by Nele Van Aerde
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Festivalgoers were blessed to have another gorgeous sunny day of folk music in Edmonton to conclude the festival. The first session I took in was “Hymns and Laments” where James Keelaghan, Rose Cousins, Ruth Moody and John Mann shared the stage: another all-star Canadian lineup. James Keelaghan has been doing the folk thing for years now and won the Juno in the roots and traditional album in 1993. His experience shows through his confidence onstage; as the workshop’s host he engaged in hilarious and easy banter between the other musicians. Keelaghan is known as a great storyteller, a reputation he upheld as he brought the entire audience (including those onstage with him) to tears with the song ‘McConville’s.’ I strongly urge you to find a clip of him playing this live; it’s a perfect showcase of the talent of this artist who has been honing his craft throughout the years.

Sitting next to Keelaghan was British Columbia’s John Mann, who, like myself, was somewhat overcome with emotions after hearing McConville’s. Mann threatened to be a bit of a tearjerker himself as he introduced his song ‘These are the Instructions:’ he wrote the song (along with the whole album) during a period of being sick with cancer, and he planned out his own funeral as his wife would “do it all wrong.” What followed was a deeply personal song, simultaneously heartwarming and heart wrenching (if that’s possible).

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Another treat of the workshop was the combination of Ruth Moody and Rose Cousins. The two are obviously good friends, often functioning as a duo during the session by providing backing vocals to the other. Actually, it went so well that they decided to do it a few more times that day … more on that later. Moody, who is one third of the Wailin’ Jennys, played their song ‘Glory Bound’ and got the crowd + onstage friends to help with the hallelujahs: gorgeous.

Next I headed to see Calgary’s Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, and there obviously was no Calgary-Edmonton animosity there, since the stage was PACKED. MBF is a great performer: charismatic, hilarious, and of course he has an amazing voice. A percussionist and second vocalist joined him + guitar, and the three brought a big, fun sound to the small stage. It was amazing to see the crowd grow even bigger as passer-bys couldn’t refrain from stopping. The hour flew by and I know I’m not alone in hoping that EFMF asks MBF to come back and play the main stage sometime soon.

The School of Song is an initiative that teaches, mentors and develops young artists in Alberta. This year, 4 groups were invited to showcase their music at a workshop of the same name. Rebecca Lappa uses the piano to create a mix of pop, folk and jazz with a maturity that surpasses her years. Trevor McNeely showcased the folk/country side of the Alberta music scene, returning to School of Song after being a backing musician for two years. Bardic Form, a high-energy guitar duo, dazed the crowd with their fretwork as well as ability to travel into the audience while shredding on acoustic guitars. They describe their music as “Folk-acoustic-Celtic-medieval-pirate-metal-flamenco-esque.” Finally, Scenic Route to Alaska acted as the backing band for the others as well as laying some of their own indie-folk-rock tunes. They are also involved in the Alberta Peak Performance Project this year and are definitely a band to keep your eye on. This session was great fun, and the audience was stoked to discover so many talented new groups from right here in Alberta.

Pharis and Jason Romero hail from Horsefly, BC, a town of 700 people, where they keep busy with a banjo making business and raising their 9-month-old baby girl (not to mention making music). All 3 Romeros have a full summer on the road, hitting folk fests across North America. In Edmonton, Pharis and Jason charmed the audience with gorgeous harmonies and intricate banjo/guitar work. Check them out if you want a flavor of old-timey, traditional folk music.

Rose Cousins was up next for her solo show, where she opened with the same 2 songs that she had played on the mainstage on Friday. She continued through her repertoire, singing a majority of songs from ‘We Have Made a Spark,’ which won the Juno for best Solo Roots & Traditional Album in 2013, but also including some older tunes — like the adorable ‘Celebrate.’ Rose brought Ruth Moody onstage to sing backup on several tunes, which was an exciting surprise. And it only got better: in ultimate folk-fest spirit, Rose invited friends Bear’s Den, Jordie Lane, and Dave Gunning (+ Ruth) to sing along with her in ‘All the Time it Takes to Wait’ … it was breathtaking, unique, and completely Folk Fest.

I closed out my EFMF experience with Ruth Moody’s solo concert and I can definitely say I finished on a high note. Ruth Moody has the voice of an angel. She played a mix of songs from her two solo releases, including her take on Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ Hailing from Winnipeg, she told the crowd that winters are worse in Winnipeg than Edmonton, though after 24 winters in Edmonton I can’t even believe how that’s possible. Anyways, she explained that she writes a lot of “winter songs” and then smiled as she sang the gem ‘Cold Outside,’ which somehow transported me from the +25 weather to a cold and windy -20. She also invited buddy Rose Cousins to the stage to help out with vocals – I just can’t get enough of these two! At 7:00pm on the dot, noise from the main stage (right next to this stage) started, but the Ruth Moody band were just starting their last song … they stayed the course and played over the main stage as the crowd clapped along to help keep them on track and drown out the extra noise – the cheers at the end were enormous. It was a magic moment and a great way to conclude my 2014 EFMF experience and head back down the road to Calgary. Until next time E-town!