by Nele Van Aerde

Photo by Frank Gasparik

Photo by Frank Gasparik

So the EFMF media crew was amazingly organized and I got to sit down with a handful of Canadian artists at the festival and pick their brains — those will be coming to RTT sometime in the near future ☺ but a lot of my Saturday was spent in and around the media tent. It actually was a nice reprieve because it was a cloudless high 20s gorgeous day – the perfect folk fest weather if you stay can stay hydrated and lather the sunscreen.

I started the day listening to 100 Mile House who are the most adorable band to come out of Edmonton. The backstory here is that the band’s two core members are married; Peter Stone is originally from London (UK) and Denise MacKay from Alberta. They met in Toronto and their musical and romantic relationships have been intertwined from the beginning. Armed with a guitar (him) and a suitcase + drum brushes (her), they took the stage with some friends (violin, cello, upright bass) to fill out their sound. I’m not kidding, she drums on a suitcase. The set was filled with gentle folk songs and gorgeous boy/girl harmonies, as well of stories of how no one understands Peter through his thick accent, including Denise. The band ended up taking home the 95.7 Cruz FM emerging artist award after the festival.

I wandered over to a stage that Ruth Moody, Basia Bulat, Pharis and Jason Romero and Rebecca Lappa were sharing for a session titled “Dedicated to the One I Love.” I was excited for this one because all 4 bands are Canadian! (My goal for the fest was to fit in as many Canadian bands as possible.) I was able to see 1 song from each before leaving to meet for an interview, but thankfully I was able to see each of the 4 again later in the festival. As for the session – it was packed (likely the pull was mostly for Basia), and against the pretty gorgeous background of the Edmonton Muttart Conservatory (pic). Cool moment: Basia played Before I Knew and started it with “This is one of the first songs I ever wrote.” Crowd clapped along. It was beautiful.

Photo by Stephanie Hample

Photo by Stephanie Hample


Later on in the day I caught Dan Mangan + Blacksmith playing at an even more packed stage. I hadn’t realized official name change for the DM outfit and for those of you who also don’t know: Dan released all of his first albums as a solo performer but over the last years had been collaborating more seriously with several musicians, including drummer Kenton Loewen, bassist John Walsh and guitarist Gord Grdina. Mangan decided he wanted to give headline credit to these people who were contributing to his music; the name “Blacksmith” was suggested and it stuck. Anyways, DM+B played a good mix of songs from “Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” and “Oh Fortune,” as well as a few new songs that hint of great things to come on the next album. For anyone who ISN’T familiar with this husky baritone, please remedy this immediately.

Photo by Stephanie Hample

Photo by Stephanie Hample


Next was a session called “Turn Turn Turn” with 100 Mile House, Sera Cahoone and Alela Diane. Now I don’t know what the session title actually alluded to, but it reminds me of an observation that I made and that I overhead others talk about at folk fest – the fact that with a lot of the workshops end up being each artists taking a ‘turn’ at playing a song and then sitting back while the others take their ‘turn.’ The most exciting workshops are those where artists are able to build on each other’s songs to create something that is ad-libbed, unique, and likely will never be heard again in the same capacity. My understanding is that this is something that is exclusive to folk fests (correct me if I’m wrong). Now, I understand that not all musicians are able to do that, but when it happens, it is pretty magic. But – back to the session – if I could rename it I would call it ‘Six Stringed Bliss.’ I’ve already spoken to 100 Mile House (they were no less adorable in the afternoon), and the other two gals joined us from the states. Sera Cahoone has 3 folk/americana albums to her name; prior to pursuing her singer-songwriter career she drummed for several bands, including Great Lake Swimmers. Today she drew in the crowd with just an acoustic guitar and a warm voice. Beside her was Alela Diane, who released her first album at age 20 and has released 4 more since. Her music has been described as “spooked-out acid folk” and I have to say this is pretty accurate. Though her style of folk is rather stripped-down, she still packs a full punch of emotion into each song. The 3 bands combined made for a blissful session in the sun on a lovely summer’s day.

I wandered around a bit to take in ALL of Edmonton Folk Music Festival: the food trucks (a variety of nationalities represented), the beer gardens (which some people spend the entire weekend in – no judgement!), the ‘marketplace’ with tents of local merchants, the face painting tent, the kids zone, etc. Folk fest really has something for everyone!

Photo by Eric Kozakiewick

Photo by Eric Kozakiewick


Basia Bulat took the mainstage later that evening and won the crowd’s hearts with a high energy set. She got a bit of a dance party going with upbeat tunes like Gold Rush and Wires; in fact, she danced right into the crowd while singing into the distortion mic during Wires. Though mostly playing from her newest release (Tall Tall Shadow), she did include some older gems like Snakes and Ladders. The set took a turn towards heart-wrenching when Never Let Me Go was played … Picture this: the sun is setting behind downtown Edmonton, there is a slight chill creeping into the air, you’re settled onto a blanket and that beautiful voice is washing over you … what a rollercoaster of emotions, Basia.

Photo by Eric Kozakiewick

Photo by Eric Kozakiewick


To close the night, Michael Franti & Spearhead took the stage and the entire bottom half of the hill turned into a giant dance zone. MF is a great performer, there’s not much more to be said than that. With his enthusiasm/charisma, he can rally the troops into dancing, into singing along, whatever it is. He sang/danced the entire way up Gallagher Park hill and spent some time serenading the folks up there. I know Franti has been around to close many folk fest nights between Edmonton and Calgary, and there’s a definite reason why they keep asking him to come back.