Country Flavour To Main Stage Musicians

Honky Tonkin' Friday Night

This appeared in The Edmonton Sun - August 11, 2007

If by some temporal anomaly brought on by strange weather - or excessive alcohol consumption - you found yourself at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival when you thought you were at the Big Valley Jamboree, you wouldn't have noticed the difference last night.

OK, let's just assume you were blind. Let's pretend you didn't notice the left-wing vibe, the fact you weren't in Camrose anymore, the general lack of hokiness, what seemed to be a pervasive odour of marijuana in the air at Gallagher Park, or any songs you'd recognize.

Other than that, it was country night at the old folk fest! Can we hear a yeehaw! Doesn't anybody here say yeehaw? What's the matter with you people?!

This was a sterling opportunity to demonstrate that this event can be all things to all people. It all depends on how long you stay in the beer tent and exactly when you choose to come out. You can make it whatever you want. You could even avoid singer-songwriters if you stay in there long enough, and we're back to excessive alcohol consumption.

But you couldn't avoid country music.

Set to close last night was the one and only Blue Rodeo, a country band in all ways except the cowboy hats. And the politics. And the hits on country radio. And the fiddle in the band. Other than that, these boys are as much country as Canada.

Kicking the main stage off was Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives -whose performance was the best thing this or any other observer has ever seen in the history of the entire world. Anyway, it was pretty good.

Introduced as an "ambassador" of country music and featuring a guitarist (Kenny Vaughan) whose gaudy cowboy shirt may have been ironic, Stuart promised a set of "hillbilly music" and said we looked like we needed it.

This included brisk blues numbers, western swing, plaintive ballads, but mostly that basic, in-your-face country rock some know as "honky tonkin'." You know it when you hear it.

Stuart is a picker with formidable gifts, able to make the fastest passages look effortless.

But he never really hogged the spotlight in the soloing department, often nodding to Vaughan, whose skills on the six-string were almost as amazing.

Subject matter included long trains, short relationships, broken hearts and drinking to forget - the four pillars of country music. These guys even managed to countrify the Bee Gees.

The show overall had what a lot of commercial country music is missing - soul.

By the second song, the usual freaky folks were dancing in the aisles and by the end of the set, we were all talking with a twang. And you know what? Someone did shout "yeehaw!"

Stuart pulled double duty yesterday. He was in an earlier session dubbed "Wide Cut Country" - same name as a CKUA program featuring the sort of hat-less, left-leaning, non-commercial country music favoured by listeners who would rather gag than turn on CISN Country radio. Stuart wowed the crowd with some superlatively fabulous mandolin, giving fans a taste of what would come later.

Also sharing the stage for this was songwriter Darrell Scott, who pulled out "Long Time Gone," and noted the irony of the third verse lambasting country radio for having "no soul." See?

Roy Forbes got pulled into the country goodness too, even though he'd be the bookkeeper wearing the bowler hat if he was in a western movie. His big country song was About My Broken Heart, a real cry in your beer weeper - cry in your low-fat latte, anyway - that evoked the aforementioned Hank with vivid intensity. It was chilling, seriously.

Elsewhere in yesterday's sessions, you could wander and sample all sorts of other country music - depending on which country you're talking about.

African performers hobnobbed with Celtic folk, who rubbed elbows with bluesmen, who consorted with singer-songwriters. Towering over all these labels was Martin Sexton, whose session yesterday was just brilliant.

Heading past stage one - on the way to the beer tent - I caught a bit of a terrific African-flavoured session called The Blues Had a Father where Toronto blues singer Ndidi Onukwulu promised the crowd a "big ol' jamboree."

Coincidence? I think not.

By Mike Ross

From Kevin Gibson:

After a brief intro from Forbes, Darrell Scott and Kenny Malone brought on the funk. Both better known behind the scenes, they more than held their alongside high profile stage mates. One verse in and Colin Linden - ostensibly Forbes's sideman for the show - let loose with the slide before Marty Stuart stepped up for a fiery mandolin solo.

Stuart, along with his Fabulous Superlatives, proved worthy of their lofty moniker; their harmonies on The Staples' "Somebody Save Me" shone like the rhinestones notably absent from Stuart's denim ensemble.

Return To Articles Return To Home Page