by Nilabjo Banerjee

Sunset

Friday was the start to the weekend part of the festival that featured music as early as 11 in the morning at the smaller stages including collaborative workshops. Despite increased opportunities to see more acts, I had to juggle artist interviews all day limiting the coverage. Oh the tough life!

FortunateOnes

Fortunate Ones

Nestled in the woods amidst timid sunshine, Fortunate Ones were a delightful start for the early birds. The duo from Newfoundland featuring real life couple Catharine Allan & Andrew O’Brien had no trouble winning over the attentive audience with the intriguing backstories behind the charming tunes. Apart from the predictably delicious vocal harmonies, Allan’s accordion playing was a refreshing addition to a genre that is saturated with the norm: guitar and keys. The genuine humility and the pair’s cheeky chemistry would have made you smile, as you hummed through songs like “Wherever You Go”, “West Street Serenade” from the debut The Bliss to be released in October. They also impressed with a Tom Waits cover as an encore. Given that they were last minute addition to festival, the newly-formed musical pair were consistently grateful for the warm reception. But, in all truth, it was the crowd who were the fortunate ones.

Grace & Tony

Grace & Tony

While the Fortunate Ones started the day with a sense of romance, Grace and Tony were a contrasting finish. The real-life couple from Tennessee was making their Canadian debut, playing tunes from last year’s debut release (personal favourite) November. The duo’s blend of bluegrass and punk sounds, coined as ‘punkgrass’, along with the conceptual storylines of the songs made it seem like you were attending a dinner theater. For example, Holy Hand Grenade is based around the hypothetical of their 2 kids being kidnapped and being rescued by them as super heroes. Even the love song November has a psycho-stalker vibe to it. The fatal tone of the songs continued as the pair debuted new material like “Invitation to Autopsy”, detailing the story of 2 men murdering 16 homeless men after luring them with room and board. Awkward at first, the open-minded crowd humoured the duo’s vivid yet bloody imagination, and rewarded them with a well-deserved standing ovation. Sometimes being different does pay off.

Little Stage

Little Stage


The next couple of hours were spent enjoying delicious gluten-free naked beef burritos and catching glimpses of Main stage sets by legend Buffy Sainte-Marie and Calgarian twangster Corb Lund. The eternally youthful Sainte Marie had the energy level that would put musicians quarter her age to shame. Tough to say if anyone can rock a fringe-ful black jacket better than the 73 year old First Nations icon.

BigBlueStemIntroShot
Friday was also the first night of acts over at the Big Bluestem stage that featured a space for bands with alt-sounds. If the Main Stage wasn’t doing it for you, Big Blue was a solid second choice.

Left Lane Cruiser

Left Lane Cruiser


Left Lane Cruiser got the evening off to a blistering start with no-hold back brash and loud blues-rock. The Indiana based duo of Joe Evans (slide guitar, vocals) and Brenn Beck (percussion) certainly lived up to the emcee billing of ‘if the Black Keys had more balls’. Evans, seated for the most part, blazed through band’s originals and covers paying homage to their heroes ZZ Top and R.L Burnside. He effortlessly wowed the few hundreds gathered with mastery of electric guitar and the whiskey-soaked harsh vocals that oozed struggles and hardships, amplifying the intensity of the music. Beck, not to be outdone, washboard-ed and drummed like no tomorrow, given it was his last string of shows as part of the duo. Who needs a full band when 2 people can play as loud at 11. (Spinal Tap anyone?)

Pacing between Big Blue and Main Stage throughout Friday evening lead to seeing sample size sets of several acts playing both stages.

Before heading over to the Strumbellas at Big Blue, stuck around for a tweener set by JP Hoe. The Winnipeger, unanimously recommended by volunteers as one of the local acts worth checking out, had a resonating voice that commanded attention. Joined midset by friends from Chic Gamine, the sharply dressed singer-songwriter impressed with performances of “Lions and Tigers” and “Veils on the Way”, both off Mannequin, his last release.

The following acts The Strumbellas & The Sheepdogs played energetic sets. Having seen both fairly recently, whether you choose to call it laziness or fear of repetition, both their performances can be summed up as ‘predictably good’.

Hurray for the Riff Raff, the brainchild of singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra played a familiar New Orleans southern folk sound. The petite Segarra had a seasoned alto voice despite only being in her mid twenties. The set had peaks and valleys in energy levels, overall feeling slightly underwhelming. Although later listens of Small Town Heroes, the band’s major label debut, lead to appreciation for the band’s musicality and storytelling abilities via lyrical depths.

The Rua Macmillan Trio was all smiles as they got the claps going with traditional tunes from Scottish highlands. Macmillan, the award-winning fiddler, accompanied by a guitarist and bodhran player injected a jovial energy to the evening as folks in the dancing section were doing their best Ceilidh.

Baskery

Baskery


The ladies from Baskery opened with an acapella performance stunning the audience with their distinct yet well-blended harmonies. That ought to have a lasting impression. The Swedish alternative Americana trio, dressed in matching black stripes outfits a la ‘hipster referees’, showed off their mastery in instrumentation (banjo, double bass, guitars) and vocal prowess. The crowd roared even more as the trio played an impeccable cover of local hero Neil Young’s “Old Man” with Baskery’s harmonious sensibilities. It is safe to say that they knew how to win over a crowd.