Summer Festivals: seeing the old in the new

This was a summer of music for me! I was at the Calgary Folk Music Festival and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. I love going to these festivals. I love the atmosphere of the parks as thousands of people gather to relax and listen to great music. I always know a few of the bands and look forward to seeing them live and the magic of Folk Fest is finding new bands to support and appreciate.

There were several highlights this year: Andrew Bird, Matt Anderson, Great Lake Swimmers, Jill Barber, Deep Dark Woods, James Vincent McMorrow, Michael Franti and Spearhead, 100 Mile House, Leeroy Stagger, Daniel Lanois, and Blue Rodeo.

I also found a few new artists to get excited about: Nick Sherman, Yamantaka / / Sonic Titan, Leonard Sumner, Hudson Taylor, Elephant Revival, Bear’s Den.

After two weekends of glorious music and sunshine, I am left in a bit of music withdrawal. The power of music always amazes me. I cannot go a day without listening to music. Yet I know that I am not alone in my love of music. People have loved music for centuries! Musicians have been big-time celebrities since the Romantic era when pianists like Schubert and Chopin stole the hearts of many women.

Thinking about past musicians got me thinking. Who are the parallels of those musician’s today? Please humour me as I compare a few of my favourites from my Folk Fest experience with some of my favourites from history!

1.) Furniture Music: James Vincent McMorrow = Satie.
I first heard James Vincent McMorrow on CBC’s The Signal radio show. I heard this song: “Cavalier.” As soon as I heard the song all I could think of was how similar it was to works by Erik Satie. Satie was an Avante-Garde musician living in Paris in the late 1800s. He works closely with Picasso, Debussy, and other famous artists. His music is slow and dreamy. On his scores, he is notorious for his bizarre performance directions. His specialty was piano music. He was a minimalist and his work became known as “furniture music”; you can listen to as background music. Like Satie, James Vincent McMorrow has some beautiful piano elements, especially in the song “We Don’t Eat.” Yet most notably, McMorrow’s music is also sparse, leaving space for escape and imagination, meaning it is furniture music. Both Satie and McMorrow have an artistic element to their music. Satie worked with artists to create unique works, especially his ballet Parade where Picasso designed the costumes and sets. In his set at Edmonton Folk Fest, McMorrow used lighted pyramids to enhance the artistic appeal to his show. So although both men are a century apart, their concepts of incorporating art into sparse furniture music is very similar.
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2.) The Bridge: Blue Rodeo = Beethoven.
I like to think of Beethoven’s music as the bridge between the Classical and Romantic periods, just as I like to think of Blue Rodeo’s music as a bridge between rock and country styles. A perfect example is my favourite Blue Rodeo song “Diamond Mine.” Country or rock??
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3.)Experimental: Daniel Lanois = Berlioz.
Daniel Lanois is a genius. Hector Berlioz is a genius. Lanois put on an amazing show at Edmonton Folk Fest by blending a set with rock music and some amazing electronic songs (mixing human and animals noises together). Like Berlioz, Lanois loves to experiment with sounds and instruments. Lanois’ rock music is also amazing, yet it was his new electronic works that had me standing at the end of his set at Folk Fest. In his Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz included a lot of experimentation with the instruments and even included some new instruments in the orchestra. Things like playing the strings with the back of the bows, a harp, and a cornet. Berlioz changed the way music was performed because he added people into the orchestra to make the number of instruments 100. Just like Berlioz, Lanois is very involved in the production of music. He is best known for his work with U2, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young.
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4.) Show Stopper: Michael Franti and Spearhead = Chopin.
If you ever have the chance to see Michael Franti and Spearhead live, you must see them! He spends most of his time in the crowd interacting with his fans. I feel that is the way that fans of Chopin felt as they saw him in person. Chopin took folk music from his country and wove it into his work. Michael Franti, although he doesn’t take traditional songs, uses ideas that are from the masses and writes about them in his songs. Another similarity is both men are amazing at improvisation: Franti with his lyrics and Chopin with his piano runs. As I said, both men are extremely capable of engaging the crowd!
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5.) Heart Throb: Nick Sherman = Schubert.
Schubert died of syphilis. I feel that’s all I need to say about this Romantic performer. Women swooned at his shows. His music was poetic and pleasing. He created Lieder, vocal works, that were very popular hence his cause of death. Although I’m positive that Nick Sherman will not die from syphilis (that is totally a romantic era thing to do), I can say with certainty that Sherman is definitely a heart throb! Sherman’s music is also poetic and lyrical. Just as Schubert uses instruments to minimc the sound of hooves in his song “Erlkonig” to create suspense, Sherman uses the sounds of a fire crackling in his song “Drag your Words Through” to create a cozy/homey feel. Needless to say, I’d swoon for both men. Such beautiful music!
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6.) Political: Leonard Sumner = Verdi.
I really wanted to use Shostakovich here, yet Verdi is the better fit. Verdi wasn’t exiled for his works, yet people did storm out of his operas! His operas even inspired people to take to the streets in protest, espeically with his opera Nabucco and the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.” At the time people in the area wanted to become a unified country and they used Verdi’s music as a means of communicating their longing for unification. Similarly, Leonard Sumner writes political music. He calls himself the Rez Poet and sings a lot about Aboriginal rights in Canada. He is a part of the Idle No More movement and even sang his song “They Say” at an Idle No More march in Winnipeg. Both men create music which inspires those around them to create a better world politically.
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As you can tell, I really enjoyed the Calgary Folk Festival and the Edmonton Folk Festival. I found new bands, I saw some of my favourites, and I just loved being around fellow music lovers and sharing the experience of seeing amazing music performed live. I cannot wait for next year!!

Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
praise by strumming soft strings;
Praise him with castanets and dance,
praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise God! (Psalm 150: 2-6)

‘“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”‘ (Dumbledore, J.K. Rowling)


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