Folk festival delivers blue skies and great vibes
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A sprawling crowd gathered under blue skies to take in some twangy guitar and equally twangy vocals courtesy of Kurt Vile and The Sadies on Friday afternoon. Vile, a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter and former frontman of The War on Drugs, joined members of the Toronto country rock band for an hour-long concert full of originals and covers.
“Kurt requested a Sadies song that I honestly forgot we wrote,” band co-founder Travis Good said of the tune Violet and Jeffrey Lee off the group’s 2010 album Darker Circles. Vile’s pining love song In My Baby’s Arm and John Prine’s How Lucky were also on the setlist.
The amalgam was a mish-mash of talent. Vile provided accompanying vocals and guitar for Good — a role previously reserved for Travis’ brother and Sadies singer Dallas Good, who died in February at the age of 48. And Kyle Spence of The Violators picked up the sticks for Sadies drummer Mike Belitsky, who was missing in action after getting surgery earlier in the week for a ligament in his hand.
If there’s a voice that fits with the cosy, wooded setting of Little Stage in the Forest, it’s Fontine’s clear and ethereal tones. The Winnipeg-based Nehiyaw Iskwew singer-songwriter performed to a shade-seeking crowd with friend and bandmate, Boy Golden on banjo. The pair of local artists have been playing and touring together for the last number of years and their comfortable relationship made for a jovial concert interspersed with good natured ribbing and banter.
Festivalgoers got an afternoon preview of Friday’s headliners during a string heavy workshop called Fellow Travellers featuring The Strumbellas, Wild Rivers and Reuben and the Dark.
While the show started several minutes late, it was an understandable scenario with 13 musicians and as many instruments to sound check between concerts.
Reuben and the Dark, an indie folk group from Calgary, played host to the workshop that circled around the theme of travelling songs.
The three bands were well-matched in terms of sound and stage presence — with each outfit strumming along and offering backing vocals during their counterparts’ sets.
The Strumbellas’ cover of Shania Twain’s song Don’t Impress Me Much, in particular, kicked off a fun onstage (and in-crowd) singalong.
The Strumbellas took to main stage after press time, but if their afternoon performance was any indication, the day’s final act was set to be a crowd pleaser.
Ladama — an all-female four-piece from Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela and the United States — opened main stage in groovy fashion with plucky basslines and upbeat drum rhythms. By the end of their set, the group of multi-instrumentalists had the crowd standing and clapping along to a cumbia-inspired tune.
Andy Shauf, the soft-spoken singer-songwriter from Estevan, Sask., followed with a leisurely performance peppered with ballads dedicated to the ever-present ex-girlfriend character, Judy, from his two most recent albums, The Neon Skyline and Wilds.
Friday night continued with Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew and the aforementioned Strumbellas on main stage, while Japanese surf rockers TEKE::TEKE, Polaris winner Lido Pimienta and Los Angeles psych-rock group Chicano Batman amped up the party at Big Bluestem.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.