With an audience of around 15,000 per day spanning multiple generations, this year’s Folk Fest featured an array of music from a variety of styles including contemporary folk, gospel, blues, and world music, much of which defied any sort of categorization.
The Folk Fest features both established and up and coming acts from all over the globe. The Duhks, a band from Winnipeg that fuses folk, country, rock, and bluegrass, got things started off on the main stage on Thursday evening.
Most of the artists perform concerts on one of the smaller stages. One of Friday evening’s concerts was presented by Oysterband, a socially-conscious band from the UK that tells stories through their songs, with melody and harmonies.
Appearing in Edmonton for the first time was Tinariwen, a group from Mali that creates a wall of sound with their instruments and voices.
Folk music is often associated with social justice, and one of the workshops on Saturday afternoon featured an array of political singer/songwriters like the legendary Si Kahn, Eliza Gilkyson, former child soldier Emmanuel Jal from Sudan, and local favourite Bill Bourne, performing with Nityagopal Das Das from India.
Jal did a full concert on Sunday afternoon, with spoken word, dance, and audience participation.
Sinead O’Connor was scheduled to play the Friday night main stage, but canceled her entire summer tour due to health issues. Canadian singer/songwriter and founding member of the Be Good Tanyas, Frazey Ford, took her place — and her lilting vocals and beautiful lyrics instantly won over the crowd. See the featured video to experience her talent.
The Saturday main stage saw a diverse number of acts. Matt Andersen attacked his guitar with bluesy voracity, his booming voice perfectly suiting his equally booming physique.
Bear’s Den, an alternative folk group from England, appealed to many of the younger people in the audience, with songs in a Mumford and Son vein.
Makana, from Hawaii, did a “tweener” as well as a full concert on Saturday. He performs in the style of Hawaiian slack guitar, a very old style with his own contemporary twist.
Richard Thompson, a legendary singer/songwriter who used to be a member of Fairport Convention, needed accompaniment on nothing other than his guitar, his sweet baritone gliding through a catalogue of songs that spans four decades.
China’s Hanggai performed a concert at 11 a.m. Sunday morning, but was well worth getting up early to see. With layers of sound that includes throat singing, traditional instruments, as well as contemporary electric bass, guitar, and percussion, the band had the audience up on their feet and dancing despite the musical hangovers from the night before.
Of course, for many, the Folk Fest is a time to socialize on “the hill” as it is known — the large ski hill that makes up a natural ampitheatre in front of the main stage. At night, the hill is lit up with candles. As well, the many volunteers who help make the festival possible take part in the lantern parade.