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College Towns and Destinations: Canada’s Small Indie Music Hotspots

Following up on my post on Canada’s indie music hotspots, this post looks at smaller centres in the country where large concentrations of artists are making and sharing original music. Once again, I’ve used artist information from CBC Music and data on Census Agglomerations from Statistics Canada.

Two Hours Traffic
Flickr/Threthny
Two Hours Traffic from Charlottetown, PEI.

Largest Census Agglomerations Per Capita

In addition Census Agglomerations, several towns that didn’t make this category due to size had high numbers per capita. The following list is what I call Destination Towns, popular locations for tourism or lifestyle choices.

Largest Destination Towns Per Capita

The list is comprised of (mountain-based) recreation centres, as well as college towns with a small permanent population (Wolfville and Antigonish).

Trends in Small Music Scenes
A few things that stood out:

The Atlantic and Pacific Reign Once Again: Atlantic and Pacific metros stood out in the previous rankings, and it’s no surprise that Charlottetown and Fredericton rank high here. The two Atlantic CAs rank higher in concentration than all but four CMAs (Halifax, Victoria, Vancouver, Guelph).

College Towns – Big or Small – Are Hotspots: Many cities and towns on the list boasts either a university with a strong presence – UPEI in Charlottetown, UNB and St. Thomas in Fredericton, Acadia in Wolfville, Mt. Allison in Sackville, St.FX in Antigonish.

Destination Towns Can Build a Scene: The places that are not college-oriented are invariably vacation or lifestyle destination spots. The British Columbia cities are clustered on the island or along the coast, or in the interior – opposite Alberta’s mountain towns. The Ontario cities are near mountain destinations, and/or have recognized cultural scenes (Stratford is famous for its Shakespeare Festival; Owen Sound has been named a cultural capital). Several of the cities – Salmon Arm, Canmore, Owen Sound, Yellowknife – also host relatively popular folk festivals.

Being a Regional Centre Matters: The CAs that showed up at the top of the list are all regional centres, and especially in Charlottetown and Fredericton’s case, share many functional characteristics with CMAs.

If You’re Serious About Your Career, It’s Best to Move to a CMA: New music is being created and shared all over the country, but few of the artists outside CMAs are recognizable, or seem to have large following (outside, perhaps, their immediate local community.

Charlottetown Deserves Recognition: It stands out amongst CAs, having produced nationally-followed indie acts such as Two Hours Traffic, Paper Lions, and Boxer the Horse. There are much larger metros that can’t boast even that many recognizable or popular names.

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Canada’s Indie Music Hotspots

This is the first part in a series examining Canada’s music scene, with a focus on which cities have thriving scenes and where artists launch and sustain successful careers. This stems from my interest in music, particular Canadian (indie) work, and from many discussions with friends about which cities support good music scenes.

This also intersects with work I’m doing (and will write about) that identifies what makes a city amenable to young adults. A vibrant cultural scene is a key part of this, and the local music scene is a good bellwether for it. It’s more universal than theatre, more social than reading, and more local than television/film, which tends to be highly clustered. I believe it gives a good read of a city’s cultural scene more often than not. The focus on indie music does miss out on some genres (jazz, classical, country), but captures a vast array of different types of artists, with varying amounts of experience, repertoire, and popularity.

Canada’s Indie Music Hotspots
To start, I’m examining which cities are generating activity in their music scene. I used data from CBC Music (where you get everyone from Arcade Fire to A Tribe Called Red to Carly Rae Jepsen). It’s an open site that allows any artist to create a page and upload their music, so this captures everyone from well-known acts like Joel Plaskett (with over one million song plays on the site) to the artists just starting out who have yet to develop a following. It also captures artists creating and sharing original material, not ones just playing covers of Brown-Eyed Girl at local pubs.

Joel Plaskett
Joel Plaskett of Halifax at Edmonton Folk Fest in 2009.

This post focuses on Census Metropolitan Areas, using data on CMA population and municipalities from Statistics Canada. A subsequent focus will look at which – if any – smaller cities (defined as Census Agglomerations) are generating strong music scenes.

Metros with the Most Artists
This table shows the list of metros with most artists, in raw numbers.

Metros with the Most Artists Per 1000 Residents
This table shows the list of metros with most artists, measured per each 1000 residents.

HUGE Caveat
It’s apparent that Quebec artists are not signing up for CBC’s page in huge numbers, as you can see in the spreadsheet. Aside from Montreal (whose numbers I suspect are much higher), other CMAs in the province barely register. Anecdotally, and through research such as this Martin Prosperity Institute paper, we can be confident that this is not a fair representation of Quebec’s music scene. This is best looked at as an evaluation of Anglo Canada’s indie music scenes.

P1160203
Danny Michel of Kitchener-Waterloo at Wakefield (Ottawa-Gatineau)’s Black Sheep Inn.

The Results
You can see the full data for artists and artists per 1000 residents for Canada’s 33 CMAs here. I found a few trends:

Bigger Metros Have More Artists
This was expected. Toronto, by far the biggest metro, produced the most artists (and narrowly missed the top 10/1000 residents, ranking 11th). The rest of the top 10 followed the population rankings as well with slight variance. Only Halifax (7th vs. 13th in population) and Victoria (9th vs. 15th) stood out as outliers.

Matthew Barber
Matthew Barber, originally of Hamilton, residing in (and credited to) Toronto. Here he’s playing at Edmonton’s Haven Social Club.

The second tier in population (Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton) have near identical numbers. They’re all within 200 artists of each other, and 0.11 per capita. The ranking does go Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton – in that order – in both categories, though.

In the next group down, only Quebec City (as noted) and Kitchener-Waterloo – amongst the 10 biggest metros – miss the top 10 overall. However, of those 10, only Vancouver and Winnipeg – often noted for a strong arts scene – make the top 10 per capita.

The Atlantic and Pacific Reign
Vancouver and Victoria rank high both overall and per capita, and 3 of the 4 CMAs in the Atlantic provinces finish in the top 10 per capita. Given the prominence of live music in the latter’s culture, this shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it does confirm that local artists are generating original content, not just playing cover songs in pubs.

College Towns Often Have Thriving Scenes
College towns in the United States are often known for fostering thriving music scenes, and you see evidence of this in Canada as well. Halifax, of course, is well-known for its music scene, and the 6 colleges and universities in the city play a key part in supporting it. The smallest CMAs that showed up in the top 10 per capita all have a university that’s a prominent part of their community – University of Guelph, Université de Moncton, Trent University in Peterborough, and Queen’s University in Kingston. This will be elaborated on in the post on smaller cities, but two Atlantic Canadian cities outside of CMAs but with a strong college presence post a per capita score of over 1.6, better than all but 4 of the CMAs.

Halifax and Victoria Look Like They’re Punching Above their Weight
Related to an extent – they did well in these rankings, and noticeably outperformed their metro size in my ranking of Canadian cities as well. Halifax’s music scene has also been noted for outperforming its size by MPI, amongst others.

Musical Hotspots
What this post measures is activity, not success. Many of the metros that scored high are producing large numbers, but not necessarily large numbers of successful ones (though Victoria has produced artists like Nelly Furtado, it’s light on recognizable indie acts). A future post will look at where the most successful artists are coming from. In other words, there’s no reason for an artist to think that Toronto and Montreal are not two of their best options for launching a successful career.

Yet, this does identify cities that are producing – or attracting – large numbers and/or proportions of creative people. They’ve fostered a scene where someone gets to a point that they are not just creating music – they’re recording and sharing it. It’s a sign of creative and artist activity, and a music scene that contributes to a vibrant city.

Folk and the City: Promoting Music and Community in Western Canada

P1110321
Gallagher Park, home of Edmonton Folk Fest.

Thursday is the kickoff of Edmonton Folk Festival, a four-day event that counts itself among the most popular of the city’s many summer festivals. The event routinely sell-out, happening within mere hours this year.

Beloved by many ‘folkies’, it nonetheless has its detractors as well. Some will criticize the lineup for catering too much to baby boomers at the expense of younger audiences (a charge Edmonton’s producer basically admits to); others will note how surprisingly difficult to get to the site can be – despite being relatively centrally-located. Finally, anyone who has ever attended can attest to the fact that even so much as breathing within the vicinity of their hard-fought for tarp spot will upset some of the most dedicated patrons.

Yet, the festival – like folk fests across the world – is a borderline on religious experience for many. It’s a time to relax, revel, and feel re-energized. Festivals have grown to be major events for many cities, and their merits compared to each other are hotly debated amongst music fans. In Western Canada, five major festivals happen throughout the summer – in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, and Winnipeg. I examine which ones live up to their reputation in terms of delivering big names and value for their audience.

Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers at Calgary Folk Fest in 2010.

The 2012 Festivals
Using data available from Pollstar on average ticket prices, then recent (or upcoming) ticket price information for acts not listed there, I assigned an average price for each artist, assuming it was an individual (or headlining) show. For (usually) overseas artists or special performances (like the Woody Guthrie tribute at Winnipeg) that had no data, I assigned a value of $38, which was consistent with what I could find for similar events.

Edmonton and Calgary are four-day festivals, Vancouver and Regina three, and Winnipeg five. For the price below, I’ve used the value of a full-weekend, regular price festival pass (note: in the first two charts, the value for Calgary goes up about 100% each if you bought an early-bird pass at $145).

Value of Headliners
Looking at just the headliners (main stage acts), here is the value you get:

More Than the Main Stage: Delivering Overall Value

Danny Michel
Danny Michel (and Jill Barber) at a workshop in Edmonton. Danny later joined Loudon Wainwright in singing ‘The Swimming Song’, the kind of moment you can’t get elsewhere.

Now, as any attendee knows, the headliners are just one portion. One of the best features is often the workshops during the day, where artists often collaborate, and/or you hear rarely heard material. However, you also get abridged versions of individual sets, or acts who may not qualify for the main stage. To capture this, I assigned a value of $26 (based on 70% of the rare session value of $38) to each hour of workshops at the festival.

Wondering about the asterisk? Regina offers free admission to the daytime Saturday and Sunday workshops, which attracted 10,000 patrons in 2011, compared to closer to 4000 for the paid evening events. If you count this, it raises the value to $831.74, for an astronomical value of 808%

In summary, Edmonton and Calgary are, by these standards, basically equal, with Vancouver and Winnipeg lagging behind the rest.

Value By Capacity

The Crowd
From the back of the seating area at Calgary Folk Fest.

Now, one last way of looking at things. Every venue is different, and can dramatically affect your viewing experience. This is particularly true at these five festivals, which are all general admission. From experience, I can say that there is a dramatic difference between having a good tarp (which requires lining up, or having a friend willing to do so for you) and a bad one at Edmonton. The difference between good and bad spots in Calgary is less pronounced. So, I want to look at this on a capacity basis, which is a way of looking at the likelihood that you’ll have a good seat for enjoying your experience. Capacity is a ballpark estimate based on reported capacity or attendance in the past (Edmonton was the hardest to ascertain, but has reported attendance of over 100,000 for five-day festivals in the past). The Value By Capacity number itself is by and large meaningful only as a comparison between the five festivals.

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit
About halfway up the hill at Edmonton. Still relatively not a bad seat.

Again with the asterisk on Regina. Assuming you buy a pass and attend the free workshops during the day, a weighted means formula (based on the vast discrepancy in workshop vs. main stage attendance) still gives it a value of $94.97.

With the larger capacity, it’s no surprise that Edmonton has a lower score. Your experience probably matters a lot on whether you have a good seat or not. The other three festivals deliver relatively close value for their size.

Making Sense of Folk Fests
There are a lot of externalities not captured, such as the social bonding aspect, the relative convenience of getting to and from a location, and the quality of food and beverage. And ultimately, the experience probably comes down to one’s musical preferences. If they like the acts, they’ll probably have a good time. What I’ve tried to do here is look at what entertainment value these festivals are bringing to their cities, and whose doing well at it relatively speaking.

What is without a doubt is that all five deliver value above and beyond their sticker price. By my calculation, some – like Regina – punch way above their weight. I plan to repeat this analysis in the future (and possibly for other festivals as well) to see what trends emerge.

Making Folk Fests Work for Cities
The key is to find ways to leverage these events and create additional value to the host city. Vancouver and Winnipeg’s festivals are tourist draws, but if they do not lead to return (non-folk fest) visits or additional days spent elsewhere in the city, it’s a missed opportunity. Edmonton and Calgary’s festivals now promote shows year-round, and Calgary has secured a concert hall that also hosts its offices and provides community space. I see opportunities for both to cultivate greater exposure for the local music scene in their respective cities. As locally-focused non-profits, delivering quality music at great value is important, but just a first steps. The more these festivals expand and contribute in other ways, the greater assets they’ll become.

2009: The Year in Music

I generally avoid doing year-end lists. The main reason for this is that there are few areas where I feel I pay enough attention to comment with authority. I read a lot of books, but I don’t feel I’ve ever read enough from the most recent year to give a “best of” list. I don’t watch nearly enough movies or television or play enough video games to even think of commenting there (though I quite liked the “Star Trek” movie, and enjoy watching “30 Rock” and “How I Met Your Mother”).

That said, if there’s one area I might have some insight into the contemporary scene, it’s music. I listen to a lot of music, and go to a good number of concerts. My listening is heavily slanted towards alt-rock (particularly if it’s acoustic driven, or punk-infused), so perhaps my recommendations will be helpful for some.

So, without further ado, here’s a list of albums from 2009 I recommend. Grouped in roughly descending order, starting with those I think only real fans would like, and ending with those I think everyone should give a listen to. For retrospective value, I’ve also listed the best shows I saw, and would therefore recommend you catch the artist in concert if you can), and a few recommendations from ’08 that I discovered this year.

Looking back on 2009, the year in music:

Best Concerts/Sets I Attended in 2009
6. Matthew Barber at Haven Social Club in Edmonton
5. Joel Plaskett at Edmonton Folk Fest
4. Glen Campbell at Calgary Folk Fest
3. Hey Rosetta! at the Starlite in Edmonton
2. Gaslight Anthem at the Starlite (April), and at Edmonton Events Centre (September)
1. Pete Yorn at the Showbox in Seattle
Honourable Mentions: Amy Millan at the Myer Horowitz in Edmonton, The Decemberists, Sarah Harmer at Calgary Folk Fest, Neko Case, Johnny Flynn, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at Edmonton Folk Fest.

The Gaslight Anthem
The Gaslight Anthem are a must-see in concert if you ever have the chance. I was privileged to see them twice in 2009.

Best ’08 Albums I Discovered in ’09
Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit – A Larum
Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

All three are talented folk/acoustic inspired musicians. Good albums to relax or work to.

Still To Be Determined
I generally like Two Hours Traffic and John Mayer, but haven’t yet listened to the albums they released this fall.

I also have never listened to Animal Collective or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who poll high on many year end lists, though people assure me I’d like them so I plan to check them out in the new year.

Shameless Plug for My Friends Who Happen to Also Be Talented Musicians
Sarah Cole‘s piano-driven sound will delight anyone who likes singer-songwriters, or music that’s easy and relaxing to listen to. You can download her debut album, “Waiting for Next Year”, on iTunes.

Also, you’re missing out if you haven’t listened to singer-songwriter Tim Smith‘s 2008 debut, “Between Buildings”. He’s also playing his last show in Edmonton for a while on Saturday, January 9th at the Haven Social Club.


Live Albums Worth a Listen

Pete Yorn – iTunes Live in SoHo
Jack Johnson – En Concert

Albums I Recommend Only if You’re A Fan of the Artist
Bon Iver – Blood Bank (EP)
Dashboard Confessional – Alter the Ending
Jay Z – The Blueprint 3
All Time Low – Nothing Personal
Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson – Breakup
Third Eye Blind – Ursa Major

Just Missed the Cut
Ben Harper and Relentless7 – White Lies for Dark Times
Amy Millan – Masters of the Burial

Both are good albums, but not quite at the same level as those listed below. Harper’s new group sounds just like his old one, which is a good thing. Millan’s album is good from top to bottom, but not quite on par with her solo debut, “Honey from the Tombs”

Honourable Mentions
Justin Townes Earle – Midnight at the Movies
The XX – XX

These albums likely would have made the proper list, but I don’t feel like I listened to them enough to give them a proper ranking. I discovered Earle in the summer, and listened to his album a few times. It inexplicably fell out of my rotation until a few weeks ago. Earle’s country-inspired music is a delight to listen to. It reminds me of early Ryan Adams, which is one of the biggest compliments I can offer.

The XX is a band I first listened to about a week ago. Through a few listens, their mellow electro-pop style not only holds up, but continues to grow on me.

The Enigma
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimist

If I were doing a “Best Songs of 2009” list, “Two Weeks” would rank near the top. As for the rest of the album, I don’t know what to make of it. On some listens, I really like it, on some listens I find it uninspiring. But it deserves a listen so you can make up your mind.

The Top 10 Albums: 10-4
Elvis Perkins in Dearland – Elvis Perkins in Dearland
One of my favourite discoveries of the year. Perkins is hard to describe, but plays soulful, well-written music. This album is always a good listen.

Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream
A good album, but not outstanding. I found it solid top to bottom, but lacking any standout tracks. Definitely worth a listen though.

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
An album that grows on me with every listen. I hadn’t listened to Case before I saw her at Folk Fest in August, but she’s quickly becoming one of my favourite songwriters.

The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
This album grew on me after my initial ambivalence. Seeing their performance at Calgary Folk Fest, where they played most of the album (and in sequence) made me appreciate it as a concept album, and an entire work. It works really well when listened to as such, not as well when listened to in small pieces.

Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
I like this album a lot; a mix of uptempo and downtempo songs; not quite as good as “Sky Blue Sky” but at least on par with the good but vastly overrated “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”

Metric – Fantasies
Just a fun, quality album from top to bottom. Emily Haines is one of the most talented contemporary vocalists, and their keyboard-driven sound works on every track of this disc.

Pete Yorn – Back and Fourth
His best album since “Musicforthemorningafter”, having more depth and consistency throughout than his two previous follow-ups. His well-written lyrics and consistent sound produced the album I had the toughest time leaving out of the top tier.

The Top Three
3. Joel Plaskett – Three
For most of the year, I had this as my top album, but it drops to number three (total coincidence given the title) for a couple of reasons. First, there are way too many tracks (27). Because of this, I find that while there are probably 10-12 tracks that would compete with those on the top 2 albums of the year, there’s too much stuff that I find a cut below (like all of disc two except for “New Scotland Blues”. Second, I find that each plays like a distinct work, so the unifying feel to the album is lacking. Nonetheless, it’s still an outstanding, if not great, album – one of four Plaskett released this decade.

Joel Plaskett
Joel Plaskett’s “Three” is one of the best albums of 2009

2. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
More piano than banjo driven, the Avett Brothers depart from their early sound and it pays off in spades. The thoughtful lyrics and tight melodies produce an album that, from beginning to end, is top notch. It’s a must listen for everybody.

1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
My favourite album of the year. There is not a bad song on this album – the guitar/keyboard driven sound produces an album that sounds somewhat different from track to track, but still feels unified as an album. I could try offer more thoughtful analysis, but in a nutshell, it comes down to this: I never get tired of listening to this album. It makes me happy every time. And that’s good enough for an album.

Now on to 2010, where I’m already looking forward to new albums from Vampire Weekend, Spoon, and Matthew Barber in the next two months. Hope it’s just as good as this past year.

Music Monday: 25 Songs About a Girl(‘s Name)

I’m trying something different with Music Monday today. I didn’t attend any concerts this week, foolishly skipping Jason Mraz Saturday evening and turning down Elliott Brood tickets Saturday night on account of an early (and long) day Sunday, so I have no reviews to pass on. Instead, I’m going to pass on some song recommendations.

It would be too easy to just pick an assortment of songs, so I picked a theme. While listening to Elvis Costello this week, I began to think about the best songs whose title is a girl’s name (inspired by his two amazing songs “Veronica” and “Allison” More on them later). I wondered if I could construct a full list. To limit it further, we’re only taking songs titled that consist solely of a name, so no “Anna Begins” by Counting Crows, much to my chagrin. Here’s what I came up with instead.

Here are 24 of my favourites, with an additional song thrown in because it inspired the title of this post. I’ve even assembled these songs as a playlist on Blip.fm for your listening pleasure.

Happy Monday! Here are the songs. with blurbs and bonus links for a few of my favourites.

The Academy Is… – About A Girl
This great pop-punk song inspired the title of the post, so it gets a bonus inclusion. Worth a listen in any case.
Arkells – Abigail
Ben Folds Five – Kate
Two Hours Traffic – Jezebel
Jack Johnson – Taylor

Love the guitar work throughout this, especially at the beginning.
The Allman Brothers – Melissa
Elvis Costello – Veronica
Franz Ferdinand – Jacqueline

A great song with a great guitar riff; probably my favourite off of their eponymously titled debut album.
Fleetwood Mac – Rhiannon
When I was running in a student council election back in my university days, I was out campaigning and I introduced myself to a girl who told me her name was Rhiannon. I responded “have you heard the Fleetwood Mac song “Rhiannon”, to which she replied, tersely, “everyone says that to me”. Suffice to say, I’m pretty sure she didn’t vote for me. True story. If you’re reading this, sorry about that, Rhiannon.
The Kinks – Lola
Death Cab for Cutie – Cath…

Having listened to it a few times recently, I can say that ‘Narrow Stairs’ is a totally underrated album.
Ray Lamontagne – Jolene
Just a beautiful, haunting song. I also recommend Hannah, but I couldn’t find a good version of on blip.fm. Instead, YouTube comes to the rescue. Check out this great version.
Simon & Garfunkel – Mrs. Robinson
Going old school! Great lyrics, great tune, from a great movie (The Graduate). I especially love the part about Joe DiMaggio.
The Lemonheads – Mrs. Robinson
Great cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic.
The Allman Brothers – Jessica
The lone instrumental. Such great work from the Allman Brothers here. If this song doesn’t pick up your day, nothing will.
Fenix TX – Phoebe Cates
Metro Station – Kelsey
A surprise inclusion? This song sounds to me like a synth-pop Third Eye Blind tune. A marriage that works quite well in my books. Don’t judge until you’ve listened.
Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
I was at a shopping mall on a random Saturday this summer. I walked into a store and “Billie Jean” was on. I stopped, and thought to myself, “this is a really good song”. I had forgotten, not having listened to much MJ for so many years. Five days later, the King of Pop was dead and we all rediscovered his music.
Bonus “Billie Jean” covers: Mos Def and Steven Page/Danny Michel.
Blink 182 – Josie
I became a Blink fan listening to ‘Dude Ranch’ in Grade 10. This is one of my favourite tracks, an homage to an excellent girlfriend. How can you not love a girl who stays up late watching “Vacation”.
The Police – Roxanne
Goo Goo Dolls – Iris
Rod Stewart – Maggie May
Barenaked Ladies – Jane

Ben Folds – Gracie
Elvis Costello – Alison
Saving the best for last. Probably my favourite tune on this list. Everything about it is top-notch. The tight, melodic sound. Elvis’ voice. The words, a combination of resignation and a final plea. So, so, so good. My favourite Elvis tune of all time.

As a bonus, here he is playing it on his first ever television appearance. Enjoy!

Music Monday: The Gaslight Anthem in Concert

I had never heard of The Gaslight Anthem until Christmas morning last year. My brother bought me their CDs for Christmas, telling me “they’re a mix of punk and Bruce Springsteen, so I figured you’d like them”. Sometimes, I am a very easy person to figure out.

The Gaslight Anthem have released two albums – their debut album ‘Sink or Swim’ is edgier, with more of a punk feel. Their follow up, ‘The ’59 Sound’, moves into a more melodic sound, incorporating a greater diversity of sounds. Both are awesome. (Their EP ‘Senor and the Queen’ is pretty good too).

I saw them perform at the Starlite Room in Edmonton earlier this year, and this Saturday caught them at the Edmonton Event Centre on their second time through this year.

Anticipating an early set (doors were at 6, show at 7), we showed up shortly after 8. The second of three opening acts, The Loved Ones, were on stage.

The Loved Ones

The Loved Ones, a punk band from Philadelphia, aren’t high on originality – they sound similar to any number of punk acts that might have been on a Tony Hawk video game soundtrack ten years ago – but are definitely worth checking out if you like that sound. I enjoyed them a lot; it took me back to my teen years when I listened to more punk music and would go to Warped Tour. They put on a fun set, playing with a lot of energy and interacting well with the crowd. At one point, the lead singer took away someone’s phone in the front row, telling him/her “you’re in rock and roll class right now!” Though they don’t look like a punk band, the Loved Ones acquitted themselves well, both as musicians and performers, and I think they won over a lot of fans besides myself.

Murder By Death

The final opening act was Murder By Death, a rock band from Indiana. With a name like theirs, I was expecting a hardcore/thrash act, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out they were nothing like that. Unlike The Loved Ones, their sound is hard to classify. A 4-piece band with a guitarist/singer, bass player, drummer, and keyboard player/cellist, Murder By Death is part Johnny Cash, part punk, part rockabilly, part Doors. Or something like that, they’re tough to categorize. They acquitted themselves well, playing a songs in a number of different styles and putting on an entertaining set. I’m keen to check out their albums in the next few days.

The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem came out and broke right into “High & Lonesome”. They played most of the songs off of ‘The ’59 Sound’, a number off of ‘Sink or Swim’ and a couple off of ‘Senor and the Queen’, including a great version of “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” during the encore. Other highlights included a version of “I’da Called You Woody, Joe”, which was preceded by part of “The Wanderer” by Dion (they used to play “Stand By Me” as the intro).

Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem

Gaslight are a great live show. The thing that stands out is just how much they seem to be enjoying themselves, Brian Fallon especially. This interview gives you a good feel for Fallon’s appreciation for music. You can hear it in the lyrics, which reference (and in some cases directly quote) artists such as Counting Crows and Bruce Springsteen.

After the show, Andy and I were talking about this – it’s refreshing to see someone who seems to enjoy being a rock star. It’s become trendy (probably starting with Kurt Cobain) to either pretend you resent or are indifferent to being a rock star, or in the case someone like Adam Duritz, to actually resent the accompaniments of fame and success. Seeing Brian Fallon’s enthusiasm is refreshing and totally invigorating. He has fun, and has a great time interacting with the crowd. Makes for an even better live show.

Brian Fallon

Also, besides being a great live show, their music kicks ass. It makes me want to quit my job and start a band.

Check them out; they’re my second Music Monday pick.

Here’s a video clip of them playing “Great Expectations” at the Edmonton show.

Music Monday: Matthew Barber in Concert

You might not have heard of Matthew Barber, a singer-songwriter from Toronto. You might have heard of his more famous sister Jill; if you haven’t given her brother a listen, you are missing out.

I first heard Matthew Barber about 2 1/2 years ago. I saw him open for Chris Isaak at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton. Appearing solo on stage, just him and an acoustic guitar, he played a killer short set. I saw him at the Myer Horowitz Theatre last spring (while on tour with Jill) and he played another amazing show. He came to Edmonton on Friday, and I couldn’t miss another opportunity to see him.

Matthew Barber

Barber played the Haven Social Club on Stony Plain Road, an intimate venue with great acoustics. Playing solo, just him on electric guitar or keyboard, Barber delivered another great set.

He went through a number of songs from his most recent album, ‘Ghost Notes’, and mixed in a few of his older songs as well as covers of Hank Williams and Jill Barber. He’s also in the process of recording a new album, and played 2-3 songs off of the upcoming work, including one about hitting the open road that Andy and I agree will sound amazing with a full band.

Matthew Barber

Barber, a talented lyricist and musician, should be playing bigger venues than Haven, which must seat only 100-200 people. In time, he probably will. If you like the singer-songwriter style, give Matthew Barber a listen, especially his album ‘Ghost Notes’, and you won’t be disappointed. He’s the first of two music monday recommendations today.

I’ll be adding a few more photos from the show here.

Music Monday: Fall Shows in Edmonton

On Twitter, there is a common thread every Monday. Using the #musicmonday hashtag, people recommend songs or bands they’re listening to right now. I’m going to start a similar recurring feature on this site.

I go to a fair number of concerts, and I listen to a lot of music. I like sharing new music and hearing recommendations from other people. Music Monday posts will focus on new bands I’m into, shows I go to, or other recommendations along those lines.

To kick it off, here is an overview of some of the shows I’m looking to catch in Edmonton over the next two months, or in some cases, would if I was available (note: I still need to buy tix for most of these shows, so I may miss out on some if they sell out). I encourage you to check out these artists, and if you have the opportunity, to see them in person.

September 25: Matthew Barber (Haven Social Club)
Barber, the sibling of better-known artist Jill Barber, is a talented Canadian singer-songwriter who is currently recording his fourth album. I discovered Barber two years ago when I saw him open for Chris Isaak, and saw him perform last spring while on tour with Jill. He’s a talented live performer, and will no doubt put on a heck of a show in a small venue.

September 25: Two Hours Traffic (Pawn Shop)
I loved their album ‘Little Jabs’, and hear they are a great live show. Unfortunately, I already bought tickets for another show that night so I’ll have to catch them on their next visit.

September 26: The Gaslight Anthem (Edmonton Events Centre)
I love this band. After buying me their albums for Christmas last year, my brother described them to me as a mix between Bruce Springsteen and a punk band, which is pretty accurate. Brian Fallon is a talented songwriter, and the band as a whole plays with a lot of energy and emotion. Their show at the Starlite Room in April was fantastic, and I’m excited to see them again.

October 2: Library Voices (Flow Lounge & Grill)
I saw this band at The Hydeaway All-Ages Space earlier this year, and they were a revealation. A 10-piece band that plays with energy and writes well-constructed songs. I won’t be able to make this show, but I recommend you give them a listen and check out their show if you can.

October 3: Elliott Brood (Starlite Lounge)/Jason Mraz (Jubilee Auditorium)
I like both of these artists, but haven’t decided if I’ll go to the shows. I like each successive Mraz album less than the previous one – ‘Waiting for My Rocket to Come’ is great, ‘Mr. A-Z’ is pretty good, and ‘We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things’ is decent, but not spectacular. But, I have heard he’s a good live show.

I liked Elliott Brood’s 2008 album ‘Mountain Meadows’, and have heard they’re a really good live show. I could be persuaded to go to either one.

October 13: Jay-Z (Rexall Place)
H-O-V-A! I’ve been a Jay-Z fan since I first heard his stuff in the late ’90s. I’m looking forward to seeing how he does as a live performer. I also hope he plays more of his older stuff. Or he could just play The Black Album from start to finish and I’d be very happy.

October 14: Chris Isaak (Jubilee Auditorium)
I won’t be attending this show, but having seen him two years ago in the same venue, I can attest to the fact that he’s a great live performer. If you even remotely like his music, he’s a must-see show. He even wears a suit made out of mirrors.

October 16: Sarah Cole (Haven Social Club)
I plugged Sarah in my Friday post. Her and her band are talented musicians, and have always put on a good show when I’ve seen them live. This is Sarah’s CD release party too.

October 21: Amy Millan (Myer Horowitz Theatre)
I’m a big fan of Stars (Amy’s band), and liked Amy’s first solo album too. I haven’t listened to the entire new album yet, but I dig her cover of Death Cab’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. My co-worker Marilyn, who generally has good taste in music, also recommends the opening act, Bahamas.

October 31: Metric (The Jubilee Auditorium)
Keyboad/Synth-rock at its best. I love this band, especially their latest album, ‘Fantasies’. I’ve never seen them live, but I’m looking forward to hearing them in a fairly intimate setting. I picked up tickets about 10 rows back – one of the first couple of rows on the right terrace. Should be awesome.

November 2: Marianas Trench (Edmonton Events Centre)
I love pop-punk music. It’s true. It’s fun to listen to, and I find it makes for a good live show as well. Marianas Trench is an energetic band, and will no doubt put on a good show.

November 18: Justin Rutledge (McDougall United Church)
With three albums under his belt, Justin is starting to develop a following. I caught him at a session at Calgary Folk Fest, and he put on a good show. The acoustics at McDougall are really good, and this should be a great venue for him.

There are a number of other shows I might end up going to see. The above are my ‘would really like to see’ list. On my ‘maybe’ list are the following shows:
September 22 – Cuff the Duke (Pawn Shop)
September 27 – Final Fantasy (McDougall)
October 30 – Dan Mangan (Haven Social Club)
October 30 – Young Galaxy (Flow Lounge & Grill)

If you’re going to any of the above shows, let me know and we can connect. You could also buy me a ticket, so I don’t go broke attending concerts.

Pete Yorn in Seattle

For most of the past couple of weeks, I’ve been on vacation, hence the lack of blogging. For 8 of those days, I visited Seattle and Portland. That trip, and observations/thoughts stemming from it, will be the subject of a few upcoming blog posts.

Officially, I had three objectives when planning a summer vacation. First, it had to be relatively cheap. Second, it had to be somewhere I’d never visited before. Third, it had to involve watching major league baseball in person.

Seattle met all three criteria. The Portland side-trip came later once I realized it cost about $60 round-trip to travel on Amtrak between the two cities. Also, once I’d investigated Seattle, and narrowed down a date range, a fourth objective was added to the list: I had to get tickets to one of Pete Yorn’s concerts at The Showbox in Seattle. I ended up attending his show this past Wednesday.

Pete Yorn performs "Black" at the Showbox in Seattle. August 19, 2009.For those of you who have never listened to Yorn, do yourself a favour and get your hands on his albums as soon as possible. I will even lend you my copies if you’re too broke or too cheap to spend $15-20/disc, or too lazy to torrent them. Yorn is one of my absolute favourite artists, and I had never seen him perform live before.

I discovered his music early in 2002, not long after his debut album ‘Musicforthemorningafter’ was released. I heard his first single, “Life on a Chain”, on a compilation/mix CD whose origins I have since forgotten. Hearing that inspired me to track down the full album. Upon acquiring it, it quickly became a favourite.

His follow-up album, ‘Day I Forgot’, is solid, with a few stellar tracks – “Crystal Village”, “Long Way Down”, and “All at Once”. He followed a couple of years later in 2006 with ‘Nightcrawler’. I was initially unimpressed, and didn’t listen to it much for the first couple of years after it was released. In general, I listened to Yorn less during this period than I had for the previous few years.

This spring, I got word that he was releasing a follow-up album, titled ‘Back & Fourth’, and listened to the first single, ‘Don’t Wanna Cry’, which was available online. I enjoyed it, and between it and conversing with fellow Yorn fan Andy Grabia, I started to listen to his music again more and more. I even gave ‘Nightcrawler’ another chance, and it grew on me. In particular, “Alive” and “Ice Age” are strong tracks.

Pete Yorn in Seattle. August 19, 2009.

Pete Yorn in Seattle. August 19, 2009.

‘Back & Fourth’ was released in June, and really impressed me. Many of the songs have a rich sound, and it comes closest to recapturing the earnestness and energy that make ‘Musicforthemorningafter’ such a strong record.

Now, having missed him open for Crowded House in Edmonton a couple of years back, there was no way I was going to miss him if I had a chance while in Seattle.

The Show
The concert was held at the Showbox at the Market, a small Seattle club. Amazingly, Wednesday night’s all-ages show I attended wasn’t full, and there were signs that Thursday’s 21+ show was doing worse. Given that the Showbox is a small venue, and ticket prices were reasonable (I paid $22 plus service charges), there is no reason Pete shouldn’t have filled the place at least one of the nights. The crowd at the all-ages show was pretty mixed, especially age-wise. I was initially worried that the grown-ups would go to the Thursday show, and Wednesday night would be a crowd consisting of me and a bunch of 16 year old emo kids. That was far from the case; the bulk of the crowd looked to be in their mid-late 20s; there were even a couple of grey-haired guys standing near the stage. I ended up about 10 feet away, dead centre from the stage. Best spot I’ve had for a show in a long time, maybe ever.

Opening Acts
JD King was the first opener. Along with his band, The Coachmen, he played a traditional rock style, with a heavy country influence. I’m fairly ambivalent about his music. I would describe it as “okay”. It doesn’t really inspire feelings, positive or negative, in me.

Next up was singer/songwriter Zee Avi. Avi, from Malaysia, plays guitar and ukelele, accompanied by a bass player, drummer, and keyboard player. Avi plays an upbeat, pop-folk style, not unlike artists such as Feist or Sarah Harmer. Her music is very catchy; I wouldn’t be shocked to see her pop up in an iPod commercial or Starbucks promotion sometime soon. If you like the aforementioned two artists, make sure you check out her music. She played for about 30 minutes, going through songs off her new album such as “Honeybee” (which she noted is her favourite song), and “Bitter Heart”, the first single from the album, before ending her set with a great ukelele-driven cover of “I Fought the Law”.

Pete Yorn Set

Pete Yorn performs in Seattle.

Pete Yorn performs in Seattle.

Pete came out accompanied by a five-piece band (guitarist, bass player, drummer, keyboards, mandolin/assorted). Pete himself played guitar, along with harmonica on a few songs.

Pete Yorn plays harmonica at his show on August 19, 2009 in Seattle.

Pete Yorn plays harmonica at his show on August 19, 2009 in Seattle.

He opened with “Black” off of ‘Musicforthemorningafter’, my pick for his best song. Following that, he went right into “Shotgun”, off of his latest album. Pete then switched to an acoustic guitar, and introduced “Life on a Chain”. He was very good at interacting with the crowd, providing a context and backstory to many of the songs. Following this number, he played “Paradise Cove”, “Murray”, and “Burrito”, the last one with just himself on acoustic guitar accompanied by piano. The rest of the set was as follows: “The Man”, “Crystal Village”, “For Us”, “Social Development Dance”, “Closet”, “Bizarre Love Triangle” (New Order cover), “Don’t Wanna Cry”, and “Strange Condition”. A short break ensued, then Pete and his band came out for a three-song encore: “Last Summer”, “On Your Side”, and “For Nancy (‘Cos it Already Is)”, a song which, in his own words, has saved his life many times.

If you’ve read this far into the post, you won’t be surprised to read me say that I enjoyed it immensely. This was definitely one of my favourite concerts I’ve been to.

Some things I enjoyed:
– The aforementioned crowd interaction. I always like to learn more about the background of songs
– The ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ cover. I like hearing things at a concert that I can’t on an album.
– The exhaustive merchandise stand. Lots to choose from in terms of T-shirt designs, and he had all his albums available on CD, and at least ‘Back and Fourth’ on vinyl. I picked up a t-shirt which you’ll probably see me wearing around sometime soon.
– He played songs from all of his albums. Some artists tend to predominantly play their most recent stuff, which I feel is an attempt to get you to buy their latest CD. The best strategy, in my opinion, is to play your best stuff. If people enjoy your set, they’ll buy your music and merch.
– Further to that point, here is the count of songs from each album he played: ‘Musicforthemorningafter’ – 7; ‘Day I Forgot’ – 2; ‘Nightcrawler’ – 2; ‘Back & Fourth’ – 5, plus the New Order cover.

Pete Yorn in Seattle

Pete Yorn in Seattle

This show lived up to my expectations, and then some. I’m looking forward to the next time I can catch Pete Yorn in concert. It was worth the trip.

Roots Music Infused With a Punk Ethos: Edmonton Folk Festival 2009

Following my trip down to Calgary for their Folk Festival two weeks ago, I made a much shorter trip this past weekend to attend the Edmonton Folk Festival on Friday and Saturday. I didn’t attend Thursday or Sunday on account of other commitments, but I managed to catch a number of talented acts – some I was familiar with and was looking forward to, and others who I had never heard of before, and blew me away.

I’ve uploaded photos from the festival to my Flickr page. Here’s a recap of my experience at the festival.

Friday Night
I arrived on Friday in time to catch the last 30 minutes of the workshop featuring Neko Case, Kathleen Edwards, and Chuck Brodsky. I’d heard some songs by Case and Edwards and generally liked them; I’d never heard of Brodsky.

Chuck Brodsky performs at a session also featuring Neko Case (left) and Kathleen Edwards (right)

Chuck Brodsky performs at a session also featuring Neko Case (left) and Kathleen Edwards (right)

Brodsky acquitted himself well, playing a standard folk style. As a baseball fan, I was disappointed to find out I missed his song “Dock Ellis’ No-No”, about the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who threw a no-hitter while allegedly on LSD. Turns out Brodsky writes a lot about baseball – he made an album titled “The Baseball Ballads”. Case and Edwards also sounded good, though I didn’t recognize any of the songs.

The mainstage acts followed. First up were The Wailers. Only 1 original member of Bob Marley’s legendary band remains, but the current lineup represents the Wailers’ reputation well.

They played a number of classics such as ‘Exodus’, ‘I Shot the Sheriff’, ‘Jammin’, and ‘One Love’, mixed in with other numbers. They were what I was hoping they would be – fun, energetic, and true to the band’s history. A solid set; if you have a chance to see them live, do it.

Neko Case
I’d heard the odd Neko Case song (and made a point of listening to music available on her MySpace page Friday afternoon), but wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Neko plays a folk-country-rock style that was mostly mellow with a few upbeat tracks thrown into the mix. She is an excellent live performer; I especially enjoyed her interaction between songs with sidekick Kelly Hogan.

Neko Case performs on Friday night at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Neko Case performs on Friday night at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Raul Malo, formerly of The Mavericks, closed out the night. Anticipating a long day on Saturday, I headed home before his set. Apparently I missed a good show; Malo, according to Andy, plays a country-rockabilly style along the lines of Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak, and was a lot of fun.

Saturday Sessions
This was the day I was looking forward to, mostly because of the two Joel Plaskett sessions.

Talkin’ Bout My Generation: Ben Sures, Joel Plaskett, Jill Barber, Johnny Flynn
I made my way to this session to start the day.

Sures, playing a traditional folk style, hosted the session, and kicked it off with a humourous song titled “My Last Girlfriend”. Plaskett, accompanied on guitar by his father Bill, followed with “Lyin’ on a Beach’ off of his album ‘La De Da’.

Jill Barber performs at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Jill Barber performs at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Next up was Jill Barber. I first heard Jill last spring on the Sibling Rivalry tour with her brother Matthew, and was impressed with her – she has a really good voice. She opened with a song called ‘Measures & Scales’ – she played guitar, and was at times through her performances accompanied by violin, piano, and accordian.

Last to perform in each round was Johnny Flynn. This was the first time I had heard him, but he came highly recommended by a co-worker. Flynn did not disappoint; he opened with just himself on steel guitar, and accompanied by a cellist, and played a roots-style that was full of passion. I don’t remember the name of the first song, but the second one he played is “The Wrote & The Writ” off of his debut album “A Larum”. My note, not knowing the name of the song at the time, was simply “jf-this song is off the hook”. Pretty much captures how I felt at the time.

Each artist played 3-4 songs. Other highlights include Plaskett breaking out his $7 electronic keyboard (from Value Village) to play “Rewind, Rewind, Rewind”, then playing “Happen Now” (with Jill Barber on backup vocals), my favourite of his songs, to close. Barber herself sang a song in French, “Toutes Mes Reves” (All My Dreams), then closed with a pretty wicked cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonely I Could Cry”.

Concert: Danny Michel
There was half an hour between the previous session and Joel Plaskett’s concert at 1. On the way there, I stopped by Danny Michel’s concert for a few songs. I’ve heard his most recent album, ‘Feather, Fur & Fin’, which is pretty solid. He played the title track as soon as I got there, then a couple of other songs I didn’t recognize before playing ‘Sweet Things’ Danny often plays with a loop/sound machine, but it was just himself on electric guitar at this point. I left a bit early to get to the Plaskett show in good time.

Concert: Joel Plaskett

Joel Plaskett at his concert on the Saturday of the Edmonton Folk Festival.

Joel Plaskett at his concert on the Saturday of the Edmonton Folk Festival.

As I was expecting, he delivered a really good set. Accompanied by his dad at the start, he played some songs off of his latest album ‘Three’, mixed in with standards from his previous albums. His set list, in order: I Love This Town, Pine Pine Pine (dad leaves at this point), Nothing More to Say To You, True Patriot Love, Work Out Fine, You Let Me Down, Through & Through & Through, Television Set (on keyboard), (dad returns) Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’, Wishful Thinking, and finally as an encore, Nowhere With You (solo).

Joel is always engaging with the crowd between songs, giving preambles before songs such as ‘True Patriot Love’ and ‘Work Out Fine’. He’s an energetic live performer, and probably won himself a lot of fans (as did most performers). I especially liked that a good amount of his set came off of albums besides ‘Three’ (by my count, just over half the set). I always enjoy hearing from an artist’s full catalogue, rather than just hearing the latest work.

Intermission
As Oysterband played on the mainstage from 2-3, I took the opportunity to browse the merchandise tent, get food, and wander the festival grounds. The merchandise tent was full, and had an excellent catalogue of artists’ CDs as well. Some had already sold out. There seemed to be less food vendors than at Calgary, and local non-profits (save radio stations such as CKUA and CJSR) weren’t present either. One other thing that’s different from Calgary is that the site is much larger and spread out. I enjoyed the compactness of Prince’s Island Park; you could get anywhere quickly, and you could still enjoy the music perfectly well from the Beer Gardens, which isn’t possible in Edmonton. On the other hand, the hill at Gallagher Park offers outstanding views of the stage and the downtown Edmonton skyline. The hill alone makes it worth the trip.

Megatunes: Danny Michel, Jill Barber, Fred Eaglesmith, Loudon Wainwright III
Danny Michel hosted this session, which was recorded for CBC Radio 2’s Canada Live program, and will air on Thursday, August 27th. It will be available on-demand on the Canada Live website and in podcast form on iTunes as well. This was a fantastic session, and I recommend you catch it in one of the above listed formats.

Michel opened with “White Lightning”, and Jill Barber followed with a song I didn’t recognize. Fred Eaglesmith was up next. Fred, for anyone who has never seen him before, likes to tell stories. Each song he performed was preceded by a 2-3 minute (at least) introduction. The first song, “Wilder than Her”, was recorded by Dar Williams, who considers it a lesbian anthem. Fred made a couple of jokes, including one about how all we writes now is lesbian anthems (once the royalty cheques started coming in), before segueing into the song.

Loudon followed. He prefaced his song by introducing the Charlie Poole Project, dedicated to preserving the memory of the aforementioned musician, who has not yet been inducted into the country music hall of fame. Loudon’s new album “High, Wide, & Handsome’, pays tribute through covering Poole’s work.

Danny followed with “Sweet Things”, and Jill played a song accompanied by piano and clarinet. Fred was accompanied by the Ginn (sp?) Sisters from Schulenberg, Texas on the next song, which was preceded by a long story and a joke about the last supper.

Danny Michel joins in on Loudon Wainwright III's "The Swimming Song"

The next round saw Danny play “Whale of a Tale”, which I also caught at the morning concert. Jill Barber followed with an excellent rendition of her hit song “Oh My My”. I didn’t catch the name of Fred’s next song, which was his last before Loudon played a song about Tonya Harding.

To close out, Danny played “Feather, Fur, and Fins”, before Loudon got to close the show. He played his famous hit, “The Swimming Song”, and Danny jumped in to sing a couple of verses. It was a great rendition, and a great way to end the session.

All four performers acquitted themselves well. I particularly enjoyed Jill and Loudon. Fred is an entertaining performer, and Danny is good enough to share a stage with anyone.

Concert – Alex Cuba
Alex Cuba followed. I caught a bit of him on Friday night as he played between Neko Case and Raul Malo on the mainstage.

Cuba played electric guitar throughout the show, some songs by himself and some with a three-piece band. The highlight was definitely his cover of “Bad Timing” by Blue Rodeo, with the lyrics sung in spanish. Cuba was fun to listen to, though not one of my favourite few acts of the weekend. He’s coming back to Edmonton (or St. Albert, to be precise) on February 4th, and I would consider seeing him again.

Saturday Mainstage
Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit
After his stellar performance in the morning session, I didn’t want to miss any of Johnny Flynn on the mainstage, so I left Cuba’s set a little early to make my way back to the hill.

Johnny Flynn on steel guitar performing at Folk Fest.

Johnny Flynn on steel guitar performing at Folk Fest.

Flynn is a talented, versatile musician. He played steel guitar through most of the set, but also played mandolin on a couple of songs, as well as banjo and trumpet at times. Rounding out his band are a bass player, cellist, piano/keyboard player, and drummer.

Johnny Flynn was the surprise, and therefore the highlight of the festival for me. I knew what to expect from Plaskett, but Flynn exceeded any expectations I had. Ok, maybe they get 1a and 1b status. Anyway, I highly recommend Flynn’s music. I don’t know how to best describe it, though the phrase I jotted down during his set was “roots infused music with a punk ethos” (hence the title of this post), which for me captures its spirit well.

The set itself was outstanding, as he ran through most of the songs from “A Larum”. Unfortunately, the hill was largely empty, and many fans in the audience (including the ones on the tarp beside me) spent much more time talking amongst themselves than paying attention. Their loss, in my opinion.

Beer Gardens
After Flynn, I went to the beer gardens to meet up with friends as Patty Griffin set up. I intended to return for Iron & Wine (who was after her), but ended up getting sidetracked and didn’t return until the final act was taking the stage. So let’s just skip ahead. One thing to note: I like the proximity of the beer gardens to the stage at Calgary; you can hear (and see on the big screen) the bands perfectly fine. In Edmonton, you can barely hear the music coming through the speakers and you’re a good distance away. On the other hand, a hot day calls for some Rock Creek Cider, so I don’t regret this decision at all.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings at Folk Fest

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings at Folk Fest

Pleasant surprise, part 2, of the evening. Jones and her band play an old-school 60’s/70s style of R&B/Funk. Having never heard them before, I didn’t have huge expectations, but I had been assured that they would be worth sticking around for. They were, and then some.

The Dap-Kings opened with a couple of instrumentals, before bringing Sharon out. If you aren’t familiar with her background, stop right now and read it. It’s a great story of perseverance and determination to succeed.

The music in this set was good, but the performance was even better. Sharon danced all night (she’s 53 years old!), and the Dap-Kings know how to perform on stage as well – right down to dressing up. Sharon pulled guys on stage to dance with her (I call this the “Reverse Springsteen”), and invited a group of girls to join her as well. The performance highlight was towards the end, when Sharon showed off her dance moves talking about her ancestors (don’t remember the name of the song). Unfortunately, a lot of fans had left by the time they took the stage, and many more continued to file out throughout the set. They missed a fun hour of music.

Summary
One of the great things about going to festivals or shows (or really, anything in life), is the beauty of the unexpected – when you go into a situation not knowing what to expect, or having low expectations, and then seeing something phenomenal. For me, Flynn and Jones’s performances rank near the top for “best unexpected performances” at a live show. Seeing Matthew Barber open for Chris Isaak in 2007 probably rounds out the list. Their shows, my first time hearing Flynn’s music, Plaskett’s excellent sets and a great rendition of “The Swimming Song” with Loudon and Danny are what I’ll likely remember when I think back to Folk Fest ’09. It was a great (half) weekend of music, sunshine and friends; I think I’ll be back next year.