Review: Sweltering heat offset by cool vibes, amazing songwriting on final day of folk fest

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It is hard to imagine a better song to open a set at a modern folk festival than Remember the Mountain Bed.

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On Sunday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival, Jeff Tweedy kicked off his spirited acoustic performance with the haunting ballad. His band, Wilco, recorded the song as part of the two Mermaid Avenue albums with British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg in 1998 and 2000. The project had the acts provide new music to recently unearthed lyrics from one of the original political folkies, Woody Guthrie. The beautiful melody, sung in Tweedy’s  plaintiff tenor, is wrapped around sentiments that Guthrie wrote more than 50 years ago. But they still sound downright prescient, with the folk singer offering a mournful, green-leaning poem about the power of nature and man’s curious and anxiety-filled desire to conquer it.

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It always seemed like a nice mix between the old and the new, particularly since Tweedy was regarded at the time as one of the newer talents pushing Americana, folk and roots music to brave new frontiers. While folk fest organizers have long stressed the idea that the 44-year-old celebration of modern music is a “folk festival” in name onlyit was still nice to see Tweedy’s remarkable set celebrate 33 years of innovative songwriting.

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Dominique Fils-Aime performs at the Calgary Folk Music Festival in Calgary on Sunday, July 30, 2023. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

While Mother Nature was courteous enough to put off that thunder storm that had been forecast until the festival wrapped, Prince’s Island Park was swelteringly hot on Sunday, which probably only added to the appreciation for the dulcet tones on the main stage, which included Montreal soul/R&B  singer Dominique Fils-Aime, Nashville’s indie-country artist Sierra Ferrell, Tweedy and indie-soul act Bahamas.

But, as always, the action started much earlier. Prior to the main-stage lineup, those venturing off the grounds to the free stage in “Stage 1” in Eau Claire might have been lucky enough to witness singer-songwriter Art Bergmann’s mid-afternoon performance. Decked out in a sparkly silver suit and backed by an all-local band — including guitarist-producer Russell Broom, drummer Ribsy Ludwig and Sydney and Shaye Zadravec, on bass, guitar and backup vocals — Bergmann played an energetic set that included new material from an upcoming album.

Fils-Aime, making a return to the folk fest stage after playing the Summer Serenade in 2021, kicked off the main stage festivities with a seamlessly flowing set that borrowed heavily from her ambitious trilogy of albums from 2018 to 2021, which set out to trace the history of Black music. Being first on the main stage is a tall order for anyone, but Fils-Aime filled her set with joy and craft and beautiful instrumental outros. She began the set with the stunning openers We Are Light and Birds before offering the slow-building Mind Made up and mesmerizing Where There is Smoke. Even when singing the scathing lyrics of Gun Burial (“Fact that you’d burn down Paradise within the blink of a random eye,
Makes me wonder what’s left for Hell to look like,”) Fils-Aime maintained a sense of exuberance, culminating with the galloping soul-pop gem Grow Mama Grow.

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Sierra Ferrell performs at the Calgary Folk Music Festival in Calgary on Sunday, July 30, 2023. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

Ferrell was backed by a mostly acoustic three-piece — there were a few flurries of blazing electric guitar — that wore matching red shirts. It gave the act the feel of an old-school country radio show. Ferrell is at home mining the rich traditions of country and roots music, whether it be her Dolly Parton-esque vocals on the bluegrass-fuelled I’d Do It Again,  Tex-Mex leanings of Far Away Across the Sea or her beautifully sung take on John Anderson’s Years. An as-yet unreleased new song became a three-fiddle stomper and unlikely singalong, but the highlight may have been Ferrell’s solo performance of her old-timey ballad Rosemary.

“This is all I got,” said Jeff Tweedy,  holding up his acoustic guitar partway through his set Sunday night. Of course, that wasn’t completely accurate, He also had a treasure trove of material to draw upon dating back to the early 1990s. That included everything from New Madrid, a 1993 song from his pre-Wilco act Uncle Tupelo, to selections from Wilco’s 2022 back-to-their-roots double album, Cruel Country. It’s a testament to Tweedy’s craft that songs such as  I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the mercurial opener of the 2002 classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, work just as well as stripped-down acoustic numbers. Tweedy offered some of Wilco’s best songs, including Hummingbird,Jesus, Etc. and I’m The Man Who Loves You but also added some relative obscurities such as One on One, from the aforementioned Mermaid Avenue sessions, and a funny and as-yet unreleased messy ode to rock ‘n’ roll called Lou Reed Was My Babysitter.

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Bahamas performs at the Calgary Folk Music Festival in Calgary on Sunday, July 30, 2023. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

The Bahamas, a project led by guitarist and former Feist sideman Afie Jurvanen, are festival favourites, having closed down the show in 2018 with a similarly chill Sunday set.  Jurvanen’s tunes and delivery are certainly tasteful, perhaps to a fault. After Tweedy’s set — I know, hardly a fair comparison — the songs sounded agreeable if not always completely enthralling. Nevertheless, they had the crowd swaying and nodding along and numbers such as the sleight but upbeat You Caught Me Thinking and pleasantly soulful I Got You Babe were played with impeccable craft. As in 2018, the highlight was the  guitar interplay between Jurvanen and Christie Bougie.

The obligatory love-in at the end of the final night, where most of the remaining musicians and folk-fest officials take to the stage to sing a Canadian classic, was a little more subdued than usual with Bahamas leading the gang in a delicate version of the Neil Young ballad One of These Days. But, given the exhausting heat all day, the vibe didn’t seem completely out of place.

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Author: Arun

My Name is Arun Jain I have done B.Tech in Computer Science and currently working with Love to cook and write blogs . Cook-eat-blog-cook-eat-blog.............