Fan-freakin'-tastic: Folk Fest 2009 Wrap Up

Oh Folk Fest, how I love thee.
Like I wrote last year, even when I'm freezing cold or scorching hot or tired or grumpy or dirty or hungry, even then it's always the best four days of the year.

While the Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2009 was not without the usual grumbles, it still was a super awesome five days! The music was great, the people friendly, and the weather cooperative. Who could ask for anything more?

It was really hard to come up with a top 5 this year. While all the music was really, really, really good, there were few stand out acts. I think the main problem was scheduling. The talent was there, it was just a bit, well, mellow on the main stage. The sessions were great as usual, but the main stage showcased a few too many 'singer-songwriter with guitar' musicians. The peppy, exciting acts were on during the afternoon, or last, which led to a loss of momentum. On the other hand, I did get a bit more sleep than usual.

Anyways, my top 5:

1. Oysterband - I've been a fan for years and years, and they did not disappoint. I always love chair dancing and singing my heart out on the hill. I'm also certain the bass/cello player, Chopper, is Jim Cuddy's English twin (and we all know Jim Cuddy is my #1).

2. The Pipers - Usually I stalk the Quebecois boys, but as there were none this year (boo!), I stalked a piper. Because he used to play for the Oysterband, I have also been a big fan of James O'Grady, an uillean piper, for years and years. Maybe 'fan' is an understatement. He was playing in Cara Dillon's band, so was a surprise addition to the program. For one particularly fantastic session, he was joined by the boys of Breabach. Picture a couple guitars, an upright bass, whistles and flutes, a set of uillean pipes and two highland bagpipes. Magic, sweet, funny, beautiful, magic. *sigh*

3. Great Lake Swimmers - I wasn't going to stay and listen to their concert, but didn't feel like giving up my front row spot at stage 4 post-pipers, or walking all the way across the venue to stage 1 (sorry Fred Eaglesmith, maybe next time). I was pleasantly surprised by the Great Lake Swimmers though. They will likely be my one (or two) CD purchase of the festival. (Every year I am allowed one, although usually I don't buy any, then decide I want something particular, then spend three months trying to track down the obscure CD, then buy it off the internet, whining all the while. This entire process has been named a "Mary Gauthier" by our star tarp runner).

4. Hanggai - What's a Chinese/Mongolian folk band with weird instruments and throat singing doing at Folk Fest? Creating a buzz, that's what. They were the band I heard everyone talking about this year. I managed to catch a session, and they were excellent.

5. The Idan Raichel Project - This multicultural band from Israel was one of the few acts to get the hill rocking. They were really good, hard to describe, but I quite enjoyed the show.

The Swiftys almost made the list, as did Chumbawamba. I missed them doing 'Tubthumping', a right rarity, but did see a video. That would've been awesome live, but I was busy ogling pipers on the stage next door. More pictures are on my Facebook page, or from the official gallery, which is a little light on pipers if you ask me.

If last year's festival was about meeting old friends, then this year's festival was about meeting new friends. The whole line up lottery is quite complicated for the uninitiated (see 'When Do The Gates Open'), and we've got it down to a fine science. This year we made friends with a group of people over a common dislike: the 'Walmart Guy'. I'm not going to explain the line up, but basically you have to get there mega early, then you get a coloured/numbered ticket - they call the tickets and that's the order you go in. Well, there's always this one guy with a clipboard and like 50 tickets and we've always wondered how he gets them. Our new friends told us that 'Walmart' runs some sort of pyramid scheme whereby people give him their tickets and he sorts them out in some sort of predetermined order (we assumed he gets in first). We all started joking that we should start our own scheme. I believe the guy in the orange shirt promised to draw up a contract for next year's line. I certainly will be looking for them in the corral next year, we had a good thing going.

I also met these two women in the line up, and randomly saw them every day before the tarp run, so got to chatting about this and that. One woman was from Australia, so we talked a bit about accents and Kasey Chambers. So. On Sunday, I was standing in the line for the porta-loo before the gates opened, and the Australian lady comes up to to me and says "I was hoping I'd see you today." Ok. She then goes on to tell me she's a psychic and proceeds to tell me what she felt she needed to say to me. In the line for the toilet. I'm not making this up. The thing is, she wasn't one of those hippy folk festers or anything, just a regular grey haired lady from Australia who I happened to randomly meet four days in a row in line. It was kinda weird. She said something along the lines of "You're in a chair, in your safety zone. You have to step out of the chair and leave your safety zone. If you don't leave your safety zone, you will miss opportunities. Trust your abilities. Not everything has to be done to perfection. You are better than you think." Yeah. So that's kind of spot on. My friends think it means I should go speed dating (I am not going speed dating) but I think it applies more to career/life stuff. I'm not saying I believe in random Australian psychics, I am a progressive Christian afterall, but I've heard that advice before so it was nice to hear it again. Weird, but nice. But weird. I also randomly ran into my Australian psychic and her partner in the shade tent much later that day. As we said our final good byes, she also said "Remember, don't settle for second best." I told them I would give them an update in next year's line up.

Seriously. I couldn't make this stuff up.

Folk Fest is always about being friendly as part of a community. I will talk to anyone at Folk Fest (see above). I'll chat to people in lines, during sessions at the side stages, on other tarps on the hill. It's not like I'm unfriendly in the real world, it's just that Folk Fest just inspires friendly chatting. I had to leave for a bit Saturday afternoon for a family function, and while there I just randomly started chatting to two ladies in the dessert line. I actually got a bad vibe from them, like they were weirded out because I was randomly talking to them. I hit me that I wasn't in the friendly world of Folk Fest and I immediately wanted to leave the function and go back to the hill. It's hard to explain, but there certainly is a sort of vibe or spirit or whatever that threads through the event.

And this friendly community spirit, combined with the awesome music, is why I will go back year after year after year. After all, it always is the best four days of the year. 359 days...

(All photos and video are mine, except for the last photo which was taken by one of my tarp mates from the top of the main stage hill.)


  1. Wow, looks like you had a great/interesting time. Maybe I'll managed to get out to folkfest once before we leave Edmonton.

  2. You definitely should try go next year. Everyone needs to go experience the awesomeness of Folk Fest at least once in their life. Careful though, it's addicting...

  3. It IS addicting... after watching Lisa and my wife go for the past, what, 6 ears, I dove in last year and now I'm hooked too.

    Thanks for the shout-out on the pic, Lisa. I should have my own Folk Fest pics posted in a week or so.


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