Friday, 9 August 2013

Canmore Folk Festival - Alberta, Canada Monday August 5th 2013

When presented with the option of spending the final day of my Canada trip in downtown Calgary or at the last day of a folk festival in the Rocky Mountain town of Canmore, there really wasn’t a contest. So a return trip west up Highway 1 to enjoy the music was undertaken in a location that was quite stunning.
In a similar set up to the Calgary Folk Festival albeit on a much smaller scale, the Canmore festival consisted of a main stage providing the focus for the second part of the day with smaller outer stages hosting a series of jam style workshop sessions in the first part. After scanning the schedule and being unable to attend the first two days, I immediately sought out a couple of sessions containing artists who had already played their main set earlier in the festival.

Having reviewed all but one of the Juno nominated Traditional and Folk solo albums this year, the odd one out was the ultimate winner WE HAVE MADE A SPARK by Rose Cousins. So it was good to catch Rose’s dual session with David Francey and his band. Although it was a brief experience, to hear songs from the album such as ‘One Way’ and a new song called ‘Stray Birds’ helped make the detour to Canmore worthwhile and hopefully there will be further opportunities to see her if she returns to the UK in the near future.

Thankfully the festival survived this monster
Great Lake Swimmers are an Ontario based folk rock band who have previously visited Birmingham in the UK and having not seen them before, their session with Jim Cuddy was also attended and thoroughly enjoyed. Jim was to feature later, as the highly respected member of Canadian country rock outfit Blue Rodeo had the honour of closing the festival with his own band. Just prior to the main sets getting underway a keen eye was directed towards the direction of a hat clad country folk singer from Manitoba who brought attention to himself on a crowded session stage with some engaging stories and an endearing sound.

That particular artist was Del Barber from Winnipeg who later in the evening captivated a main stage audience who were just recovering from a Rocky Mountain downpour that threatened to have an adverse effect on the remainder of the festival. The appeal of Del, who is due to tour the UK in September to support Justin Currie, is in the delightful road stories of being a travelling musician and the simplistic way he transfers them to well crafted songs.  Comparisons were immediately drawn to Otis Gibbs from Wannamaker, Indiana who regularly entertains audiences up and down the UK and both artists are the personification of the country music cliché ‘Three Chords and the Truth’. Hopefully Del will be featured in more detail in the future.

One artist who is a perennial visitor to the UK is Canadian folk blues maestro Matt Anderson who had already been pencilled in for a live blog feature in the autumn prior to seeing his well received set at the Canmore Folk Festival. The performance by this imposing vocal presence with a mean picking style was mightily impressive especially when playing songs such as ‘Coal Mining Blues’, ‘So Long Now’ and crowd participating ‘Round and Round’. A week after the passing of guitar legend J.J. Cale was remembered by so many artists at the Calgary Folk Festival, Matt was determined to pay his own respects and he duly did with a great version of ‘Magnolia’. When joined by other fellow artists on stage for a concluding version of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’, the appetite for savouring more of Matt Anderson when he comes to the UK was definitely whetted.

As previously mentioned the Jim Cuddy Band closed out the festival on what was a National Canadian holiday, although I am afraid, despite his standing, the impact was a lot less than that of Del or Matt. It would be remiss not to give credit to a fine blues artist in Tom Williams who bravely entertained the sodden crowd struggling to shelter from the deluge of driving rain amidst a temporary thunderstorm that rumbled up the valley before passing over the festival site.

However this was only a minor blip on an impromptu day that proved a fitting end to a trip to Alberta which had already taken in the Calgary Folk Festival and the Big Valley Jamboree. Despite not being on the same scale as these two events, the people of Canmore are very proud of their long established annual folk festival and it continues to prove popular to visitors and locals alike. The oxygen of these festivals ensures the tradition of roots infused music is preserved for future generations to enjoy.

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