Review of Edmonton Folk Music Festival

Saturday, Aug.10, 1996 Edmonton Journal
Reprinted without permission


Headline - Folk fest day 2: great weather, even better music On a night with three great male guitarists, it was the many warm and charming female performers who stole the show Friday night at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Obviously, the festival's second day line-up wasn;'t intended to be any pitched battle of the sexes - and it wasn't - but a definite theme developed as the night unfolded. Louisiana singer-songwriter Victoria Williams started the night and recalled the warm, gentle breeze that stirred the Gallagher Park hillside just as her set started. She was gracious and engaging, returning calls of "We love you" in kind and winking at several awed teenaged girls sitting cross-legged by the side of the stage.

When the talkative Williams wondered aloud whether she might be getting a touch chatty, she said: "It is a folk festival after all. I can talk if I want to." Backed by a three piece band, Williams' songs were loose and fluid - some might say messy - arrangement of banjo, guitar, fiddle and a toned-down electric bass. Her voice, which ranges from croaking drawl to a near-falsetto, sometimes in the same musical phrase, topped it off nicely. "This is just like a big family picnic," she concluded. And, for the time she was on stage, she was right.

Irish guitarist Paul Brady followed and mixed things up with some forcefully strummed acoustic guitar work and a couple of delicate pieces on the piano. His well crafted songs and dyunamic playing showed why he's extremely popular in his native land. Like Junkhouse's Tom Wilson, a fellow folk fest performer, Brady can make a great racket for a solo acoustic performer.

American quartet Four Bitchin' Babes proved equally hilarious and touching, playing songs with subjects ranging from the ridiculous nature of TV talk shows to long, lost love. Christine Lavin's song about an ill-advised fashion purchase and a perm from hell ("I look in the mirror and Art Garfunkel's looking back at me") was especially funny. But don't get the impression that these babes are some Moxy Fruvous-type novelty act. Megon McDonough supplied the night's vocal highlight with a nod to Patsy Cline that could teach 13-year-old country sensation LeAnn Rimes a thing or two. And all four - including Sally Fingerett and Debi Smith - proved they could play too.

Martin Simpson and Friends followed with some hot blues playing of their own. Dubbed a "guitar player's guitarist" in the folk fest program, Simpson and his backup trio of bassist, violinist and a hot cello pplayer - yes, cellists can be "hot" - revved up the crowd with a swampy and smokey set.

As the candles came out and the sun set over a gorgeous, cloudless horizon, Calgary's Jann Arden took the stage next to a huge roar. Arden, whose song Insensitive has sat in the Billboard Top 20 for two months, showed that she hasn't let her recent American success go to her head. "I cannot tell you how happy we are to be back in Candian airspace," said Arden , who has toured the U.S. for months. She looked it, too, good-naturedly smiling and telling jokes as always. (A crowd favorite: "What did the Buddhist say to the hot-dog vendor? Make me one with everything.") Playing with a full band, a welcome touch for those festival-goers whose back teeth were aching for the thump of some percussion, Arden gracefully played her Canadian hits - I Would Die For You, Could I Be Your Girl - and even showcased some excellent new material. The next time Arden plays oru folk fest, her performance will be accompanied by the same level of anticipation as another Alberta woman, k.d. lang, is producing this year. She will be that big.

With his incredible volume of work that spans 27 years, Bruce Cockburn was probably one of the few artists that could follow the overwhelming response Arden received. Cockburn, not surprisingly, took us on many of his travels and voiced many of his political and social concerns. He continues to be one of the finest songwriters of our time and a superb guitarist, balancing his set by showcasing both talents. For many of us, his performance was actually his second set of the day. Earlier he performed and impromptu six-song set for the fans waiting for the gates to open earlier in the after noon. Although he got his share of applause for well-known tunes, it was a newone dedicated to Ralph Klein, chastising governments for their lack of environmental policies, that got an immediate cheer of approval.

Deadlines forced us to miss Four Men and a Dog.

Email: mwesthav@ccm.howardcc.edu