Sunday, August 13, 2006

Edmonton folk 'n food

Arrived in festival city on Wednesday and have been having a fine old reunion with my former home. We ate at the BulGoGi House where the bulgalbi (ribs) were as fabulous as the smells of barbecuing beef had suggested; some jap chae (sweet potato noodles) to pad out the nooks and crannies and we were done. Friday we dined at the Urban Diner, a good place for a satisfying plate of meat loaf, or liver and onions, or fried chicken, or some very tall desserts.

The folk festival has been a good 'un, with one day left. 27 years old now and running like a huge but well-oiled machine, yet still friendly and easy going. Have not braved the beer tent queues, but managed to experience plenty else. Some rain and chill the first night weakened my will to persist on the second, and so I missed highlighters Susan Tedeschi, the Neville Brothers and the Friday night workshops; but I also passed on a night on the hill in steady rain, chilly temperatures and a nasty late evening breeze that I'm told moved half the audience to leave before finale by Hawksley Workman, starting late on top of bad weather.

James Keelaghan led the ill-fated Saturday session I was at, featuring Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, Lennie Gallant and Show of Hands. The clouds we'd watched blubber in from the west finally cut loose in the second number and the musicians watched awestruck as audience members hauled out rain gear, ponchos, umbrellas and either scattered for cover or stared them down from the assault and battery of a spectacular hailstorm. Eventually Jez picked up his guitar and wooed back the sun with Singin' in the Rain, and gradually the precipitation slowed to a trickle and the audience dribbled back to full numbers. The sun was out again before they were done. Awesome organisation by the festival crew who were out shortly thereafter raking sand across the slickest puddles, and we were dried off and restored to sunny normalcy within a couple of hours. Thanked our lucky stars we'd stopped in at Mountain Equipment Coop and Mark's Work Wearhouse the night before to top up our supply of quick-dry clothing and rain gear.

Saturday afternoon at the aptly named Master Class - Ricky Skaggs, the excellent five-piece doubled-up band billing as Southern Routes, a couple of members of Solas, together with terrific last minute substitution Oscar Lopez - burned a hole in the workshop experience, with Lopez setting an unbeatable pace on guitar and the others nimbly galloping alongside on a variety of instruments - mandolin, banjo, fiddles, bass and accordion. Sometimes it just all comes together like magic, and this was one great gathering. The group rendition of the old Hank Williams standard Jambalay was jaw dropping.

Tonight I heard what I came to hear: David Gray, in a fabulously elaborate setup, backed by five musicians, performing with manic diffidence. His show was geared to sell the new album, yet generously woven through with plenty of old favourites from White Ladder... We all knew closing time was nigh with the wistful, pumping piano that signalled the start of Babylon.

Other highlights so far for me: The Waifs, Feist - smoky supercharged melodies. The effortless power and purity of Linda Ronstadt's voice; gorgeous music in well chosen ballads. Some beautiful churning Cajun fiddles from Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.

The food on offer is above average but you have to shop carefully. I had some excellent mango-mint salad from Homefire Grill the first night, and the same vendor's bison stew was given a thumbs up by my dining companion; tonight I supped on a big meal of beef and chicken skewers together with a tasty shredded papaya salad (scary for unsuspecting vegetarians - it featured slivers of beef jerky) from Hoang Long. But mostly it's down to that comforting festival formula: variations on fried dough. Elephant ears (aka whale tails, beaver tails etc etc) with fruit (edible but somewhat disappointing - just canned pie fillings in apple and strawberry) for breakfast; green onion cakes and deep fried pork dumplings for lunch.


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