All Good Things Must Come to an End – Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Nomadic Massive - photo by Alix Critchley

You know a festival is good when you wake up with a hangover an hour away from home without any sight of breakfast in the foreseeable future, and you still can’t wait to get on the first bus that will get you to day three of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival.

Feeling rough and looking rougher, I happily sunk into that peaceful folk fest mentality and was jiving along to the music wafting about the park before I knew it.

I started the day out with one of this year’s cultural twists: the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble. I was unsure of what I was getting into; the banjo and drums were familiar sights on stage, but when Ji Rong Huang and Quing Chang pulled out an erhu and a sanxian, I knew I was in for something interesting.

Before anyone had long to ponder, they launched into what could only be described as bluegrass music but with the strangest oriental twist – it was as if you were to attend a hoedown that just happened to be held by the Richmond night market, only there were less phone cases and nobody had to wear shoes. It was definitely folk music, but instead of the fiddle, there was an erhu, and that small difference made for an eerily appealing performance. As weird as it was, it was a neat experience, and I found myself reluctant to leave in order to catch the next workshop.

As good a time as I was having at Stage One, the ‘Inspired By…’ workshop was not something to be missed. I made it just in time to watch Justin Rutledge grin sheepishly into the audience and introduce the artists: himself, Del Barber, Phildel, and Cold Specks.

The four artists all had radically different sounds, all intensely impressive, and all utterly indescribable without spending days trying to capture the mood they projected as a group of young musicians on one stage. Not only was their music beyond amazing, they were also some of the friendliest artists I had seen this weekend. Rather than have artists simply play next to each other on stage, there was a sense of togetherness that other workshops lacked. It was the subtle difference of a group of people putting on a show together, regardless of whether they played at the same time or not.

photo by Alix Critchley

It was with a heavy yet substantially warmed heart that I left ‘Inspired By…’ in order to catch the end of Elephant Revival whilst trying not to get distracted by the rowdy show going on at Stage Four. Luckily I made it without much delay because the two songs I got to see were definitely worth it. Elephant Revival is the kind of band that has you wanting to do romantic knee dips with one second, and full on jig the next.

Moments later I was catching my breath and impatiently shredding blades of grass as Aidan Knight ran through an eternally long sound-check. There were monitors connected to monitors, violas connected to everything, and a keyboard that at some point I don’t think was connected to anything at all. The crowd waited patiently and soon enough, we were rewarded by a volume-perfect opening song.

This was the first time the full band had been on stage all weekend, and while Aidan Knight has never been short of amazing (not to mention he’s also a pretty swell guy) the addition of David Barry and Olivier Clements made today’s concert one of the highlights of my weekend.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the whole set (though considering I left to talk to Mo Kenney, it’s awfully hard to complain), but what I did hear resonated to the bones in that soft-toned sea-of-sound way Aidan Knight has a knack for. If you ever get the chance to see Aidan Knight – no matter the amount of band members – take it. It will stay with you for a long time.

Eventually, I got to settle down for the whole Black Prairie concert, and honestly, I couldn’t have picked a better band to see in entirety. They started out with a delightful quip of “You Are My Sunshine” sang out by the drummer who was checking the sound, but soon moved onto their more serious stuff which was interesting to hear, considering what a lighthearted group of people they are. The set was a mix of their earlier instrumental music before they had decided on including lyrics, but thankfully they did because Annalisa Tornfelt’s voice rang over the crowd with such clarity that it was hard to imagine keeping that kind of voice inside.

As their concert came to an end, I found myself drifting over to watch the end of the ‘Land Down Under’ workshop because quite frankly, I hadn’t had enough of The Cat Empire and was itching to fill my boots with as much ritzy trumpet as they cared to provide.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one that felt like that because it was absolutely packed. They played an extra long, extra awesome set, ending with a makeshift reggae version of “Hotel California” in French, complete with a drum and scratch solo. Sound weird? It was. It was also undeniably awesome, and not one person in the crowd was about to say no to any extra minute of music.

photo by Alix Critchley

Ironically, it wasn’t until the sun set and the full moon peeked out that it dawned on me that the Festival was coming to a close. After running from concert to concert all day, it never occurred to me that it would have to stop at some point.

Before the sheer panic set in, DeVotchKa took the stage and consolidated those of us trying to wrap our minds around doing something other than listening to fantastic music in the sun, all day, every day. Their bouzouki, fiddle and accordion combo had me sold in seconds and once Nick Urata began to sing, I knew the deal was sealed. While his voice isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary, it was an uncommon sound at folk fest, and combined with the brass and drums, put me in mind of a folkier Streetlight Manifesto.

They played an intense hour-long set and by the end of it, there were abandoned lawn chairs everywhere as folk festers across the field were getting silly in the groove.

They left us in high spirits with everybody standing for the quick two-song set played by the charming Tim Chaisson as they set the stage for Natalie Maines.

This year’s Folk Fest was an incredible experience. It was a wonderful three days full of dancing, singing, lazing, playing, and submitting to the fact that you were going to have a good time. Every performer – playing anything from bluegrass to rock, and hailing from England, to Australia, to right here in British Columbia – left an impression that will stay with us until next year.

The 2013 Vancouver Folk Music Festival: there’s baked goods, baking people, and tents providing shade. There were erhus, bouzoukis, sanxians, and Theremins. There were babies not yet born, to women in their eighties. There was everything under the sun and it was all under the sun, but most importantly, there was more good music than we could possibly fill our ears with, and it all amounted to one heck of an amazing weekend.

Despite the hangover, I have to admit, there’s no better cure than a good crowd and a little music, and personally, I can’t wait to see those familiar white tents poking out of Jericho Park again next year.

Need more folk? Go here for more of Alix Critchley’s shots of this year’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival.