Stories and songs from the 38th annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival

VFMF2015_Phosphorescent_01_LR_WDAY THREE

Day three’s main stage shows began with Malian ensemble Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba. With four ngoni players (that’s West African lute), bass, and two percussionists, the band whipped the crowd into a dancing frenzy with positive rhythms. “Are you happy!?” group leader Bassekou Kouyaté asked repeatedly. The crowd roared in affirmation, every time.

Chester, Nova Scotia’s Old Man Luedecke might be Canada’s best banjo player. Unfortunately for festival-goers who missed him earlier that day, he only played a brief set between Bassekou Kouyaté and danceable New York blues rockers Lucius. In Luedecke’s short allotted time, he managed to squeeze in “I Quit My Job” and several stories, including ones about the time he discovered his favourite yodeling album as a youth and his internal struggle about writing a hit for A&W now that he has a family to feed. As far as modern folk goes, Old Man Luedecke was a perfect fit for the festival.

The Jack White-endorsed Lucius followed. Unsurprisingly, their repertoire included blues rock and powerful harmonies, but the band also bordered on dance rock and at least once drifted into a spacey interlude.

The blaring pipes of Ireland’s and Scotland’s Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson filled the open air from the main stage. Meanwhile, across the park at stage five, Bustamento pushed back with up-jump New Orleans jazz; the scene was, as anyone can guess, hot and lively.

The golden sunset radiated apropos of Phosphorescent‘s dusty, farmer’s tanned folk rock. Bright organ swells, guitar solos that were never overstated, and shakers and tambourines mingled impeccably, especially on “The Quitodian Beasts”. Every “off”-note, every bit of feedback, and every string bend and whine of distorted guitar sounded intentional and necessary – all cracks in well-worn leather, especially on the slow-building “A New Anhedonia”. The Brooklyn-based group’s fluid performance crested multiple times near the end into seriously psychedelic territory. If anhedonia is what ails you, Phosphorescent may be the cure.

With an eclectic international roster, Vancouver Folk Music Festival once again brought together some of the finest talents from around the world, and they in turn brought their stories with them. Personal histories, cultural histories – every performer had a tale to tell. Perhaps Jill Barber summed up the weekend best after she and her brother covered Bobby Charles’ “I Must Be in a Good Place Now”: “I feel like we’re all in a pretty good place now. What a day! What a festival!”