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Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, July 15, 2004

OFF TO THE FESTIVAL
 
My beloved spouse, the toddling dude, and I are off to the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and then more computer-less vacationing.  Here's what I wrote about it last year's fest to an e-discussion group called PopTalk.  See you when we get back!
 
Last week-end I went to the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, a few hours drive and a whole country away from Seattle.  I know this isn't FolkTalk, but the etymological similarity between folk music ("music of the people") and pop music ("music of the people") always strikes me.  The word "folk" is from German; "pop" is from Latin; I don't know the history of the distinction, unless an aura of Germanic scholarliness has hovered around everybody's understanding of folk music since forever, which wouldn't surprise me.
 
The Vancouver Folk Music Festival has an elastic definition of "folk music" -- a good thing.  Michael Franti and Spearhead headlined Saturday night, and the crowd of folkies loved them.  (My wife and I had to leave, because they were too loud, too late for our 6-month-old, but I dug the groovy beats and the hooks from half a mile or so away, where we parked.)
 
I rarely listen to contemporary pop radio.  My drive-time formats tend toward new country, classic country, "oldies," "quality rock" (hilarious notion -- I think the format is also known as Adult Contemporary Rock, or something like that), college radio rock, college radio folk and jazz, and pre-rock pop.  (In Seattle, the pre-rock pop station's slogan is "Great Songs, Great Memories," always said with a spritz of merriment; a similar AM station that I heard once years ago in the San Jose area had a DJ who grimly called it, "OUR kind of music," very culture war-like.)  And occasionally I check in with a high-energy high-school-student run dance music station.  So I don't know if Michael Franti makes it onto top 40, but I have heard him on college stations, which leads me to believe that the folks in Vancouver define folk music as anything you're more likely to hear on public radio than commercial -- jazz and western classical music mostly excluded.
 
Like many folk music festivals, or so I'm told, the "workshop" stages during the day throw together musicians who have never met before, and those at Vancouver often don't speak the same language.  Saturday morning, the great traditionalist Quebecois accordianist-singer-revelmaster Yves Lambert surprised everybody by playing an understated, stylistically idiomatic, and perfectly lovely chromatic harmonica solo when a Portuguese-Canadian "fado" singer decided to sing the jazz standard "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."  When the next performer on the stage, the virtuoso Brazilian-born and -styled guitarist Celso Machado, started off his number with a jaw harp solo, Monsieur Lambert surprised everybody again by pulling out his own jaw harp and setting in for a spontaneous, lively, surprising, and humorous mouth-percussion duet.  Had the jam been recorded, it might not have stood up as "music that lasts," but the expression of joy and surprise on Celso Machado's face, the joy and surprise of creativity and spontaneity, will last with me for a long, long time.
 
Every year, something at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival strikes me this way, which is why I always go back.
 
Other highlights this year included Billy Bragg's rewrite of "Great Leap Forward" to make it about "New World Order," and his new verses to Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues":  "He's got [something something] / he's got wavy hair / It's George Dubya's poodle / -- Tony Blair!"
 
White Cockatoo, a traditional group from Arnhem Land Australia, did some compelling song-and-dance to didjiridoo and rhythm-stick accompaniment, and took part in a memorable question-and-answer session. Q:  What animals do you hunt, and how do you hunt them? A (from the group's white Australian MC/spokesperson -- the members of the band laughed at people's jokes but refused to talk to the audience):  "Well, that's an interesting question.  They hunt fish in the rivers with spears.  They dig lizards out of the ground and beat them with sticks.  They shoot kangaroos with rifles.  And they hunt a species of Asian buffalo with their 4-wheel-drives.  They run the bastards over until they're dead, and let me tell you, it's a sight to see."
 
And the great storyteller and moral exhorter Utah Phillips is always great to hear.  He sang a song a capella about how his experience as a grunt in Korea turned him into a pacifist.  "The enemy is within," he sang.  I'm not purely a pacifist, but the honesty and complexity of the emotion -- bitterness and horror and self-critical awareness -- made me cry.
 
It was a great week-end.
 
 
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