The main stage acts for the Regina Folk Festival used to be organized a lot different, with Friday often being the “young” or “louder” or what have you kind of night. That doesn’t happen anymore — the RFF is at a point where they’re sharing acts with the Edmonton Folk Festival, which allows us to get some acts we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford but also means the scheduling hands of the festival are a little more tied than they would otherwise be.
Last night wasn’t a huge, jumping party. It still might have had the best this year’s Regina Folk Festival had to offer. Take a peek after the jump for my thoughts on the main stage festivities.
The first couple of acts for the night got things started in very low key fashion. Cold Specks, born Al Spx, was supporting by couple of other performers, filling in some more guitar sounds and some cello at times. She was fantastic. I knew her mostly by reputation going into the festival — that she’d signed to Arts and Crafts, that she’s shortlisted for a Polaris Prize this year — but man, she was great. Her songs are stunningly composed, her voice great, her performance enchanting.
At one point, she was doing an a capella version of the theme from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air — an occurrence you can track down on YouTube quickly if you feel the need. I asked a friend if he realized what she was doing. His response: “A capella?” That’s a bit of the vibe for the first set of any given night. It’s not a time when everyone has their attention 100 per cent trained on the stage, but my eyes were mostly glued for Cold Specks.
Up next were fellow Arts and Crafters Timber Timbre, one of the three artists I talked to for the prairie dog in advance of the festival. Their last album, Creep On Creepin’ On, was more atmospheric than anything they’d done before, pushing the limits of what they could as a band.
When I saw them live here, it almost felt like an earlier version of the band would have been better suited to the stage, back when lead man — and kinda spooky sounding dude — Taylor Kirk was the only real member. I think they might need a slightly more claustrophobic space to have their music really take off. Not that they didn’t try to tip the situation in their favour — at one point, Kirk starting asking them to turn down the stage lights, at one point saying into the mic “Turn those fucking things off”, although with no malice or anger in his voice whatsover, it should be noted.
(As long as we’re talking about main stage cussing, Torquil Campbell was sound checking along with the rest of Starts this morning and, if I heard correctly, dropped a curse into “The Star-Spangled Banner”. American readers, start your letter writing campaigns.)
Shad has two of the best Canadian hip-hop albums of the past five years to his name — The Old Prince and TSOL — and everything off them is pitch perfect for a Regina Folk Fest crowd. He’s a positive, socially-conscious guy who can engage a crowd like no one’s business and get a party going.
His online-only EP, Melancholy and the Infinite Shadness, helps, pulling hooks from Milli Vanilli and Lenny Kravitz. He played some of those tracks live and they are people pleasers.
When Shad was playing the after-party at the German Club later as the secret guest of the evening, he pulled out some of the same material along with some songs he hadn’t played earlier, rapping from the crowd for a little under two and half songs and rocking the crowd unrelentingly. The man’s great.
Speaking of the after-party, I didn’t make it all the way through to Rich Aucoin. I had been drinking Grasshopper all night and when a friend brought me a Traditional Ale, it was like someone handed me a beer with a slice of bread in it. Am I blaming a free beer for me going home early? Yes, I am.
So the only Rich Aucoin I caught was his teaser set. He’s another artist adept at getting people going with earnest electro, another artist who probably benefits from a smaller stage. He also probably needs a bit more time to get going; by the time he’d told the crowd what to do and handed out his parachute, a chunk of his teaser set had already been eaten up. To some degree, it was the Aristocrats of teaser sets.
As is customary for her shows these days, Mavis Staples took a break while her band kept playing mid-set. Nevertheless, this musical legend, now in eight decade of living, was electric and hilarious, performing the hell out of every song. She’s lively and lovely in a way you wouldn’t always expect from a musician of her stature. For an example, see when she invited her “peacock”, Al Simmons, the goofy MC for the evening, onstage for her last song.
Finally came the Jim Cuddy Band, a talented bunch of people led by a Canadian musical legend. Anytime you get to see Cuddy, you should probably do it. The man’s voice does not age and neither do his songwriting skills. Now, if the songs were less vehicles for soloing in the live setting, we’d be all set.