Itís not quite 72 hours since silence took over the main stage at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and everyone I have talked to is still trying to digest and dissect what they experienced over the course of four days at Gallagher Park.
Maybe Jim Cuddy expressed our collective thoughts, as succinctly as possible, when after stepping onto the main stage and up to the microphone at centre stage he simply asked us if we knew how lucky we were to be present at such an event.
Not long afterward there was gentleman Jim within a stoneís throw of Stage One soaking up the sounds of New Orleans as a funkified all-star revue that included Cyrille Neville and Dr. John. Cuddy was part of a massive audience that was on its feet from the time the first notes were played during the three hour extravaganza that was presented under the banner Treme.
Highlights? One could point to just about everything that was outlined in the program schedule.
I have yet to find anyone who walked away from side stages wishing they had been elsewhere on the site as along the way thousands of music fans were treated to great interaction amongst acts and superior solo performances from established and emerging artists.
Personally Iíve waited a long time to see Jim Lauderdale on this side of the 49th parallel and itís about time an artistic director slotted this exceptional singer-songwriter into a roots music festival. Youíve heard your share of Lauderdale on Saturday mornings on CKUA as I make sure his collaborations with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter get prominent play alongside some of the interpretations of Grateful Dead songs heís recorded for the American Beauty Project with associates like Ollabelle and Jorma Kaukonen. Heading into Wide Cut Country Allison Brock has kept Lauderdale near or at the top of her list of essential artists and it was great that Allison was able to broadcast a lengthy conversation with the Grammy Award-winning musician on the Saturday morning direct from the site.
Terry Wickham made sure patrons had ample opportunity to catch the man who is a force in both bluegrass and country music. If he wasnít working with his band and interacting with other artists like Pokey Lafarge and New Country Rehab, Lauderdale also made his way onto the main stage to lend vocal support to one of Mary Chapin Carpenterís offerings on Saturday night.
Speaking of hits on Wide Cut Country, Allisonís interview with Ricky Skaggs at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning was riveting and after being led to believe that Skaggs was only available for conversation, the master musician brought his mandolin along to the CKUA tent and treated a sizeable crowd to a beautiful instrumental interlude between his recollections of playing alongside Bill Monroe when he was all of six years old and memories that found him reflecting on more recent turns in his long and impressive career.
At his Saturday afternoon workshop stage appearance with Hills To Hollers, Jayme Stone and Blue Highway, Skaggs chatted up a storm, talking about everything from the Stanley Brothers and Tony Rice to his teenage years when he and the late great Keith Whitley had a band.
Talking to him behind the main stage shortly before his performance with Kentucky Thunder, Skaggs agreed that he is as comfortable as heís ever been in all facets of his life. It shows in how he sets up his songs, praises other artists, and just generally has a looser vibe when interacting with everyone around him.
ďIíve written a good bit of my biography and it will be out in 2013. Itís been fun revisiting the years of playing country music and having those successes; I think youíre going to like it,Ē said Skaggs, who has a huge and loyal audience in both country and bluegrass circles in this part of the world.
There were any number of Alberta-based artists playing the festival and hats off to Terry Wickham for continuing to make homegrown talent an integral part of the festival.
Iím partial to J.R. Shoreís talents and have been since he called me out of the blue at the Edmonton Journal some 15 years ago, back when he was going to the U of A and playing in a band called Highway 2. J.R. has been diligent and committed to his craft as a songwriter and itís paid off handsomely with a string of fine tunes that can be found on his An Impeccable Shine and Talkiní On A Bus recordings.
Heís put the wrap on a new double-CD set and he made a handful of advance copies of State Theatre available at the Gallagher Park merch tent even though the package won't officially be released until early 2013.
During his 11 a.m. live set, which was pushed back a few minutes by Dr. Johnís road crew, J.R. peeled off confident and tight versions of new originals like "Poundmaker" and another fabulous baseball epic, this one titled "Charlie Grant".
Nice, to-the-point intros were followed by snappy arrangements that two of his regular bandmates and two longtime EFMF house band players drove home with seemingly relative ease.
The forthcoming release is one disc of originals, and a second of his favorite - and choice - covers. At that particular workshop Shore and company nailed the Garcia/Hunter/Kreutzmann tune "Deal" which will appear alongside tunes from the books of Robbie Robertson, Neil Young, Leiber and Stoller, Hillman and Parsons and John Prine when official release time comes.
As for my favourite moment of the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival, well, it came late in the proceedings when Mavis Staples and her band were in full flight on main stage Sunday night.
I was sitting side stage leaning against a utility trailer where the CBC mobile sat for so many years. How weird is it that CBC will no longer be bringing the world any highlights from quality festivals like the Edmonton Folk Music Festival? But thatís for another blog or a rant over a beverage.
In any case David Bromberg was sitting in a folding chair just off stage left and obviously enjoying every minute of what Ms. Mavis was serving up. However, the real treat came when Staples turned the stage over to her band for an instrumental where Rick Holmstrom would be given the green light to start winding his way through what would be a spectacularly constructed guitar solo. With each new passage in Holmstomís solo, Brombergís smile widened incrementally and by the end of the piece his grin was stretched back to his ears.
Rick Holmstrom and Mavis Staples (photo by Doug Schneider)
A short time later Mr. Bromberg stated that, ďa solo like that is about making every note count. It was like he was conversing and there was just as much being said between the notes as with them. It was both brilliant and beautiful.Ē
The bottom line is that most of us will be talking about the 2012 edition of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival for months to come, and thatís what helps keep the music alive.