The second day of the inaugural Interstellar Rodeo didn't was also its first full day with acts scheduled from 1:00 to closing time at 10:00 at night. While the first night was definitely focused on Americana, the second day's schedule spanned the full range of musical styles. It's the kind of day festivals like this are made for: the day you discover that new artist or sound you didn't even know you were doing to like.
When I left for the festival it also looked like the kind of day you don't want at these festivals: a rainy one. This being Edmonton nobody was really worried about it too much: these things come and go, quite unlike my hometown of Vancouver where rain usually lingers…and lingers…and lingers. Sure enough, by the time the first act hit the stage the day was starting to brighten. Festival emcee Chris Wynters hit the stage and announced that "only a tornado warning" would shut the festival down. It didn't matter in the end, as the gloomy start ended with a glorious summer evening and a performance to match but that's the kind of dedication I like to see.
Regina, Saskatchewan based Jason Plumb
opened the day with a set featuring songs from his new album as well as his former band The Waltons' classic Lik' My Trakter,
released all the way back in 1994 and the soundtrack to a summer for many of us. Plumb's voice still sounds fresh, and the audience reaction pretty clearly showed that I wasn't the only one with fond memories. Plumb ended his set promising to reveal "all the secrets of The Waltons breakup" back at the merchandise tent. I think he's taking those secrets to the grave.
Halifax based Jenn Grant
was next with her full band. Grant's albums Echoes
and Honeymoon Punch
are some of the best to come out of Canada in the last few years. The latter was nominated for the Polaris Prize and the former's lack of a nomination was a grievous oversight. Grant's sound was a lighter, more upbeat counterpoint to the previous night's closing set by Gillian Welch (who introduced a song as "…a little more uptempo. It's faster, it's not really happy or anything."
) I've written before about how much fun Grant is to see live, and her witty set included favourites like Getcha Good
and Oh My Heart
as well as material from her soon to be released next album. Grant and her band sang the sunshine in with them, and the crowd was obviously pretty happy with what they saw.
Short sets by Victoria, BC based Carolyn Mark
, Richard Buckner
and emcee Chris Wynters
lead up to a highly anticipated appearance by Grammy winners the Carolina Chocolate Drops
. The band took the stage with a huge array of instruments including two banjos (one a traditional four string goat skin replica of early versions of the instrument) a cello, fiddle and a massive bass drum that sat behind the band. The tuning process alone caused a buzz in the audience. This was pretty clearly going to be something different.
Introducing themselves as purveyors of "a social music. A music that was meant to be shared" the Drops' enthusiasm for what they do was pretty evident from the first moments. Rather than waiting for the traditional late in the set sing-along, Adam Matta (the band's leader for the day, inasmuch as there is one) introduced a chorus of "Don't get trouble on your mind"
to the audience on the second number. Promising that "When we get going, it's gonna get a bit faster. Just keep singing it. Sing it loud, sing it proud" it took about two verses for the pace to pick up along with the audience. Suddenly, an entire amphitheatre of seats was empty as it seemed like the entire audience had gotten up to "rock the floor" as Six Shooter puts it.
The band was obviously in good humour. When describing a fretless four string banjo with a real goat skin head, they talked about "goin' back to 1855…well, to be frank we don't actually want to go there"--a reference to the way black musicians of the time were treated.
Those period and acoustic instruments and their finicky tuning turned out to be a small problem as they cut the band's set short. Not content with letting them leave the stage the entire crowd demanded more. Sadly, a tight schedule for the day meant the band wasn't able to provide an encore. This actually led to emcee Chris Wynters getting booed but that's how it does at these things sometimes. It was a minor problem on an otherwise fine day.
The night's early evening headliner was Hawksley Workman
, something of a Canadian indie rock legend. Workman has produced some of the finest musicians in the country and has a bit of a reputation as a musical chameleon, able to play pretty much any style he chooses. For this particular set he was accompanied only by Mr. Lonely, whose hair was described by Workman early on as being "like the Olympics. It's infinite!"
That's the sort of thing you can expect from Workman who, apart from playing classics like You and the Candles, I'm Jealous of Your Cigarette and Oh You Delicate Heart: his witty stage banter is the stuff of legend. Early in the set he announced that he "really liked singing songs. I forgot about that." Good thing too, because this crowd really liked listening to them.
Warhol's Portrait of Gretzky
was a particular highlight in this town, where Gretzky played his most famous years. Edmonton is a hockey town at heart, and judging by the crowd's reaction it was a Workman town too. A long winded riff that--and I'm not making this up--went from fish sticks, to practicing karate with your father, to doing golf in the backyard to demolition derby to Pink Floyd all without missing a beat had the audience in stitches. Workman's stage presence is among the best, and on this particular night it was better than I've seen him before.
With Workman leaving the stage (and reminiscing about Edmonton's legendary Sidetrack Cafe) a grand piano made its way to stage centre, announcing the imminent arrival of the night's main headliner: Randy Newman
. The legendary songwriter has been nominated for 20 Oscars, written more hits than most can even remember and his arrival was eagerly anticipated not just by the audience
but by the artists
as well: the festival had arranged a meet & greet so all the musicians could meet Newman
Newman's set--played as the sun went down on a happy second day of the festival--was light on chatter and heavy on "give the audience what they want." It included both Toy Story's You Got a Friend in Me
and older more mainstream hits like I Love L.A.
. The lack of chatter didn't seem to bother too many people, though the seated audience was a stark contrast to the crowd's reaction to both the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Hawksley Workman (who was being mobbed for autographs at stage left as Newman played.)
So, two days into a new festival everything's going pretty smoothly so far: the festival's unique strategy of pairing a wine with each artist seemed to be a hit with the audience, there's been no rowdiness from the audience, and the killer lineup has been diverse and rewarding to listeners--particularly the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who I suspect made a couple of thousand new fans today (and proved that the Grammy awards sometimes get it right.) If that was the only discovery of the day it would have been enough, a lot of listeners were new to other artists as well.
With one more day to go, a happy audience headed home for a much needed night of rest.