Saturday was all about the jam sessions. The workshops, all given different names (i.e. Roots n’ Roll) dependent on the artists involved, was where the talent of this lineup shone through. The format: stick two to three groups together and have them share their favourite tunes in a jam. The result was an informal alternative to the rehearsed setlist. Artists and low-chair sitting members of the audience were privy to a more intimate angle (banter included). They joked. We laughed. They plucked. We cheered.
As I entered the grounds along the beach and crossed the first hill, a beautiful flamenco dancer crissed and crossed her large red scarf to the pulse of clapping hands. The odd, high-pitched “yip” snuck out, as well. People were pumped on this music. Smiles from ear to ear. Fittingly, the workshop was called La Danse de la Joie — The Dance of Joy — featuring two upbeat bands: Les Noces Gitanes and Flavia Nascimento. The French band, Les Noces Gitanes, offer a gypsy jazz element with Arab vocals. Combined with a flamenco dancer and Flavia Nascimento’s Brazilian folk beats, La Danse de la Joie birthed a cultural mish mash resulting in a dance explosion. The clouds were about to clear, the music was in full swing and the people couldn’t stop dancing.
Next up, a brief stop at the Roots n’ Roll workshop featuring Lisa Leblanc (Friday night), The Americans, and The Hay Babies. The Hay Babies, hailing from New Brunswick, are three talent string singers with a knack for harmonies. The Americans, hailing from, you guessed it, the United States of America. All three of these bands have deep roots in traditional americana, but add a little edge. Banjoes were strumming hard and the girls were singing their song to a near yodel. The crowd was stomping their feet. A hootenanny and a barn burner at Stage 2.
Conflicted, I split up my Roots n’ Roll time with The Crooked Brothers playing on Stage 3. The Winnipeg boys are gritty and soft at the same time. Their lead vocalist has a scrap to his voice while the others soften it with backing harmonies. A nice solo harmonica ballad followed by a guitar ballad by the other proved the talent of these brothers. Playing literal musical chairs with each song’s passing. One even took a rest leaned up under a tree. At points, Roots n’ Roll butted it from over the pond, drowning out the brothers with heavy banjo chords. Yet, the brothers continued singing about hard winters and drinking dirty beers in dirty bars with dirty folk. My kind of party.
Last of the workshops, but definitely not least, was the All Straight No Chaser jam. This was all straight back porch bayou blues. The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer, from BC, are gritty and raw with their amazing harmonica player and rhythm section. The Ragpicker String Band provided blues riffs that twanged the soul and kept making the crowd laugh with jokes about Trump and having the Irish Blues (being hungover). Lastly, UK born Martin Harley, an incredibly talented slide guitar player and singer. All together, this jam was the best of the day. The loose, laid-back relationship transported the crowd to a backyard BBQ (or, something with a similar social/musical element). I left wanting more blues. More grit. More incredible blues.
Shayne Koyczan and The Short Story Long were next on the main stage. I arrived midway through his set to people tearing up beside me. Soon after, Shayne began to tear up too. His ultra-inspiring slam poetry has a theme of neglected your self-doubt. Dance when people tell you to sit. Laugh when it’s silent. Stand up for yourself. That sort of thing. The way he manipulates words is truly amazing. Effortlessly, he blends vivid imagery with twisty wordplay all while making people cry. The sun was starting to fall low in the sky and it illuminating Shayne, giving him a wonderful glow. A beautiful set capped with a standing ovation.
Overall, Saturday was without a dull moment. Any day, in my books, is a good day if you’ve seen a flamenco dancer. I could have left after the first twenty minutes and have been happy. But, I pushed on to find solace in americana, canadiana, and raunchy blues music. The workshop format was a hit and does an excellent job of representing the relaxed atmosphere of the festival. Well done, once again, folk fest!