Hullo all, hope this finds you well. As usual I am late with this correspondence and once again I promise to try and do better with the next installment. Perhaps I should just use that as a disclaimer at the head the page, for all my letters. At any rate, this writing finds us in Edmonton, looking ahead to the festival here and reflecting on those in Calgary and Jasper.
The Bow River snakes through the heart of Calgary, a wide and serene oasis in the city center. The folk festival is located on Princes Island in the middle of the Bow - beautiful parkland, just a five-minute walk from downtown.
The festival itself seemed huge to me; with a staggering array of talent and an excellent volunteer system keeping it all together. We had a short "tweener" spot on the Friday night, while the stage crew set up for David Byrne, former leader of the Talking Heads. Anticipation for his appearance was justifiably high, and he and his band certainly delivered. Our brief foray on the mainstage was over in a blink of an eye, the lasting image for me being the sea of humanity disappearing into the distance, and the feeling of utter unreality of standing there singing to them. It was very thrilling, like a roller coaster is thrilling, excitement with a touch of fear.
The workshop stages were very well attended and I got to share the stage and sing with some wonderful performers. One that stands out for me was one I hosted, sharing the stage with Kathy Mattea, Dougie MacLean and Spirit of the West. There was a great deal of laughter and general happiness at just being there and much singing and interplay on everyone's songs. It was extremely relaxed but somehow remained nicely focused. The audience was most appreciative.
Another workshop found us playing with Billy Bragg, a singer and writer I have long admired. I'm happy to say that he is as gracious as he is intense, and was a pleasure to meet and sing with. Also present was Welshman, Martyn Joseph, a band friend we met in Vancouver. He was his usual funny and brilliant self. Great fun all round.
This was an extremely well organized and well run festival, from both the performers and the public side. The workshops were well thought out and very well attended. People seemed to have no trouble catching the performers they wanted to see and the mainstage ran like clockwork. The experience of the organizers was evident throughout. A great deal of thanks is due both them and the volunteers for an excellent effort. I would love to go back. The wrap up party had the most people I've seen in a room in many years (I don't get out much), and was a raucous success, music provided by Buckwheat Zydeco and Scruj MacDuck. Many thanks and heartiest congratulations go out to organizers Tom Coxworth, Vic Bell and Les Siemieniuk. We had a splendid time.
Dave Clarke left very early the next morning for the East as his band, Steel Rail was playing the Champlain Valley Folk Festival the following weekend. This of course earned him the moniker "Jet-set Dave Clarke", and we will meet up again in Edmonton. Ah, the life of the starů
We regretfully took our leave of Calgary and went in search of dinosaurs at the Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. Our diminished company drove through prairie grasslands for a couple of hours, marveling over the awesome sky scapes and verdant fields, the rainbow remnants of passing storms magically forming over and framing the passing farms and nodding oil wells. It was southern Alberta at its most striking. Nothing however prepared me for the Badlands around the town of Drumheller. We found ourselves descending into an arid and forbidding valley and I was struck by the sensation of literally leaving the world as I knew it behind and somehow, by merely descending arriving in a different world, another planet.
It was somewhere in this descent that I slipped into my own Badlands, a desolate place inside the skull, as harsh and barren as our surroundings. It was bound to occur sooner or later and at least it was a fitting backdrop, seared brown hills and hodoos, a landscape of scoured beauty. I wrote a song that day appropriately titled "Badlands", so at least there was some saving grace.
The Tyrell Museum is world renowned for a reason, and I think most of the worlds population were visiting that day. It was extraordinarily crowded. The exhibits were spectacular and we all learned a great deal. Colin was in Jurassic heaven, skeletal Pteradons overhead and Albertasaurs in the bushes. Our visit ended with a hunt for fossils and bones by the banks of the Red Deer River, but to no avail. That night we drove up to Edmonton, to the home of band friends Bill and Betty Jo Werthman, where we prepared for a house concert in their backyard. This proved just the tonic for whatever was ailing me, as their enthusiasm and general enjoyment of life is very infectious. We enjoyed the house concert fully and hauled Bill up to sing Torn Screen Door. Bill is a fine singer songwriter himself, and we were treated to some new and some older compositions. Thanks to both Bill and Betty Jo and family for the welcome and much needed respite.
David Francey appearing next week: