Winnipeg Folk Festival: Day 3
Saturday, July 12, 2008, will doubtless go down in history as one of the most miserable, wretched, godforsaken days in Winnipeg Folk Festival History. On Friday there were a few intermittent showers, but it rained constantly on Saturday, and the wind howled out of the north at anywhere from 20 to 50 m.p.h., making a walk to the beer garden feel like a stroll across an oil-rig platform in the North Sea. Even worse, the temperature continually dropped during the day from the low 60s into the 40s by nightfall.
Brutal. You know it’s bad when you stay in the Biffie for an extra few minutes because it’s the only shelter from the wind you can find. In fact, the weather was deemed so dangerous and oppressive for the performers that Saturday’s mainstage performance was moved to the smaller Green Ash Stage, which happens to have its back to the wind. Even then, some of the equipment got soaked by rain and was unusable. Saturday’s mainstage show featured heavyweights Nancy Griffith, David Grisman’s Bluegrass Experience, ___ and would normally have drawn in the neighborhood of five thousand people. Only a few hundred diehards endured long enough to see the evening show, though, which turned into a low-tech, makeshift affair where everyone, including the performers, had to lower their expectations.
Seriously, the only outfit that made complete sense on Saturday was a full rain slicker with plenty of layers underneath. I in my three-dollar poncho could only envy those who had the foresight to pack such serious raingear. During Nancy Griffith’s set in the evening, there was a guy sitting next to me who was encased in yellow rubber. I complimented him on his foresight, and he said it was nothing. “I went home and came back,” he said. The guy lives in Winnipeg.
Paradoxically, however, Saturday was also the most enjoyable day of the festival so far for those who were willing to endure it. The crowds were smaller at every stage, the seats were better, and most of the performers—even if they were playing to only a few dozen people—played their hearts out.
You have to admire a guy like Charles Walker, for example. Here’s an R&B legend in his sixties who has played to huge crowds for going on half a century, and played the festival mainstage on Friday night. But there he was, on the tiny Bur Oak stage with his band, digging down deep and singing his heart to maybe a hundred white people, in Canada, during a torrential rainstorm. Walker ends every gig with the words “Remember people, do everything with soul,” and he’s a true living example of that motto. If you’ve never heard Walker in action, check him out here:
In fact, at about 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, you could practically trace the history of blues and R&B from Spider John Koerner’s traditional fingerpicking blues on the festival’s Little Stage, to Little Freddie King on the Snowberry Stage, to Charles Walker and his brand of party-friendly funk.
Weatherwise, things were just getting worse when the Pascale Picard Band took over the Snowberry Stage at 4:30 p.m. Not many people saw their show, but this indie-pop band from Quebec gets my vote for Best New Indie Band that ought to get more airplay in the U.S.
Picard is a petite, quirky young woman who acts shy onstage, says she’s not a great “entertainer,” but who throws herself into a song as if she were jumping off a cliff. In the middle of many of her songs, a passionate, angry, almost hysterical person comes out, wailing lyrics that are as thoughtful as they are original and poetic. It’s “pop” music with a considerable edge, and she’s got a tight, skillful band behind her. It also doesn’t hurt that she can sing a song bluntly titled “I Hate You,” and make it seem cute. Here’s Pascale Picard in action:
As I mentioned before, Saturday’s mainstage show was moved to the smaller Green Ash stage, where Nancy Griffith delivered a casual but polished set, even though it was the first time in two months since she played guitar onstage due to a wrist fracture. David Grisman’s Bluegrass Experience soldiered through several technical problems to at least play. Check out their version of the “Car Talk” theme song, which David Grisman himself just happens to have written:
As the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, the indie-rock band Calexico convinced the few huddled never-say-diers remaining why they are considered one of the best bands in the southwest (they’re based in Tucson). I had to call it quits myself at that point—my apologies to Balkan Beat Box and Suen Kuty & Egypt 80 for not having a stronger constitution or better raingear.