved Sarah McLachlan. Full disclaimer, I've been a fan of Sarah since her '93 release Fumbling Towards Ecstasy - which, much to the chagrin of my family, I played often and played loud. So you can imagine how much anticipation was bubbling inside of me; this would be the first time I'd ever seen what amounts to my musical hero live. She did not disappoint. Her stage banter was warm, friendly, and oft hilarious. She played everything from the iconic Fumbling album, to a brand new track she has yet to release (I can't for the life of me remember the name, though I do know it's an optimistic love song? What?) and everything in between. A consummate professional, she never faltered tickling those ivories, interspersing the set with jokes about breastfeeding her two kids, bringing back Lilith Fair next year (You heard it here first, people) and fond memories of the last Lilith show in Edmonton. There was the expected audience-participation for the live version of "Ice Cream", and slow dances to "World On Fire". Everything I was hoping for. A decade + of high expectations for an artist is a difficult pedestal to perform from - just ask Axel Rose... [too soon?] - but she did it with a poise I will remember for years to come. It was just as magical for me as it was for her.

So I come to close of this gushing and unabashed obsession disguised as a review to say this: my first night at Folk Fest was more than worth the extra 90 bucks. Let's get together and do this again next year.

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