Thursday, July 23, 2009

VFMF Weekend Review (plus photos)

Writer's note:
Posted at
As Alex (AlexOfAnders) has been so thorough with his Vancouver Folk Music Festival daily recaps, I'll try my best not to overlap.

This past weekend was probably the hottest and brightest on record so far this year in Vancouver. Being located on Jericho Beach, Vancouver Folk Fest had the advantage of drawing in not only music lovers, but curious sunbathers as well. That, along with its tradition of having hippie-ish arts bazaars by its premises, meant that there was an eclectic mix of attendees, from mothers changing babies on beach blankets, to the most hardcore of indie fans.

The festival was run very well this year. There were an abundance of Christmas light-lit porta-potties, which were clean (!). The water refilling stations with local filtered tap water was a nice touch. I didn't eat much, but there was a whole section for food with over 2 dozen vendors. Cute kitschy vendors selling everything from hammocks to hats lined the walkways. I took public transit to get to the festival site, which took about an hour total in commute time from a local municipality (Richmond). So in conclusion, you would not be roughing it in the wild.

Onto the music; there were 8 stages in total, with the main evening stage complemented by 7 numbered, smaller stages.

Friday night (July 17)

I arrived the main evening stage to overhear Joe Pug, a singer-songwriter from the States. I was not super impressed with him; seemed like typical guy-with-guitar fare. However, he had a surprisingly old-soul voice for a 23-year old.

After a short meeting with fellow NxEW-ers at the beer garden (good view of evening stage), I went off to snap some photos of the Weakerthans' set at the main stage. They opened with Night Windows (my favorite song from them) and put on a strong, hits-filled set, especially near the end when they blazed through Civil Twilight, Aside, and Sun in an Empty Room.

John Samson was more than willing to banter back and forth with the audience. Before launching into One Great City!, he threw his support behind those who oppose the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in 2010. This was no surprise, looking at the topic matter addressed in the song. After agreeing to disagree with a few audience members, he mentioned that he'll be at the beer garden after the show, to continue the debate then. Sadly, I cannot confirm whether or not that happened. Read Alex's interview with John Samson here.

After the Weakerthans, Iron & Wine took to the main stage. I'm not very familiar with his music, but he played a hits-filled show as well, according to fellow blogger Lauren from Backstage Vancouver.

Arrested Development, the headliners of the night, were definitely a highlight for me. They've been performing "uplifting hip hop" for over 17 years, and the infectious and joyous noises they make roused the 1000+ crowd to their feet to dance. Everyone from grandpas to hipsters were flinging their hair and swinging their hips. It was a sight to behold and truly a pleasure to witness. The festival's Lantern Committee wandered through the crowds and complemented the music by their light show, and sporadic fireworks went off in English Bay across the waters. It was a magical night. I unfortunately do not have any (good) photos, as I was (fortunately) dancing.

Saturday afternoon (July 18)
My first session of the weekend ("Folkestra") was hosted by Rock Plaza Central, and included members of The Breakmen and Great Lake Swimmers. There really is nothing quite like the experience of lying in the hot sun and listening to some of the most talented musicians serenade an appreciative crowd.
The bands alternated between songs and occasionally contributed to each others' instrumentation. At times, a song sounded like it had the help of a 12 piece backing band, which was what happened for Great Lake Swimmers' Still, which is a beautiful song off their Polaris-shortlisted Lost Channels. Expect my Youtube video of it up on this blog soon...
(On a side note, while they were playing, a pair of dragonflies were courting right up front and centre of the stage. They had the best view.)

Rock Plaza Central played a handful of songs off each of their albums, especially from their latest ...At The Moment of Our Most Needing and the thematic Are We Not Horses from 2006. After the frontman Chris Eaton borrowed Tony Dekker (of Great Lake Swimmers)'s guitar, they rounded up their set with the catchy song My Children, Be Joyful (mp3) which had the entire tent, as well as the audience, singing along.

The Breakmen
, a Vancouver-based folk/roots band, played songs such as That's Where I Lay Down ("written on a day much like this one"), as well as an unnamed one which had the whole stage singing "oohs" for back-up. I don't know their music well but am looking forward to checking them out more.

After the session, we made it over to a nice shaded stage for Basia Bulat's set. I was very excited to see her live for the first time, after falling in love with her voice two years ago. Due to a mix-up with scheduling, or the artist before her overstaying his time, her set began half an hour later than scheduled. That didn't frazzle Bulat, who launched into a high energy foot-stomping set, including hits like In The Night. Erik from the Great Lake Swimmers played guitar and banjo in her backing band.
She wrapped up her 12-song set with Snakes and Ladders and an a capella song, which had her crooning to the audience complete with foot stomping and clapping for percussion. You can read an interview between Alex and Basia here.
After Bulat's set, I raced over to Joel Plaskett Emergency's free set in Surrey, BC for the Surrey Fusion Festival. That adventure will be outlined in a later post.

Sunday evening (July 19)

After bolting between Surrey and Jericho beach (again) after a friend's bridal shower, I made it back in time to catch Rock Plaza Central and Great Lake Swimmers again at a side stage. GLS were headlining that particular stage.

They each performed several songs that they played during the sessions, ramped up, as well as several other songs.

Chris Eaton, lead vocals and guitar for Rock Plaza Central, was clearly appreciative of the large attentive audience. He connected with the audience well, which definitely complemented his band's amazing songwriting and his captivating "scream-folk" voice (as dubbed by me). Once again, they wrapped up their set with the two extremely catchy songs (Don't You Believe The Words of) Handsome Men and Be Joyful. Handsome Men has been stuck in my head ever since their set.

Great Lake Swimmers, whose performance I'd been waiting for the whole weekend, surpassed my expectations with their set. By the time they got on stage, a sizeable crowd had stretched far back, waiting to hear this ethereal band led by Tony Dekker's singular voice. They were not disappointed. The Swimmers played a 12-song long set, strumming through hit after hit. Let's Trade Skins, Chorus in the Underground, Palmistry and Pulling On A Line started the set, while the captivating Various Stages had the entire crowd sighing to the words,
I've seen you in various stages of undress
I've seen you through various states of madness
Basia Bulat joined the Great Lake Swimmers for the ending part of the set, adding a jolt of energy to Your Rocky Spine (which, by the way, totally blows John Mayer's Your Body Is A Wonderland out of the water). The entire set was wrapped up with the beautiful and hopeful Still. I'm sure I speak for the appreciate audience when I say that no one wanted the dream-like set to end. As the sun was setting and music from Mavis Staples floated over from the main stage, Great Lake Swimmers got a standing ovation for being a sparkling highlight of the entire weekend.
Sunburnt and sleep-deprived, I could not have wished for a more soulful, musically-filling weekend.

See a set of photos from Vancouver Folk Fest on my Flickr here.
Here's another very thorough VFMF review by my good friends Mel and Lauren of Backstage Vancouver.