Saturday, May 03, 2014
Songs that tell stories
I had a wonderful time at the folk festival at Easter. I had one evening alone (which I like - I find it a perfectly comfortable environment to wander around alone) and a day with a very musically compatible friend. Great company! We like a lot of the same things but are also drawn to slightly different styles, which probably meant more variety for both of us. I'd tried to get her to come along with me before, but only at short notice. This time we planned ahead and had a most wonderful day.
It's not cheap, so you really want to plan ahead and spend a whole day/night there. Then you can really get your money's worth.
Fire performance by Zap circus.
It's such a comfortable, relaxed festival. Almost too relaxed sometimes - the audiences are attentive and appreciative but almost always completely seated (except for a few people standing at the back or in the doorways.) I tend to think some of the bands might like people to get a bit more animated. But then, it's not a rock festival. They're probably used to it.
There seemed to be a lot of bluegrass this year, and a variety of groups. I missed the festival last year - I was travelling to Melbourne to see this guy. The year before I think there were one or two bluegrass bands, but this time, they were all over the place. (Also, so many young guys with serious beards! - which is not just a bluegrass thing) Styles ranged from quite traditional (Karen Lynne Bluegrass Circle) to the younger guys: the quite clean-cut Davidson Brothers and then the more scruffy, frenetic Quarry Mountain Dead Rats. The Rats' banjo-playing speed, in particular, had me mesmerised.
But I didn't only listen to bluegrass. Although the festival still has a strong anglo/celtic focus, there is some other folk and 'world' music. One of the first groups I caught this year were the very charming Italian folk group Santa Taranta. And in the Celtic department, we loved Fasta, who play a combination of Irish and Quebec folk music with fiddle, Irish pipes and guitar.
I am always happy to go along to the folk festival (or Womadelaide) without particularly knowing any of the acts. But this time there was a big bonus to look forward to. I've been listening to Tift Merritt's music for years, ever since I came across one of her earlier songs on a country compilation disc, and started to collect her music.
I was very excited to hear Tift play live and she didn't disappoint. Her voice is so warm, and powerful. Although they sound very different, in a way the experience of such a big voice coming from a relatively small person reminded me of the awesome Neko Case.
She is also very energetic - I couldn't get a non-blurry photo while she was actually playing and singing! Gorgeous. I really can't wait for my next opportunity to see her.
And then there was this guy, English folk legend Martin Carthy. I knew of him from reading Rob Young's Electric Eden. I am so glad I got to see him. He sang wonderful songs and told some great stories too.
Each time I've been to the festival, I love it and feel at home and relaxed there, but at the same time I'm aware that there is almost a whole other festival, or at least a very different experience had by the many musicians who attend. Whether or not they are officially on the program, musicians have lots of opportunities to meet, play together, and learn from each other, including in the legendary Session bar. This year I noticed a lot more 'blackboard sessions' than before. I don't know if this was just because the layout had changed and they were more obvious to me. These are venues where individuals or groups can put their name down for a slot to play. There are also lots of buskers. And as the long weekend wears on, you notice more and more of the formal shows where additional guest musicians are invited to join the band for a song or two.
So, compared to many of the people at the festival, I feel a bit like I am just skating over the top. But it's okay, they still need audiences, don't they?