Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Alejandro Escovedo primer re: Sunday's show

Alejandro Escovedo, a woman who might be Penny Buckner (but might be Ms. Escovedo?), Ford Pier, and myself, Folk Fest 2022, by Erik Iversen

This Sunday, July 28th, a man with a fascinating, under-sung history is playing the Pearl: Alejandro Escovedo. I have failed to interview him, despite a couple of attempts -- he was wiped out at the folk fest when I spoke with him in 2022 (and I was under-prepared, having only recently gotten into his music) and when the time came around to pitch a feature on his new album, Echo Dancing, to Big Takeover, someone else was scheduled to write it! (The current issue, with my Art Bergmann and Meat Puppets features, also has an Escovedo feature, but not by me. Some Indigos stock it -- look around?).  

But here are a few reasons why you should play catchup, if you don't know his music:

I have begun to get a shape of his backstory, despite being a relative noob myself. Escovedo's early punk band, the Nuns, played Winterland, opening for the Sex Pistols, alongside the Avengers. He is not on the actual studio album that came out but he's on the "CBS demos 1977" thing and that is much better. Once Escovedo moved on they made changes to the material, nudging it in more "commercial" directions, of course, and... well, some of it's still okay, but I like the demos a ton more. 

Not long after that concert, Escovedo was living in New York in the Chelsea Hotel, with neighbours Sid and Nancy. He wrote one hell of a song about Nancy's death and about life in the Chelsea at that time. He tells the story of the song here, before a live performance; studio version here (this is a fantastic Escovedo album, by the way: Real Animalfrom 2008, mixed and produced by Tony Visconti. I think it would be a great starting point if you're new to his catalogue, and it's not hard to find used on CD). 

The lyrics Google provides for the song are VERY wrong -- "come and help with Sid" becomes "come and help us sit;" is this AI-generated or something? This is the correct version, best as I can tell.  

I lived in the Chelsea once
On 7th and 23rd
We came to live inside the myth
Of everything we heard
The poets on their barstools
They just loved it when it rained
They combed their hair in the mirror
And grow addicted to the pain
And it makes no sense
And it makes perfect sense
And it makes no sense
And it makes perfect sense

I saw Neon Leon
Spider and the boys
Just before the cops arrived
And took off with the noise
It was nothing special
Just another bar
The Baptist Kansas City life
Makes everyone a star
It makes no sense (It makes perfect sense)
And it makes perfect sense (And it makes no sense)...

Nancy called up to her rooms
Said c'mon and help with Sid
We went down
And looked around
The dealer let us in
We thought he was hysterical
But not that he was a joke
Don't know if did what he said he did
Nobody really knows

I stood out on the sidewalk
When they busted through the door
In a white tuxedo jacket, cops had him by each arm
You know the show of that thing
Nobody knows for sure
We know they found Nancy
In her black underwear
Dead on the bathroom floor

And it makes no sense...

(Repeat first verse, then final chorus):

So we all moved out
And we all moved on;
So we all moved out
And we all moved on
And on and on...

He must have come west soon after that, because a few years later, he was playing in Rank and File with the Kinmans. Some of Bev's photos from a 1983 show in Vancouver are here, in a blogpost I did about a cool 2004 Vancouver comp of Escovedo's songs, with testimony from very notable Vancouver fans, like John Armstrong... Brian "Wimpy Roy" Goble does lead vocals on an Escovedo song on the comp, too, and a host of other notables, including Ray Condo (his last recording?), Herald Nix, Bughouse 5, Graham Brown, and everyone's pal, the Minimalist Jug Band, who was the first person to tell me to check out Escovedo, back when this album was being recorded (we Als gotta stick together):

It figures that John Armstrong contributed a song to that -- a cover of "By Eleven," as interpreted by the New Modernettes, in what I believe is their only studio release to date -- because Escovedo's next band after Rank and File, True Believers, had done an awesome cover of the Modernettes' "The Rebel Kind" on their 1986 debut album (I'll let you find the studio version of that yourself; he's a live clip from a 2013 reunion). "By Eleven" originally appeared on Escovedo's first solo album, Gravity, which Armstrong picks as his favourite. It's a good one, too, also featuring the song Wimpy picked, "Pyramid of Tears." His version, with Solemn Fist, is not on Youtube, but Lucinda Williams' version is, on an American comp that, like the Vancouver one, was designed to help raise some money to help Escovedo through some health issues. That comp also features the likes of Steve Earle. Lots of people love Alejandro Escovedo. 

Which reminds me: I have heard an eyewitness story about a True Believers show, maybe at the Cruel Elephant, where a very drunk Armstrong and Zippy Pinhead crashed the stage and were so blitzed they got ejected or something! (That would have been a question I'd have asked Alejandro for sure; John can't have a monopoly on ALL the embarrassing stories from his past). Looks like there was at least one other local True Believers gig, at the Town Pump; there's mention that True Believers had shared the stage with Los Lobos on that poster, and if I recall, Escovedo said something from the folk fest main stage, back in 2022, about doing mushrooms with Los Lobos in Victoria? 

That would have been another fun question! He told us a couple times that he really likes it up here, though, and near the end of his set in 2022, told us to tell John he loves him and probably owes him some money...

So Escovedo is a punk turned roots rocker with a long history and great songs, beloved by many. Here's, erm, George W. Bush's favourite, "Castanets" (the story goes that when Escovedo found out that Bush loves that song, Escovedo stopped playing it for a few years). That clip features, you'll note, a couple of Young Fresh Fellows (Kurt Bloch and Scott McCaughey) and Peter Buck -- I think they were kinda the Yep Roc house band, or something, because they also pop up on Robyn Hitchcock records from that time (I think). They're on another favourite Escovedo album of mine, Burn Something Beautiful, too. 

If the presence of the Young Fresh Fellows and Peter Buck supporting Escovedo onstage does not move you, here's Bruce Springsteen backing Escovedo on his song (also off "Real Animal"), "Always a Friend." That's another real grabber. I think if you get to know Gravity, Real Animal, and Burn Something Beautiful before Sunday, you will have a firm footing in Escovedo's catalogue, though there are many other albums besides. You may also want to delve into The Crossing, with exists in both an English-language and Spanish-language version. The song you're most likely to hear off that on Sunday is "Teenage Luggage," I suspect -- he did that here in 2022, in, of course, the English version. 

Alejandro Escovedo talks with Brent Kane (RIP)

But the nice thing is that Escovedo's newest album, Echo Burning, actually has a built-in retrospective quality, with new takes on songs from his long career, my favourite of which is "Last to Know," but he also did "Sensitive Boys" (which I believe he dedicated to the Kinmans) and "The Wave" (which he prefaced with a story about his father's arrival in America) last time he was in Vancouver. The album is a bit more reflective and textured than the roadhouse-ready riffing on Real Animal or Burn Something Beautiful, but I suspect the live show will be much punchier. 

That's where *I'm* gonna be, Sunday, anyhow. 

Official website here, tickets here!

Paul Pigat interview: moody roots, solo this Thursday, plus Ray Condo tribute news and new Cousin Harley album!

One of the things that is a pain in the ass about what I do is that I know some people who are my Facebook friends or such ONLY because I sometimes write about music, who ONLY start liking my posts or commenting on them when they have a gig coming up or an album coming out. It's like a neighbour who knocks on your door fifteen minutes before dinner to return the empty plate from last week... 

So one of the things that I really dig about Paul Pigat is though I have given him press on more than one occasion - for example, here (a Reverend Horton Heat interview where his name comes up) here (my big Straight feature with him), here (a blogpost about Cousin Harley's last album), and here (in the context of an Iron Maiden concert review!) -- the dude has never asked for any of it. In fact, when I shot him an email to let him know I'd mentioned him in my previous folk festival piece, he didn't even TELL ME HE WAS PLAYING AGAIN THIS THURSDAY. We had exchanged a couple of messages when I noticed the gig on Instagram. Ha!

He says it's just that he's a bad self-promoter, but to be honest, it's kind of refreshing.  

Suzie Ungerleider with Paul Pigat at the 2024 Vancouver Folk Music Festival, by Dave Bowes

Allan: What will you be doing at the Firehall Arts Centre? The references to Hoyt Axton and Randy Newman on their page for the gig intrigue me but I have never (I don't think) seen you do a solo live show like this? (Hoyt I can see but Randy Newman?). Will you be doing originals? Will you be singing or just playing or...?

Paul: My solo show is based on my project Boxcar Campfire. moody roots stuff. I started doing it as a solo electric thing as opposed to acoustic a couple of years ago. Its just got more vibe that way. and although I can get around on an acoustic, I'm pretty free to do whatever I want on the the electric. the Randy Newman clip came from Ford Pier;  he loved my tune "The Game," when we used to play together and said it was reminiscent of Randy's stuff. Its mostly original music or re-imaginings of covers.

Allan: Hm, I can hear that, actually. Cool. So how was folk fest? What were your favourite things that you were involved in? There was some gig you materialized at that you weren't scheduled for -- what was that? Barney Bentall did a Flying Burrito Brothers tune, I think... 

Paul: Folk fest was a blast. All were high points, but surprisingly my favorite was with Suzie Ungerleider,   it was such a quiet understated show, far different than what I did with Kevin Breit and Stephen Ulrich. Those were both great as well. I'm so glad they were both there. I've brought them both here over the last few years. Its kinda been my new plan that if I want to play and get to know a musician, I just figure out how to get them here and put on a show. Fiona Black has been a huge help with that. I've had both Kevin and Big Lazy do shows at Cap that Fiona has organized, and she decided to have them both at the festival, so it was a double bonus for me. not to mention the addition of Cyro Baptista who was incredible and a super fun hang. And we cant forget about Scott Smith's Adventures in Pedal Steel. So nice to be back at that gig after our pandemic hiatus. (I sat in on "Songs in the Key of" with Scott, which I wasnt scheduled for).

Allan: Right. I enjoyed that, but the Swedes at the East Stage were so loud they were overpowering Scott, so in the end, I went over there instead. Did you get to see much you didn't perform in?

Paul: I didn't get to see much, unfortunately. I played in Seattle with Big Lazy on Friday night and drove them to Van after the gig...   got to bed at 3 and then up at 9am to get to the site to do three consecutive sets, so Saturday was a wash. I went to hear Gord's show with the Marrow on Sunday morning, before I had to do a double header that afternoon. They were awesome. I spent a lot of time counting trying to figure out what time signature they were in!

Allan: Curious, one of the parts of the festival I haven't experienced is, I've never been backstage. I'm vying with the foodtrucks (which were pretty variable, this year!). How was the food?

Paul: Food was good this year. there was catering for the artists near back stage done by Hollywood North which I believe is a film industry catering company. I don't think there was catering last year but that was to be expected, since Fiona put the whole festival together in less that four months! There's beer backstage in the artist's lounge but it's expensive.

Allan: Tell me about the upcoming Ray Condo tribute at the Rickshaw in September? 

Paul: This year is the 20th anniversary of of Rays passing, so I thought we had to do something. its no secret that Ray was a friend and a huge influence on me; I had plans to do something in May for Ray Condo day but it just didn't work out in time. We've covered a lot of the same songs that Ray did so we figured we just go a bit deeper. 

Allan: The poster says it's a vinyl release show. What's the record that's coming out, Ray Condo Forever? How does that connect to your show? 

Paul: Even though Ray never wrote any of his music he sure owned it when he did it, so I guess its a covers of covers record. We will be doing all the stuff from the new record and all the tunes we've done of his over the years. and of course a few of our own.

Allan: I believe I saw you cover "Hadicillin Boogie" last time I caught Cousin Harley, live. It was wicked! (That's the gig where I was dancing like a maniac. I don't do that often but you put the holy spirit in me or somethin'). Who are the Ramblin' Ambassadors, by the way? Are Jimmy Roy and Stephen Nikleva involved, by any chance? 

Paul: The Ramblin' Ambasadors is Brent Cooper's band. He was the frontman for Huevos Rancheros. My original idea was to get a lot of the Ray alumni involved, but it was like herding cats. I tried to get Stephen and Jimmy for the gig but Jimmy is on vacation in France!

Allan: Any other big news? 

Paul: Only other big news is there is another Cousin Harley record coming out early next year for Cellar Jazz. they wanted me to do a jazz record. That's not really me. so I suggested a big band blues record with Cousin Harley and extended players. It's cool and very jumpin'!

Allan: Ooh! Okay, thanks. 

Paul: Hope to see ya at a show soon. If Maiden comes back I'm in!!!!

Note: Both Paul Pigat's show at the Firehall Arts Centre, on Thursday. and Art Bergmann's show at the Rickshaw on Friday, are part of the Create Arts Festival, more on which here!

Monday, July 22, 2024

Folk Fest Takeaways: Mick Flannery mini-interview, Wendy McNeill photos, and Grace Petrie's next Vancouver concert!

Maori on the main stage: Māmā Mihirangi & the Māreikura by Dave Bowes 

I wake up to a text message from a friend: "What did you think of Jeremy Dutcher?"

Dutcher clearly is someone to be reckoned with. I heard a couple of his songs during the trance-inducing workshop I mentioned in my previous post, the one where people thought I was sleeping, until they saw me singing along; the centerpiece of his performance was built around a recording of a song sung by a 110 year old elder named Jim (if memory serves) which was played twice before Dutcher's composition began, the first with Dutcher's explanation and commentary orienting us, and then the second as a way into the performance, which drew on it for an underpinning structure. Finally, the elder's vocal was drawn back into the mix as the song drew to a close. It was gorgeous, moving, and, in the best possible sense, educational -- a challenge to take in a perspective beyond what most of us usually encounter, in a direct, experiential, potentially life-changing way... 

Krut with Etran De L’Aïr, by Dave Bowes

But here I must confess, dear readers: I have failed this challenge! I did not do justice to this aspect of the 2024 folk festival at all -- the emphasis on Indigenous and non-western cultures, that is. There was some very ambitious stuff on the program, educationally-speaking, from Dutcher (a two-spirited Indigenous person) to the mostly-female-led Maori rave (Māmā Mihirangi & the Māreikura) to a rockin' Palestinian dance band to a band taking inspiration from 70s Afrobeat to Korean/ Irish fusion to...  When the Milk Carton Kids had to drop out at the last minute (I assume due to either health or border problems, because their merch made it over -- they clearly had intended to play), the festival organizers subbed in a Mexican reggae band called Antidoping, so even their plan B's were ambitious. 

My participation in this aspect of the festival mostly involved chatting with one of the Maori in the merch area about tuatara. No, not the band, the reptile. It's not actually a lizard, you know? It's the single surviving rhynchocephalian in the world, an order that co-existed with dinosaurs, and now only occurs in New Zealand, where they are an endangered, protected species, with eggs eaten by the rodents and other invasive species that western settlers brought with them, some (like rats) by accident, and some (like the opossum) deliberately released into the wilds, to make New Zealand more like England and "establish a fur trade." Gah! 

I had volunteered to this young Maori woman, by way of an ice breaker, that I had travelled to New Zealand to see tuatara once (and a girl, but the tuatara was a big part of the draw), whereupon she told me she had actually held one, for a TV show, informing me that you have to be very gentle with tuatara, because they're nocturnal and not used to being taken out in the daylight. This may help explain why the tuatara I'd seen were a bit of anticlimax, since they just sat motionless in their terrarium; the only movement I could see was their breathing (they were babies, too: sleepy babies). In terms of, uh, "entertainment value," turns out they had nothing on the territorial kea who dive-bombed my female friend and I at the same park. I didn't even know kea, a variety of parrot, existed before I went to New Zealand. I believe they are technically more closely related to dinosaurs than tuatara, but no one told that to my dinosaur-obsessed childhood self, who had wanted to see tuatara since he read about them in elementary school. Actually, the kea remind me of the bird that humped Mark Carwardine's head, also from New Zealand; I should be glad the kea only flew at my head -- they didn't try to fuck it.

Anyhow, the Maori woman was so pleasant and the group's traditional garb (which they wore to the signing) was so cool that I felt a bit guilty I'd skipped said rave. Someone who did see them was a Facebook friend who I see at rock shows who said (I paraphrase) that, as with me, raves normally weren't his thing, either, but he had been on mushrooms, so it had turned out great... I felt he had done a better job as a festival-goer than I did (advice for 2025: leave the notebook at home, but bring the 'shrooms). 

Actually, said friend also loved New Zealander Mel Parsons -- he had a bit of a New Zealand theme going, maybe? I liked Mel, too -- even recognized her (very catchy, powerful) song "Far Away" -- but I self-protectively hid my wallet from her records. I hope she sold a bunch --  she voiced concern on the Sunday that she'd have to be shipping them home. 

L-to-R: "The Storytellers," Barney Bentall, Mel Parsons, Ben Moss and Grace Petrie, and Mick Flannery. Photo by Allan MacInnis, as are subsequent ones... 

In any event... even my talkin' tuatara with a traditionally-garbed Maori woman was by accident: I was waiting for Wendy McNeill to sign some CDs and LPs, killing time at the merch tent, where I'd arrived early, whereas Wendy got there late, sprinting down the trails towards us in her black-and-white sneakers, the same ones she'd shown us securely attached to her feet when relaying the tale of doing a high kick at a performance at an Accordion Noir event and having a shoe fly off and hit an audience member (I wonder if Rowan Lipkovits was there? I mentioned to Wendy that we had a mutual friend...). 

Wendy -- whose albums are filled with birds and wolves and other animals, who sang a song with a verse from the point of view of the albatross in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (whom she gendered as female, which I don't believe Coleridge did), who got into an apparent conversation with some of the birds with her canned wood-warbler sound effects, and who said hello to the crows that cawed during her set, calling them her friends -- would appreciate the tuatara angle, you feel; in fact, we had a pleasant chat about non-human creatures when she got there, me reporting in response to her apologies for being late that it was all right, because I'd had the cool experience of having a dragonfly come over to check me out while I was waiting over at the pond, doing that thing dragonflies sometimes do of zipping over and hovering in front of you for a few seconds, where you get the distinct, slightly unsettling impression that they are LOOKING AT YOU before they zip off about their business, leaving you contemplating that you have been included in their cognition, trying to imagine how you looked, both literally and figuratively, through their eyes. McNeill responded that she has some songs about dragonflies, in fact -- they're important to her! -- including one that was inspired by her experiences scattering the ashes of her mother. I forget how dragonflies came into that, but it has yet to be recorded. She included mention of dragonflies in her inscription on the record I'd bought. Maybe we'll get to talk more about them someday? 

But merch, in fact, was part of the problem, part of the reason I didn't cast my net as wide as I could have. I simply cannot afford new enthusiasms! I can hardly afford the ones that I already have. I mostly focused my purchases on stuff that I could get signed (never did get that James Vincent McMorrow record signed, though; he continues his tour and is in Kelowna tomorrow). But having also bought records by Grace Petrie, Mick Flannery and Fränder, to say nothing of the used Leon Rosselson and Kinky Friedman CDs I scooped out of the Neptoon used bins, my budget was already exhausted and my horizons expanded to the bursting point. Dutcher had two records in the merch area, including his Polaris-winning Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawabut I bought neither. Had I stayed for his main stage set Sunday, and fallen in love with him, too, it might have cost me, what, $80? I was positively relieved that Chris Smither didn't have a CD with "Make Room for Me" on it, my favourite of the songs he performed. I looked twice at each title and ultimately used that as an excuse to return home Smitherless. I'd see him again, though!

...Though truth is, having gone home before Jeremy Dutcher's main stage performance on Sunday was more about physical exhaustion than financial. I'd come on Sunday to see Grace Petrie's final performances at the fest (and see at least a couple of Barney Bentall songs; I liked "The Preacher" a great deal). I also caught quick snippets of performances by Dawn Pemberton, Big Lazy, Wendy McNeill and Mick Flannery, and then fled, not even seeing Chris Pierce, though I had thought I would. I was spent! 

I had also spent a fair bit of time just walking around the festival grounds, chatting with people. No, my Grizzly shirt was not for the movie Cocaine Bear, it was for a much older, cooler movie actually called Grizzly, I explained to a couple of volunteers. Having dribbled some gobs of Grounds for Coffee cinnamon bun on said shirt on the way into the fest, I spent some time at the African textile merch booth hoping they could find a shirt that fit me, and when that didn't work, I tried on some Indian cotton at a different tent that, while allegedly 3xl, did not fit me either. I asked at the information booth about the mystery mammal I saw in the beaver pond (A baby beaver, maybe?). I only saw its small head poking from the water, where it was blowing bubbles enthusiastically for several minutes until I stood up, whereupon it ducked under; I can only say that it was neither bird nor fish. The information booth volunteer knew no more of this this mystery mammal -- I will heretofore think of it as the Loch Ness Beaver -- than I did, but at least seemed amused by the question. Does he know who I could ask? "Hmm, there's an environment committee, but they're more about picking up garbage..." 

And besides socializing and walking in the park -- feeling a few drops of rain on Sunday, and wondering if the clouds would open up -- I greatly enjoyed taking photos of Wendy McNeill, who was by far the most camera-friendly performer I shot. I didn't get to see her full set, but I kinda fell in love with her as a performer and will surely go see her again at the nearest opportunity, though she lives in Spain, so that may be a ways off. I wonder if she's encountered fellow Canada-to-Europe transplant Selina Martin over there? She reminded me of Selina a bit, at times, mostly as she twiddled with electronics to augment her voice... 

The portion of the day I did stick around for was abundantly pro-social and moving, but also -- what's that Captain Beefheart line, "too much for my mirror?" By the time I got back to Burnaby, around 6pm, my feet were throbbing, my wallet empty, my battery dead, and my list of things to write about too long.  

In the end, my main takeaways from Sunday were:

1. Grace Petrie is coming back in November, by which time she will have married her girlfriend and toured Australia and New Zealand. She proved on Sunday once again that she's the master of getting audiences to sing along (our line this time was "I know it will be hard," in "Fixer Upper"). She also did "This House," an extraordinarily moving song inspired by her meeting an older man who lived in a space he had shared with his departed  male friend, whom he clearly loved, but whose expression of love was inexpressible in his time, buried under generational homophobia; I paraphrase, but it was very touching, and made me think of a man I once cared about (but still a live one, as far as I know! Our friendship crashed some years ago but we did live together for awhile...). 

Like Parsons, Petrie made a comment about not wanting to have to pack merch home ("so make me an offer," she told the gathered audience) and I considered going to her second signing to buy up any remaining CDs she was selling, which I thought I might gift to friends, only to discover, on arriving at the merch area, she had sold every last one. Which was fine -- my friends can buy their own CDs in November; I've got mine! But since I was there anyhow, I hung around for a minute. I had already interviewed her, and was considering bugging her with a follow-up question about her experiences of being raised Catholic (unlike me, they got her to confess; I can see the value of that practice, in some ways, but also find it horrifying, depending on what you are being asked to confess, like you are expected to apologize for your very nature). But she was surrounded by female fans, some in tears (but of the best kind), and it seemed more important to let them have their time with her than pester her further. She obviously meant a lot to some of the people who saw her, and got lots of people who did talk to her were doing so to thank her. One festival volunteer proudly displayed a shirt Petrie had signed, while other people -- including parents of queer kids and a soccer-mom type who felt self-conscious that her name was Karen, which had a bit of pathos to it -- expressed their great appreciation for what she's doing.  Everyone was delighted that she'll be returning. 

Ben Moss and Grace Petrie (this one is by Dave Bowes, but I've cropped it a bit!)

Incidentally, apparently shirt signings were a thing among festival volunteers. I've never yet asked for a shirt to be signed; not sure I fully understand the practice, since you surely can't wash a shirt that's been signed and surely can't wear a shirt that's not been washed, but... maybe it's some sort of indelible ink? Here are members of Fränder signing a different volunteer's shirt (they'll be in Mission on Friday, so it's Fränder vs. Art Bergmann. Hmm). 

Incidentally, I'm a bit proud I held myself back from asking Fränder what they thought of Midsommar. I'm sure they've gotten the question before; probably it's tiresome that that's the strongest North American association with Swedish folk culture is a horror movie (we gather Slovakians are none too fond of Hostel). Maybe if I see them in Mission, I'll brave it. BTW it looks like the Fränder member in the gorgeous green dress in my previous post is named Alva (I had previously thought she was named Gabriella, which I assumed was correct when she answered to it. Maybe she thought it was some English expression she didn't know?).  

(This image is from Saturday, you can tell by the absence of clouds)

2. In terms of emotional reactions to things at the festival, however, moving as found some of Petrie's lyrics, the song that really choked me up was done by Mick Flannery, as part of that Storytellers set. I enjoyed both songs he did there, also including "The Small Fire," which he explains in this video, getting some of the same laughs, in fact. I also caught a few of his West Stage songs a bit later, as the photos below attest, where his dry wit was very much present, as when he introduced a song as being about a man's relationship with himself, then quipped something like, "But not the way you're thinking, you sick fucks," much to the crowd's delight. But the song that had me crying, the most powerful emotional experience in the whole festival, really, was called "Kilkerry" (or "Kilkerry, Ireland" depending on the version), which got me thinking about the deaths of my parents and my own odd isolation here in Vancouver from either city where my ancestors (from Scotland and what was then known as "the" Ukraine) had settled. I simply had to know a bit more about the song, so I booked one of the shortest interviews I've ever done to find out about it and about Flannery's relationship with it; I'm glad I did, because it turned out I thought he'd announced it as "Kilkenny" and Googling it would have been counterproductive! 

That conversation in full was 2:48 long and I'm going to give a verbatim transcription in a moment. If you don't know Mick Flannery's speaking voice, just imagine his parts as being read by Colin Farrell. I am perhaps over-transcribing what follows, but it's maybe the shortest interview I've ever done, and I enjoyed the rhythms of it, so... 

Allan: I want to know the history of the song, where you encountered it, who wrote it... anything you can tell me.

Mick: I'm gonna let you down now, here. I've forgotten the name of the man that wrote it. [Reaches for cellphone]. Ah shit, my phone is dead. [To guitarist Alan Comerford, pictured above]: Will you look up who wrote "Kilkelly?" [To me]: That song, I heard it first on an album called Bringing It All Back Home, which was done by a guy called Philip King, I believe, who was the producer [there is an Irish producer named Philip King, but the album appears to actually have been produced by Bruce Talbot and Donal Lunny, if Discogs is accurate]. It was lots of songs that kind of shared things between Ireland and America, and that song was on it -- it was like a whole collection of songs in that vein. Another song would have been, like, "Sonny Don't Go Away," [AKA "Sonny" or "Sonny's Dream"] -- do you know that song? 

Allan: I don't. 

Mick: It's written by a Canadian man named Ron Hynes, but it's about someone who is working as a sailor... anyways, that song, the "Kilkelly" song is on that album. I can't remember who sang it, but it's the version that I like. There's a few different versions of it online. [Apparently this is the original recording of it, but I agree that the comp cover of it is superior].

Alan Comerford [looking up from his phone, conclusively]: A man called Peter Jones wrote it, from the letters in his attic

Allan: How did you keep your emotions in check up there? Like, you didn't look like you were bursting into tears up there, but I could never perform a song that powerful and keep it inside -- it's a very powerful song! Do you ever have emotional reactions while you're performing it...?

Mick: Yes, I do! It's very sad. I do, yeah... my brother's said that it's some type of emotional abuse, that I sing it to my son to put him to sleep. They say that the darkness is going into his soul... but I don't know. But so I've sang it a lot, so I can kind of detach myself from it a bit, and try to do it as best I can. Because it is quite sad, and if you get wrapped up in it, you might start tripping off over it. 

Allan: Thank you for sharing it with us. Have you recorded it?

Mick: No. The way I sing it is very close to the way I heard it. I'm not changing anything. 

(End interview! He then offered his hand and we shook. Note that Mick Flannery is in Chicago tomorrow night, and that his newest album can be heard here.) 

3. The final takeaway for me doesn't involve any of the bands that played, but the fact that the ones I enjoyed the most were all by people I'd never heard of before this fest: not Grace Petrie, not Wendy McNeill, not Mick Flannery, not James Vincent McMorrow, not Fränder... all of them had zero name-recognition, were people I first read about in the festival program. Even though I was not at my most adventurous this festival, did not travel too far afield into the more daring Worldscapes on view, and am going to have to do justice to Jeremy Dutcher at the time of some future paycheque, I still learned a valuable lesson, that just because I don't recognize the names in the festival program doesn't mean that I'm not going to be moved by the music.  My compliments to Fiona Black: she dug deep and gave me a whole bunch of new music to love. 

Of course, I did catch a few sets by people I actually knew, including, of course, Steve Dawson and the Highway 61 Re-Imagined performers, already written about below and on the Straight site. If Dave's right, Bentall *did* do the entire "Desolation Row" (I was actually wandering around, enjoying the sounds of the songs in the background, rather than trying to force my way into tarpsville, so I didn't actually catch it this time, but I'm sure it was splendid). 

I would also like apologize to Paul Pigat that I have not written a single word about him in my folk fest coverage until this very paragraph. He should know that I did catch a few songs by Big Lazy, a few songs in the Guitar Mayhem workshop, and -- did Paul materialize at Songs That Slay with a similarly non-credited Barney Bentall to do a Gram Parsons song, or was that some other stage? ...It doesn't seem to be on the schedule, but I do remember going from the West Stage to the East Stage at one point and wondering how Paul, who had also been West, had gotten there ahead of me!

You should know, Paul, that while I have under-sold you on my blog, I did have an exchange along the following lines at the merch tent, where someone proclaimed to us that Kevin Breit was "the best guitarist in the festival," whereupon I remarked skeptically, "Better than Paul Pigat?" 

I enjoyed Kevin and Cyro, too, but "better than Paul Pigat" is a hard sell. By the way, all you readers who are NOT Paul Pigat, September 13th, Cousin Harley (Paul's band) will be headlining a tribute to Ray Condo at the Rickshaw. It's some sort of album release show??? More to come, but be there!

Sunday, July 21, 2024

Creature comforts at the 47th annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival, plus James Vincent McMorrow tonight in Sidney BC and Fränder in Mission next week!

(All photos in this piece are by me except the one I stole from Dan Harbord)

I spent the first half of yesterday at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival trying to get comfortable

I have no form of lawnchair. I find them a bit ungainly -- I don't want to have to haul them around and (sorry, you VFMF regulars), despite the obvious advantages, I find it a bit obnoxious to permanently stake out turf in front of your favourite stage, especially if you're just going to walk away (I spent part of Ndidi O's set sitting behind two chairs with no one in them -- people just dropped their chairs and went to check out a different band, perhaps with an extra set of chairs for that stage? It all seems rather mercenary!). But folding chairs may be the best way to address the issue of creature comforts, because:

If I sit crosslegged on the ground, even on the pillow I brought, my left leg falls asleep.

If I lean back against a tree... well, it's just not COMFORTABLE. And it means facing away from the stage, generally, which is fine in terms of missing out on visuals (I'm more about listening, anyhow), but it also affects the audio, because your ears aren't pointing the right direction (and you have a fucking tree behind you: sound travels all right through wood if you live in a wooden apartment building but if you get a whole friggin' tree's worth of the stuff, it does tend to act as a damper. Or a baffle? It blocks the sound). 

And how to sit is only part of the problem: there's also the question of where to sit. If I sit in the sun, I get baked, and not in a good way. (It was very hot yesterday; Dan Harbord took a selfie of us, and my expression says it all):

(photo by Dan Harbord)

If I sit in the shade, I am surrounded by a tight cluster of people who could be chatting, eating, or parenting. This can sometimes be enjoyable: that woman with the donair yesterday reminded me simply by aroma that I hadn't eaten since early that morning and sent me off to the food trucks (capsule review: if you eat Taco Tigre, the beef brisket is great but the lemongrass chicken taco tasted like a dog had been breathing on it; I much preferred the Caribbean jerk place by the main stage). And during one of the workshops, when Grace Petrie encouraged a singalong with "The House Always Wins," which I had correctly predicted she would play, I completely forgave the chatty two-or-three year old for talking as much as she did when she joined in on the chorus of "Roll up roll up!" as directed by Petrie (get'em young!). 

Nothin' like a three year old with jam smeared on her face singing along with a queer socialist protest singer!

That song, by the way, was inspired by  Boris Johnson ("like Donald Trump but without the charm" -- Petrie wins the "arch wit" prize), who, despite leaving office in some disgrace, earned one million pounds in public speaking fees in the three months after his resignation. (Her backstories for each song were highly illuminating). 

And in fact, that workshop ("Songs that Slay") was the set where I figured out how to solve the problem of comfort: LIE ON YOUR BACK. You need a pillow and a hat for your face, but (it turns out) if your ears are pointing UP it doesn't impact the audio as much as if they are pointing AWAY. 

(Pharis and Jason Romero)

That set also featured the day's musical highlight: James Vincent McMorrow. He speaks with a normal human male voice, but sings with a gorgeous, sustained, and surprisingly rich falsetto; Russ Mael has nothing on this guy. Dave Bowes, also at the festival, observed that usually a falsetto is thin (and made observations about "head voice" versus "chest voice" that I was not aware of before), but that's  not the case with McMorrow, who has one of the most achingly beautiful, ethereal, expressive voices I've heard, and I rushed out to buy his album forthwith (linked under his name, previously). 

If Petrie is the songwriting "discovery" of the fest, McMorrow is the vocal one. I still don't really know his music, but lying on my back listening to him sing (or listening to his bemused comments on seeing a hundred-odd festival attendees shout "was a patriarchal structure" at the stage when Petrie did "Black Tie" again that set) was maybe the high point of the day. 

I took no photos (I was facing the wrong way), but here's one of some stilt walkers! 

After "Black Tie" was done, I discovered I had also been a source of amusement to the people beside me, who observed to me when I got up, "we thought you were sleeping, but then you were singing along!" 

Astute observers of Grace Petrie's Friday set will have noticed she had a new tattoo under wraps; the wrapping was off today. I didn't go so far as to ask her where she got it, but I did snap a photo of it (the bird; the lower tattoo is one of her lyrics!). Ace photographer Sharon Steele ran into her later and Petrie explained that "it’s a sparrow to commemorate sailors who navigated over 5,000 miles." I am not entirely sure what that means -- there didn't seem much nautical content in Petrie's sets -- but I guess it's a question for the future (she'll be back in Vancouver November 7th). 

You may see me lying on my back again today. Hope it's not as hot! Bev came but left early because it was so unreasonably warm. Sunscreen and a hat are highly recommended. 

(Bev, plus shadow of Harbord)

But two heads up for music fans: for those of you on Vancouver Island, note that McMorrow is playing Sidney tonight! For those of you out Mission way, meantime, note that Fränder is playing the folk festival there next weekend. Fiddler Alva -- I believe the newest member of the band, replacing Natasja Dluzewski, whose name I got wrong in the initial version of this post -- had the most gorgeous dress yesterday:

Which brings up another problem with sitting with your back to the stage that need be noted: not only are your ears facing the wrong direction, but they may be facing the right direction (especially re: the East and South stages) for a DIFFERENT CONCERT. Prior to the Songs that Slay workshop, I was enjoying Scott Smith's Adventures in Pedal Steel set, featuring Paul Pigat (and apparently a regular fixture at the Painted Ship). It was a vaguely Deadlike trip, like -- you know Jerry Garcia's score for the Zabriskie Point centrepiece? Kinda like that, but for pedal steel. 

It was gorgeous, but facing away from the stage, it was also being competed with not only by a hand drum merchant (note to festival organizers: DO NOT PUT HAND DRUM MERCHANTS IN PROXIMITY TO STAGES; kids and customers will be testing the drums when bands are playing!) but this booming, raucous amplified folk rock echoing through the trees from the South Stage, which reminded me vaguely of the more folkish passages in the music of everyone's favourite Russian Pagan metal band, Arkona. Finally I just figured "if you can't beat'em, join'em" and forsook Smith's music to go see what the ruckus was.

The ruckus being the aforesaid Fränder. I only got to hear one of their songs, "Evigt regn," a "polska" (different from a polka, they explained, but don't ask me how) but it inspired me to rush to the merch tent and, who knows, might get me out to Mission next week? We'll see. 

(artist Jasmine Pearl paints at her merch booth) 

I may not do much more by way of Folk Festival reportage on this blog, though I do now have a Grace Petrie interview to pitch around. Turns out (thanks to Grant McDonagh at Zulu, who facilitated a last-minute shopping request) I gave her TWO Ferron albums, the "easy ones to find," and we talked about "The Kid's Song," as I think I previously mentioned I might do, and the importance of people having role models and such -- and not necessarily famous ones, just people who, by virtue of being interesting and inspiring and fearless and functional, make it okay for you to be who you are. 

Seems like Petrie didn't really have any such people, which is one of the reasons, if I followed her correctly, that she became who she is -- to compensate for an absence she felt keenly in her youth. She'll be playing one final workshop today, and also encouraged me to film her tweener last night (no, that's not anatomical: a tweener is a short set between acts on the main stage). Dave Bowes caught a photo of me filming her:

I was, incidentally, completely wrong about what she would do for a 'tweener: I thought she'd seize the opportunity to deliver her most political set of the festival, getting maximum exposure to her causes, but instead (as you will see in the clip) she did a song about her niece, "Ivy," off her 2015 album Whatever's Left, followed by a reprise of "Northbound," which is a fun song to sing along to. I pointed my camera at the audience and missed her rather delightful visual cues to them, making sure they hit the right parts of the song. She's great at getting a laugh from her crowds, is very funny. She's also getting married soon, then heading off for a tour of Australia! 

There's actually plenty still to see today. Not sure if I'll make it all the way to Jericho Beach in time to be forced between bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart (10am East Stage) and the gospel workshop on the South Stage (also 10am and featuring a few of "the Dylan people"). For sure, I'll be there at 11am for Grace's workshop with Barney Bentall, Mel Parsons, and Mick Flannery, then I'll stick around for Chris Smither.  Not sure of much else, except I definitely plan to see Wendy McNeill, whose album, For the Wolf a Good Meal, I bought pretty much on spec yesterday, for the gorgeous cover and provocative title. Dave tells me she did a rather brilliant werewolf love song the other day? (I missed it, but here's my second chance).  

Then I'll probably slip over to the South Stage for the Pas de Deux workshop, featuring four duos, Pharis and Jason Romero (I had no idea Pharis had sung for Outlaw Social; my wife is a huge fan of that defunct project), Kevin Breit and (former Lounge Lizard!) Cyro Baptista, the Milk Carton Kids, and Oliver and Chris Wood. And if I'm there, I might stick around for Chris Pierce, but I suspect that I may run out of steam before that. Whether I stick around depends in part on whether I find space in the sea of tarps and lawnchairs, spread out before the main stage, to stretch out in, how cooked I feel, and how much my stamina holds out. It may not! 

(artistic director Fiona Black, left)

But one important note to close on: if you like the folk festival -- as vibrant and rich a celebration of human expression and community as can be had, in one of the most gorgeous settings imaginable, and an essential part of Vancouver's musical culture -- and you want to see it happen again next year, you should know that EVERY DONATION (of up to $25,000, anyway) is being matched 100%, so the $100 I contributed yesterday means $200 for the festival. I don't have $25,000 to spare, personally, but if you do, you could pretty much guarantee that there's another festival next year... 

That's it! Now I have to shower and get on the road for day three!