Stuart Takes Virtually Any Tune, Makes It His Own

This appeared in The Edmonton Journal - August 11, 2007

With that gradual build from sessions stages to mainstage events, Friday has become the most accessible, audience-friendly night at the Edmonton Folk Fest.

This time, it was Marty Stuart's job to seize the night and bring everyone together as darkness began to fall around Gallagher Park. He did a wonderful job, too, with his backing trio the Fabulous Superlatives living up to their name. Stuart told the hill he wanted to lay some "hillbilly music" on them and started off with a few uptempo shuffles, followed by something more traditional in the drinking number, "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore."

Then it was time for the first stunning ballad, "Slow Train," with a drawn-out, almost ominous pace that offered a chance for Stuart to lay down delicious, graceful licks and tap some tasty vocal harmonies from his band. Together they showed the sort of tight control and loose feeling that you can only get with guys who work together for a long time.

Guitarist Kenny Vaughan even got his own rocking feature, "Country Music's Got A Hold On Me," before they cleared out to allow Stuart's solo feature, "Dark Bird," a roundabout tribute to his late friend, neighbour and one-time boss, Johnny Cash.

Stuart explained how he'd struggled like so many to write the appropriate tribute when Cash died, and how he failed until he found himself watching the crows ("who dress like Johnny Cash") out on a patch of sacred property next to his home (once owned by Cash and Roy Orbison, it's where two of Orbison's three children died in a house fire). There's nothing like true-life connections to inspire good memories and deep feelings, and this number delivered by the lone guitarist-singer, had it all.

Before the end of their set there were dips into traditional bluegrass, gospel, more rockers, and -- oddly enough -- a cover of that Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever hit, "Stayin' Alive," carried off with great aplomb, much to the thrill of the folks on the hill. In the end, the set was a memorable way to learn that the most dyed-in-the-wool country icons can still make room for a musical chuckle, and a terrific example of how Stuart and company can take on almost anything and make it their own.

With Stuart's excellent warm-up and the inevitable focus that encroaching darkness and stage lights tend to bring, it felt like a perfect time for Andy Palacio and Garifuna Collective to make their mainstage debut.

By Roger Levesque

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