Calgary Folk Fest: Finale
A young boy wades up the bow river
I parked myself beside a lanky poplar tree while another high-energy Caribbean band played out their grand finale. We had reached the final day of folk fest and I was admittedly misty-eyed. There wasn’t much left for music that I was familiar with, but after three days experience at the Fest I was quite aware that I was faced with the opportunity to discover some fresh new sounds. The sweet smell of mulch swam with waves of barbecue and fried goods. It was an enchanting aroma. A small toddler with her face painted like a cat twirled until she was dizzy, and several hipsters perched themselves under similar trees to my own; reading “Infinite Jest” and the like. Somewhere in the distance, bass rang through the park. Stage four, I thought. My legs were trembling, perhaps from the four days of constant walking, or maybe four days of festival food and beer. Whatever the case, my energy was running low, and the afterparty around midnight seemed less and less likely. I decided I couldn’t be idle and dwell any longer, so I followed the sound of bass to the nearest stage.
Little hipster girls with high buns played grown up and shuffled through the crowd in order to score a better view. I took a detour and wound up in one of a handful of “Family Areas”. This one was particularly exciting, mostly due to a gigantic cardboard box city that would house any number of excitable children and cats. The stage was packed, and at risk of stepping over twenty-odd people relaxing on tarps and lawn chairs I decided to watch from a distance. The mainstage wasn’t set to open for another hour, and the opportunities for the press were rather slim at the smaller venues. I never caught the name of the band, nor did I have much interest, and wound up meeting with my friend James who was volunteering for the event.
Most of the volunteers, I would learn, were treated quite handsomely. A six hour shift was rewarded with complimentary meals and free admission to the shows of the day. I also learned of a five o’clock “safety meeting” taking place strategically in the beer gardens. (“Safety meetings”, in Canada, often were code in the blue-collar world for the consumption of marijuana and/or alcohol)
“Caravan Palace.. World Party.. Kurt Vile and finally Creedence Clearwater Revisited.” I gave the media board a quizzical look while muttering the mainstage lineup to myself. Folk Fest was a very humbling experience; only knowing five or six bands and constantly being taken aback by talent I was completely unaware existed. I certainly wasn’t above using Google and Wikipedia to do some quick five minute research, and the wondrous interwebs had informed me that Caravan Palace was a French electro group inspired by genre heavyweights Vitalic and Daft Punk.
In the press tent, the old veteran was once again chattering away to the burgeoning and timid female photographer. She had an air about her as if she didn’t make friends on the easy, but he was making a valiant effort. Perhaps due to her youthful beauty.. Or maybe he was simply lonely. I resisted the urge to delve into cynical backstories and prepared myself for the next show.
“I hope you’re all having a good time, even if you’re laying down at the moment!”
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Caravan-Palace-Jolie-Coquine.mp3|titles=Caravan Palace – Jolie Coquine]
Caravan Palace – Jolie Coquine
Caravan Palace picked up where Cat Empire left off the previous day, only they were decidedly quite French about it. The entire band was ridiculously good-looking and well-dressed, and complementing their visual appeal was the fact that they were completely on point. Everyone from the keyboardist hammering away, to the violinist dueling with the clarinet player; Caravan Palace’s energetic exuberance radiated from cheek to cheek. At one point, Hugues Payen dropped his violin and pounced behind a keyboard to lay down some beat-box scat of his own, and the oft lazy daytime crowd was once again abound on their feet. They had no choice.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Caravan-Palace-Suzy.mp3|titles=Caravan Palace – Suzy]
Caravan Palace – Suzy
The gypsy jazz fusion-band irradiated cool, even the unexcitable press were dancing on spot. It was an incredible experience. Lead songstress Zoé Colotis ran back and forth across the stage, she would stop and psych-up her band mates, urging them to play harder and playfully dancing in front of them. It was undeniable, they loved their music. And so did I.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Caravan-Palace-Bambous.mp3|titles=Caravan Palace – Bambous]
Caravan Palace – Bambous
I made it back to the beer tent at the tail-end of the safety meeting, just in time to photobomb the volunteer pictures. We had about twenty minutes to refuel before Kurt Vile took to the mainstage. On this final evening I had the pleasure of being joined by my beautiful girlfriend, as such I was all smiles and grins joyfully leading her around the festival grounds.
I turned in my button-downs and jeans from the first few days for full-blown hippie madness
Over the course of four days I had transformed; from a nervous young blogger in an uptight woven sweater, to a raucous lunatic with chilli stained cloth pants and a tye dye shirt. Finding my identity at the folk fest was a struggle. Was I a budding journalist writing the first important piece of his life? Or was I crazed musical fanatic who had the supreme fortune of being granted a press pass? I leaned towards the latter, and after double-fisting some of Big Rock’s finest we slipped in to the press area to confer with some herbs-in-paper.
This hipster says, ‘stuff is that way!’
Kurt Vile had struck a chord with me this past year following the release of his album “Wakin On a Pretty Daze”. There was something so infinitely beautiful about the music, it was raw rock-and-roll, wanderer’s poems written for a wandering mind. They stretched out over vast distances, a half-drunk late night walk home, you only realized how long they were once you reached your destination. Yet for Kurt Vile and the Violators, the destination was truly in the journey.
“It was just the next logical step from making succinct pop songs, what do you do after that? You make pop songs that are longer and more epic, that push the envelope. Imagine your favourite song, or something that you play over and over in the car, except that you don’t have to start it over as much.”
– Vile as interviewed by Alex Hudson of exclaim.ca (sauce)
“Three songs, that’s it. Remember to stay down..” I smirked broadly. Hah, three songs. Little did the security guard know that three songs would stretch in to a half an hour. I felt like the luckiest person on the planet.
I couldn’t contain myself. I was ear to ear with the widest grin my face could possibly contort as I sat down in the grass in front of Kurt Vile and the Violators. His stage presence was completely lackadaisical, hey, i’m gonna play some music or whatever, yet there was some undeniable wisdom behind the curtains of frazzled brown hair. Vile spoke softly and said
“This song is called ‘Waking on a Pretty Day’”
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/01-Kurt-Vile-Wakin-On-A-Pretty-Day.mp3|titles=01 Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Day]
Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Day
And with the first note I was off. Vile stood practically still, but for a few moments I thought I saw rainbows shooting out of his fingers. It was an indescribable ten minutes of bliss. Kurt had transformed before my eyes; an artist to a god. Time was stretched and distorted, while somewhere in the back of my head a ‘Record’ button was hit. I wanted to save these memories. Kurt was toying with the chemicals in my brain, and a savoury concoction was brewing. In those moments, I was the highest i’ve ever been, and even over a week later I would be hit with euphoric flashbacks. It was truly, a spiritual experience.
“We’re sorry Rob [Laakso] couldn’t make it.. ay uh.. bedbug stole his passport” Kurt giggled at his own joke bashfully as his hair got caught on the microphone. A bedbug stole his passport? Does that mean what I think it means?
Rob had joined the Violators a couple years ago and was described by Vile as “..a wiz-kid with synthesizers and engineering in general” (sauce).. There was certainly a synthetic sound missing from the set when compared to the album, however the difference wasn’t as much of a subtraction as one might think. Vile refocused on earlier acoustic sounds, and added his own personal layering by fiddling with his pedals at the end of each song. This would confuse the crowd, as they would begin to cheer at the final note only to realize that Kurt was endlessly distorting and reverbing the chord. Should we… should we clap now?
“I think about them all the time..”
I was hypnotized. ‘Girl called Alex’ was the type of song that spoke to me. It was a nostalgic connection, remembering my teenage years when I truly thought a song ‘understood’ me. I had a friend named Alex, and she was happily dating a guy named Sean for a lengthy time. Perhaps my mesmerization was in the timing; a day prior to the folk fest I had sent Alex the song over facebook, and I heard no response. It was as if our friendship had awoken in a daze, it was not quite entirely present. Only memories seemed to remain, and the introspective fantasy I was experiencing was echoed in Kurt’s lyrics. Where before I was present and flying; I was now distant and misty-eyed.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/04-Kurt-Vile-Girl-Called-Alex.mp3|titles=Kurt Vile – Girl Called Alex]
Kurt Vile – Girl Called Alex
“I wanna live all the time
in my fantasy infinity
there I will never be abandoned
there I’ll have a handle against
everything that will never happen to them
I rejoined the crowd and tried desperately not to be distracted by the group of drunken morons on my right. They yelled and hollered, squawking birdlike ‘caw-CAWS’ and other avian jibberish in between songs. I was briefly overwhelmed with anger and disgust
“These guys are really mellowing my buzz” said a buck-toothed Tony Stonem look-a-like.
They had no idea what they were witnessing. Kurt was tapping in to the missing voice of our generation, but these idiots were too busy being lubed up to even notice. They were on the wrong substance, I thought. You certainly wouldn’t smoke a joint and rush to the front of a Steve Aoki show, you’d be paralyzed in fear and die of a fucking heart attack. And for this same reason, getting hammered and watching Kurt Vile drone on about life and beauty was surely a shit plan. I tuned them out, just as Kurt began to take us down a solemn road.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/07-Kurt-Vile-Too-Hard.mp3|titles=07 Kurt Vile – Too Hard]
Kurt Vile – Too Hard
His bandmates left him, and Vile began to pour his soul out, drop by drop. They were heavy moments talking about life, expectations, and fatherhood (Vile had two little girls of his own). I could hear the strain in his inflections; it wasn’t easy to go on tour and promote a new album, and although he certainly enjoyed playing for us, his home was far away. It was hard not to feel sympathetic and appreciative, he came a long way to entertain us. I became overwhelmed with gratitude.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/06-Kurt-Vile-Pure-Pain.mp3|titles=Kurt Vile – Pure Pain]
Kurt Vile – Pure Pain
After the set, I snuck my girlfriend Jackie in to the back of the press area to see if I could catch a glimpse of Kurt Vile. Only a few days earlier, I had heard from the media organizer Tara that she was working on getting me an interview with Kurt.. yet I never heard back. It was a pretty disappointing realization, coming close to interviewing one of my heroes, and never being told why it couldn’t happen. Maybe I wasn’t big enough. I didn’t write for the Globe, and I didn’t have a degree hanging on my wall. But I didn’t give a shit about material qualifications; I was the biggest fan out there, and certainly the only member of the press who actually cared deeply about the music Kurt and his Violators had created. I felt snubbed, but I was riding too big of a high to feel down. I would succeed at being a musical journalist, and someday I’d get to interview whoever I liked. And how was I so confident? Because I wanted it. I was a firm believer in the idea that the key to success lies within oneself.
Just as my optimism peaked, Kurt and Jesse walked towards me.
“Kurt!” he looked up and outstretched a hand, our shoulders bumped as I patted him on the back. “Incredible show, great job guys. I’m a huge fan”
“Oh thanks man!..” Kurt smiled at me as he brushed away his hair “.. are you with a band?”
“Nah nah, i’m with the media” I flashed my badge. “I’m just a fan, really, I was down there taking pictures.. I just wanted you to know that I really love the music, and I appreciate it.”
“Cool, thanks man!” he nodded with a smirk.
I didn’t dare keep them, I wasn’t trying to be a bother. I just wanted him to know that he had real fans here up north, and I thought it would be cheesy to hand him a card or ask for an interview. My badge said Press, but I that moment I was purely an admirer.
As we left the press area, a girl and her boyfriend begged and pleaded with the guard.
“Please? Just like, thirty seconds. I just want to see him i’m not going to do anything crazy!” she was hysterical.
Once again, I thought I was the luckiest person on the planet.
The night wound down, and I found myself skipping out on the Foggerty-less CCR to head to a bar and mellow my high with some suds. The afterparty was an hour away, and after a hot meal the exhaustion began to creep up my bones. The sun had long since set, and when Jackie decided to head to the Ship and Anchor to meet some friends I elected to walk to the train station and head home.
With music ringing in my ears, I could hardly believe the Folk Fest was over. Exhaustion and inebriation blurred my memory, and four days seemed like they had slipped away too quickly. The sobering realities started to kick in; I had to go back to work soon. The humdrum life of waiting tables, making the same cheesy jokes for the same ten dollar tips to the same retired seventy-somethings. Fuck it. I walked right passed the train station and headed towards the ritzy hotel ballroom where the afterparty had just opened its doors.
The scene was quite fancy, albeit rather devoid of people at first. Huge round tables encircled a large wooden dance floor. The hotel help dressed in button ups and fancy bow-ties, emotionless drones trained to be cordial and proper. I looked down at my white cloth pants and frowned, massive mustard and chilli stains ran down my leg towards my dirty scuffed shoes. Ah fuck it, I bought a beer and met up with James and the rest of his volunteer friends who managed to score a table on the fringe of the dance floor. We recalled tales of the weekend, and anxiously anticipated the arrival of the artists.
An hour passed and the room filled up completely. The Mexican Institute of Sound took the stage for the umpteenth time of the weekend while the beer began to flow. It was all noise and laughter, with various artists sprinkled around the room. Felix Riebl from Cat Empire smiled and chuckled to a few close listeners while in the lobby, Violator Vince Nudo was deadlocked in conversation with an animated metalhead. I considering trying to squeeze in a last minute ‘interview’ with someone, however I quickly took note of my own inebriation and decided it was best to remain as an observer.
You can’t fucking paraphrase a drunken interview, I thought, so instead I sat back and enjoyed the finale to one of the greatest weekends I’d ever had.
A couple hours later I wandered down the street and off in to the night, sporting a frozen grin that wouldn’t fade, whistling the tune of “Go your own way” by Fleetwood Mac. Let the countdown begin, folk fest, I would certainly be back.
Until next year..