Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

King Sunny shines on fest; Mother Nature in on act

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BIRDS HILL PARK -- Since Elvis was the big star of the Winnipeg Folk Festival's opening show, it was only fitting to follow him up with a king.

The second evening of a special five-night version of Manitoba's most eclectic musical event saw King Sunny Adé, one of the founding fathers of African pop music, pour irresistible polyrhythms onto the same stage where British pop legend Elvis Costello stood on Wednesday.

On a perfect Prairie evening that saw sun, rain, lightning and rainbows come and go across the sky, Adé and his 10-piece African Beats brought thousands to their muddy feet with a percussion-heavy modern update of the juju music he first popularized in Nigeria four decades ago.

During past festivals, organizers would reserve such a high-powered blast of danceable rhythms for Saturday night. But the depth of the 2009 festival lineup allows big names -- that is, at least to roots and world music fans -- to sprawl out all weekend.

On paper, the Thursday-night headliner was Australian didgeri-dude Xavier Rudd, who had yet to play at press time. But Adé quickly earned new fans among the paying audience of 10,500,

The Nigerian ensemble was preceded by Tennessee's Punch Brothers, a high-concept, unnervingly talented bluegrass vehicle for monster mandolinist Chris Thile, formerly of Nickel Creek.

The Appalachian quintet was welcomed to the bald Canadian prairie by a passing thunderstorm, which darkened the sky 10 minutes into their set and sent festival-goers scrambling to drape ponchos over their heads.

All the fast-paced fingerwork seemed to usher the rain away, as the sun returned well before the final blast of banjo-picking, allowing a double rainbow to drape itself over the mainstage like an image from a Travel Manitoba brochure.

Before the bluegrass, Vancouver's Pacifika lived up to its breezy name with a 40-minute set of ethereal, CBC-friendly adult pop. The quartet began with a couple of almost formless atmospheric pieces before settling into a more percussive groove that eventually saw enough Latin guitar riffs and rhythms to do justice to singer Silvana Kane's Peruvian heritage.

The charismatic Kane won the Thursday-night award for least rain-appropriate festival gear: a dramatic black dress with a frilly pink fringe that was long enough for her to wave around her head like a set of scarves.

Kelwood, Man. singer-songwriter Alana Levandoski opened up the show with laid-back tunes from her new album Lions & Werewolves, which is less earthy than her debut Unsettled Down, plus a set-ending rendition of Neil Young's Helpless.

Thursday night's mainstage audience also witnessed short 'tweener' sets by Boston-area singer-songwriter Vance Gilbert -- a frequent visitor to Winnipeg -- plus local blues guitarist Big Dave McLean, singer-songwriter Don Amero and Bistro 71/4 chef Alex Svenne, who runs the festival's backstage catering.

In a first for the festival, Svenne delivered an on-stage cooking demonstration that saw him whip up campfire pizzas with banjo accompaniment from Jaxon Haldane of Winnipeg's D. Rangers.

Never again will the words "Let's hear it for the cast-iron frying pan, everybody" be heard on the Folk Fest mainstage.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2009 A9

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