Day two of the 38th annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival was jam packed with music. I was there at 11am for one of the first workshops of the day and stayed until 8:30pm for some main stage acts. It was a good day of music (and bad day of sunburns) so let's get right to it.
I got to Jericho Beach Park just after a workshop entitled The Cure For Everything started, featuring Hawksley Workman, Jenn Grant, and the joint forces of Matthew Barber & Jill Barber.
I arrived just as The Barbers were playing a song, joined by both Jenn Grant and her bandmate (and producer, and husband) Daniel Ledwell joining in. In fact, he joined in on a few songs on pedal steel, and between this workshop and the one yesterday, he was one of the best collaborators and participants in a folk fest workshop I've seen.
As I mentioned yesterday, the jamming is my favourite part of these workshops, especially when it's a group of musicians who are familiar with each other, as was the case here. Hawksley was very inviting and urged others to join in on his songs, like "Autumn's Here" which featured many of the performers on stage joining in, and even a harmonica solo from Matt Barber. And they ended the workshop with Matthew Barber covering a Leonard Cohen song, "Ain't No Cure For Love" -- appropriately enough given the theme of the workshop -- another collaborative effort.
From there I hurried to catch the end of Lindi Ortega, but timing was against me as I saw the last half of her last song, a cover of Cash's "Ring of Fire". That's always the worst parts of these festivals, the hard choices between great acts.
From there it was back to stage 3 for Vancouver's own Jasper Sloan Yip and his spotlight concert set. He was vocally appreciative to be a part of the festival, even mentioning a of the songs in the set was inspired by after a folk fest show on the very stage he was playing.
Jasper and his six-piece backing band played mostly off his latest album, Foxtrot, with catchy, bouncy songs like "Parallel Lines" and "Show Your Teeth". The three-piece string section, which included Stephanie Chatman who also provided vocals for a few songs, created a nice, lush sound like on the down tempo "Love, and All of its Opposites".
As they drew to a close, they wrapped up with my favourite off the album, "Cut Your Teeth", a winding song that builds to a grand finish, that gives me a bit of a Wilco-vibe.
There was a little bit of time to check out the festival ground, the food truck area and the bazaar, selling local merchants wares (mostly handmade and "natural" and the like) before a spotlight set from Jenn Grant. I only caught the first half of it before another scheduling conflict pulled me away (I opted for the stage with lots more shade to hide under) but Jenn Grant's beautiful voice focused on songs from her new album Compostela, like the soft "Spades", and "No One’s Gonna Love You (Quite Like I Do)", a song I had heard a couple times in her workshops, but sounded great with the full band. I think it was one of my favourite songs from the whole weekend.
I reluctantly walked off just after a gorgeous song featuring Ledwell's pedal steel...
Because I was off to see Matthew Barber & Jill Barber. The siblings have their own very successful music careers, but they decided to join forces recently for a project they are, appropriately, calling The Family Album. Their set was just the two of them on stage, both with acoustic guitars, and their combined sound was actually somewhere in the middle of their respective sounds. A little more country than Jill's usual jazzy sound, and a little more laid back than Matt's usual rockier stuff, with Jill's amazing voice blended perfectly with her brother's.
As they played some new songs from it, the concept of The Family Album was taken literally, encompassing all family. Matt played a song about their Grandpa Joe, and Jill sang beautiful tearjerker about her moving to Vancouver and starting a new family. Aside from their originals, the project also included some covers like "Summer Wages" originally by Ian Tyson, about Vancouver; Gordon Lightfoot's "Steel Rail Blues"; and a haunting, bilingual rendition of "The Partisan" by, once again, Leonard Cohen.
The only two things that hurt the enjoyment of the set didn't have anything to do with either Barber on stage. The first was stage placement, as where I was sitting I could hear lots of bleed over from a nearby stage. And the other was that the tone wasn't quite right for the setting. I certainly enjoyed the set, but I would have been much more immersed if it was in an intimate venue -- perhaps dimly lit, with some whiskey -- as opposed to a scorching hot sunny summer mid-day. But I'm sure they'll be touring the album when it comes out and I will absolutely want to see them perform together again.
At this point in the day I tried to catch another workshop, called Heartworn Highways featuring Lindi Ortega, The Sadies, Parsonsfield, and Scarlett Jane. But at that point in the day the sun was staring to get to me, and since shade was limited at the stage they were performing at, I opted to try and watch from the umbrellas of the beer garden. Which didn't work out too well, with the noise from there and some bass from a further stage bleeding over. BUT, Lindi Ortega's powerful voice that cut through a lot of the din, so I got to hear a few of her songs, as well as a bit from Scarlett Jane.
Shortly after that I was rested and hydrated and ready for Lindsay, Ontario band The Strumbellas. It was perhaps the first time I had seen them with a crowd of sitting people, but their "pop folkgrass" quickly amassed large dancing group on either side of the stage.
The six piece band started off the set with "Home Sweet Home", and kicked up the energy even more with "Miss My Heart", which is where the first bit of technical problems came into play. From the miming of the sound guy after the song, it seemed like the six piece band was peaking at times, causing some speaker crackling. So they had to try to be slightly less awesome (which, they couldn't quite do).
From there they ran through a host of songs that had people stomping and kicking up dust, and the sitting folks shoulder shimmying and head bobbing. Highlights included the raucous "Did I Die", which even had some well-timed harmonized rapping from lead singer Simon Ward and David Ritter on keys, and "Shovels and Dirt", a phenomenal new song that built to an absolutely powerful climax. They teased a new album in the works and I can't wait to hear the song again. After a charmingly silly kid's song called "I Like Sharks", the wrapped the set up with "The Fire" which finally got some of the seated people on their feet.
I have no doubt that soon enough, The Strumbellas will be back at the Folk Fest, next time on the main stage.
And speaking of the main stage, that was the next destination for the beautiful Basia Bulat. She was visibly and vocally excited to be playing the festival, literally running on stage when she was announced by main stage host Grant Lawrence, a giant grin on her face throughout the whole set.
With her sequined top glittering in the sunlight, she started off with a few songs on the guitar, before she pulled out her signature autoharp. Songs ranged from the sombre "Paris or Amsterdam" to the simmering intensity of "Five, Four" to the bouncy "Promise Not to Think About Love".
Part way through the set, her backing band took a break and she played a couple songs alone. First "In The Night", a great showcase of both her amazing voice, and her autoharp as she went right up to the front of the stage to... shred? Do you "shred" an autoharp? The other song saw her break out the charango for a heartbreakingly beautiful song called "Can't Be You".
The band came back out and they only had a few more songs, wrapping up with the powerful "Tall Tall Shadow" and "Heart of Mine", as she once again went right up to the front and, miraculously, got some of the seated area that made up the bulk of the main stage crowd on their feet, as her stunning voice soared through the park. I wouldn't be surprised if they could hear it on the other side of the bay.
While there were a couple more acts to go on the main stage, Blind Pilot and Trampled by Turtles, I figured neither of them would be able to top that, so I ended my (long) day at the folk festival there, quite satisfied.