BIRDS HILL PROVINCIAL PARK — Despite the scorching hot temperatures hovering around 33 C for most of the day, Folk Festers donned their hats and lathered on the sunscreen for the second night of mainstage entertainment Friday night.

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BIRDS HILL PROVINCIAL PARK — Despite the scorching hot temperatures hovering around 33 C for most of the day, Folk Festers donned their hats and lathered on the sunscreen for the second night of mainstage entertainment Friday night.

Shakey Graves (a.k.a. Alejandro Rose-Garcia) out of Austin, Texas, has had a quick climb to mainstage status. After an impressive tweener set/workshop stint last year, he performed a two-night stand at the Park Theatre in November 2014 — both shows were packed. Now, only a few short months later, he’s back at Folk Fest, this time with his own headlining set.

He began in full one-man band mode, red kick-drum suitcase settled behind him, introducing himself to the crowd with a faultless version of Roll the Bones. Rose-Garcia has the kind of voice that hits you right in the gut — full of texture and emotion. His rasp is endearing, and his songs are simultaneously toe-tapping and heart-wrenching.

The addition of a full band behind him launched things in an almost alt-rock direction, with distortion galore echoing through the park. Things ebbed and flowed from there — trading off between gentler croons and reverb-heavy rock. Each song packed its own punch, bursting with endless energy, the sweat literally pouring from his face as he poured his soul into his performance.

Jason Isbell followed with a much-anticipated performance — he was all the buzz in the beer tent earlier in the evening. The Alabama singer/songwriter lived up to his expectations for many, earning a standing ovation for his country-folk prowess. It’s clear he is an exceptional songwriter, and his tone has the depth only a truly experienced musician can acquire.

At press time, Matt Anderson & the Mellotones had just hopped onstage to start their set. The Juno-nominated blues singer-songwriter and his huge band (including full brass/horn section) did their best to keep the energy high, though the crowd seemed to be fading. Anderson has one of those voices that is perfect for any setting and any genre, and when he really opened up, the strength of his voice soared.

The night’s closer, Bahamas, was scheduled to start around 11 p.m.

The Dustbowl Revival kicked off the mainstage’s second-night festivities with a high-energy, old-school set of New Orleans-inspired American roots tunes that had the heat-plagued audience raising their hands to the sky in unison, while some people even braved a dance or two. A superb way to shake off the day’s exhaustion and, like their name, get revived for the night of music ahead.

Tweener performances included a powerful and on-point session by the sisters of Les soeurs Boulay, and an equally stellar stint by Aussie bluesman Daniel Champagne, who made so many sounds come from his guitar it almost seemed impossible that only one man was playing.

Word on the streets was that the Bright Light Social Hour was leading a pretty raucous party over at Big Blue @ Night, with a few hundred people drawn up to the front for some "unreal" dancing and tripping on the the heavy psych-rock, while a large crowd chilled out and bonded in the beer tent.

Daytime stages

Over at the Bur Oak stage, Hamilton native Terra Lightfoot stepped up for the first solo show of the festival, playing a set full of songs from her new album, Every Time My Mind Runs Wild. Lightfoot has a voice that gives goosebumps. It’s deep and full, but has no trouble hopping gracefully into pitch-perfect falsetto.

With two of her usual four guitars in tow ("I collect guitars like shoes," she laughed), Lightfoot charged her way through rock-heavy tracks such as No Hurry and the album’s first single, Never Will. Lightfoot emitted a calm, cool and collected vibe on stage, and the audience responded well to it, enthusiastically participating in a singalong rendition of Sam Cooke’s Bring it On Home.

Taking a step in a decidedly more folky direction, Lightfoot’s three-piece band took a seat and she performed a solo rendition Emerald Eyes; just her and her guitar. It was undoubtedly a highlight of the set for most, as it helped isolate all the wonderful aspects of Lightfoot’s multi-faceted vocal talents.

Overlapping with Lightfoot was the Bend ’Em if You Got ’Em workshop on the Snowberry stage featuring Dan Mangan as host with Royal Canoe and Current Swell also participating. The Canadian crew drew a huge crowd and even managed to convince a few people to get even more sweaty as they danced the afternoon away.

After a quick douse from the two heroes carrying water tanks with an attachment that sprayed a cool mist on those who needed it, it was on to the Little Stage in the Forest for an impeccable acoustic performance by New Zealand’s Marlon Williams. Williams, who announced it was his very first North American show, had the audience smitten right from the start ("Anything he’s singing I’ll like," my friend noted.) His Elvis-esque quivering vibrato gives his voice an aged quality well beyond his 24 years, but it was balanced nicely by his youthful onstage demeanour. He even did a cover of a personal Elvis favourite, Love Me, about halfway through the set; it was truly a perfect fit.

His voice is pure and clean, almost refreshing in a way. If you get the chance to see him before the weekend is out, please do. It’s a decision you won’t regret.

Today’s mainstage lineup includes Frazey Ford, Dan Mangan, Arlo Guthrie, José González and Nahko and Medicine for the People. Bobby Basini, Twin Bandit, Leyla McCalla and Rushal Eggleston also perform. Mainstage music starts at 6 p.m.


— with files from Rob Williams

Twitter: @Nirerabel


Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Manager of audience engagement for news

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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