Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Winnipeg Folk Festival

Some quick Winnipeg Folk Festival impressions:

Jason Ringenberg - the chief reason why I drove 22 hours through the Canadian Shield. I fell hard for his music with The Scorchers, back in the late 80s. They gave honky-tonk country a lethal injection of punk sensibility, which hit me right where I lived. This was a sensibility Hank Williams (I) would have appreciated, I think. Listening to Williams sing "Lost Highway" and "I Saw The Light" leaves you with the impression that the latter only increased his conviction about the former. This was the road Jason & The Scorchers were travelling, at perilous speed. With each new album, their music upped the sin-and-salvation stakes until by Thunder & Fire they were courting nihilistic thrills. It didn't surprise fans when they broke up shortly thereafter, to check into various rehab outfits.

Although I've seen a couple of Scorchers shows in Toronto, I'd not yet seen Jason solo, and wasn't sure what to expect. When the show was done, and we were all catching our breath, I turned to my friend and said, "I don't know why I didn't expect the show he gave!"

He ripped open the concert with "Honky-Tonk Maniac From Mars", then stomped and whirled his way through a dozen choice selections from over 20 years of songwriting, before unplugging his guitar, and strumming and wandering his way amongst the audience, singing "Lonesome Valley" ("For you Catholics in the audience, this does not count as Mass!"). He even queried the audience for Scorcher favorites ("Broken Whisky Glass" and "Hot Nights In Georgia" - neither of which was requested by Yours Truly because I get tongue-tied when asked for a Scorchers fave. I loves 'em all!), and closed the show with a raucous sing-along to the Ramones' anthem, "I Wanna Be Sedated".

My wife was in attendance, and said she finally "got" Jason now. I have to admit - I like the recorded Jason well enough, but the man is one of those performers who has to be seen to be believed.

College Girls - back in my college days, the girls I approached would, to a person, berate me for calling them "girls" (a surprisingly effective conversation starter, actually). But let's face it: at that precious age, there's still a great deal of maturity to be earned - for both genders.

The girls of my day were also less prone to the sort of extreme skin exposure I witnessed this weekend. (Long pause as I consider my next words.) I was going to say, "I wasn't exactly disconcerted by this sea of skin," except that I was. Or rather, I was disconcerted by how un-disconcerting this sea of skin proved to be. When you have over 11,000 people milling about you, nearly half of whom are young women in the bloom of their youth, the law of diminishing returns swings into full effect. Of course, being the father of two girls makes a difference, too. My oldest is 10 years away from being one of these folk attendees, and I can't help seeing these girls as being ... well, in some ethereal capacity, "daughters". Among my various mid-life puzzlements lies the libido: I expected to be hit with the tedious "sagging old duff seeks vigorous young bunny" bug, but if this weekend is an accurate indicator, that particular scenario does not seem to be among my scheduled torments. Hmm.

The Music - excellent, as expected. The usual suspects were all in good form. People outside of Winnipeg should be on the lookout for The Weakerthans, and The Be Good Tanyas. And I was smitten by Martha Wainwright, and blown out of the water by the Campbell Brothers (their recent CD manages to capture their on-stage sound - a remarkable feat for producer and famed performer John Medeski).

Mosquitoes and Mud - mosquitoes were rare; the mud was inescapable and stinky. Winnipeg has been under continuous deluge since May, which made the Festival grounds less than pleasant, but not unnavigable.

Alcohol, and other Medicinals - Mary Jane was to be had, but nowhere near in the abundant quantities of previous years. Weird. The beer tent was a popular destination, but people behaved themselves. In one of my earlier conversations with Jason, he talked about his experience of European festivals (he'd just completed a circuit) and said, "Out there, they get really drunk - and not in a good way, either!" Kids wandered the Winnipeg site unchaperoned, without fear. Nice.


DarkoV said...

"For you Catholics in the audience, this does not count as Mass!"
Well, that's enough reason to like him.
Sounds like it was a great time and a fine voyage on the teenage river of Styx as you ferried your daughters from the protected shores of childhood to the unknown coast of adulthood.
How did they enjoy the groups, songs, and general milling about?

DarkoV said...

Forgot the obligatory Q.
What's the Jason Ringenberg cd to start with to get that nihilistic ummph you taked about?

Whisky Prajer said...

The girls probably couldn't comment on the music. They were exposed to enough of it, but what really caught their attention was the kids' tent: face painting, crafts, circus activities, etc. They also liked the Beijing Acrobats (I'd never seen anything quite like it, either: when you're that close to the action, you can see their bodies tremble under the strain of these completely unnatural activities).

re: Jason, the disc that howls loudest is the one they made before the laws of entropy had their way: Thunder & Fire. Unfortunately, you'll have to check in on eBay for that item (and most of the Scorchers' discs). It looks like Still Standing is still available as a re-release - this album preceded T&F, and I'm particularly fond of track 3: Shotgun Blues.