Photo: Mark Horton, Ottawa Folk Festival Press Images
The final day of Ottawa Folkfest had the most beautiful weather of the five and was no less tiring than Saturday. It was the day of summer we’ve been due for the whole festival. I was loyally clad in corduroy pants with longjohns beneath and a wool cap, feeling slightly silly. The evening, however, did not disappoint in being chill.
It started with the free concert at the Hill Stage, which had become a staple for the whole festival. The band that afternoon was from Connecticut, a five-piece Americana outfit named Parsonsfield, that started the whole theme of the day for us. Chris Freeman’s tune about flirting with mermaids, the beautiful pump organ operated by Max Shakun and Antonio Alcorn’s beard staying firmly away from his upper lip as he played mandolin all made it captivating. Their sound was like blues from the bottom of the ocean, deliciously encrusted folk rock. Their folk was the mix of new & old, oof classic & redefined music that music festivals need. They were wholesome, and so were the rest of the acts we saw that day.
Before anyone wonders aloud–yes, I’m sure there was something wholesome about Sun Kil Moon‘s performance on the Valley Stage as he became a little upset with The War on Drugs. Exclaim covered it accurately. Just as there was something wholesome about Adam Granduciel’s band’s reaction to the vitriol. By wholesome I mean “indicative of good health, physical, mental or moral.” Mark Kozelek’s ears work quite well and The War on Drugs’ moral fibre is intact!
The band from Aylmer, Quebec, those hooligans in cardboard with a penchant for shenanigans, The Cardboard Crowns rocked the Valley stage at the start of the afternoon. They play a mean ska reggae beat with a sweaty dance feel, something for everyone when you think about it. I arrived late in their set, just quick enough to hear them dedicate their last song to their favourite aardvark, Arthur. They then ripped into the punk version of the already reggae theme song of Arthur: “And I say HEY! (Hey!) what a wonderful kind of day! If we could learn to work and play, and get along with each other!” That cover of Ziggy Marley’s PBS song then melted into a cover of “What I Got” by Sublime, and then returned to the theme song from our childhood’s Saturday morning cartoons. They ended their set by announcing the unofficial Folkfest after-party would take place at the Lowertown Brewery in the Market, which Eric covered.
Possibly the sweetest act, certainly one of the most polished of the evening, was Ottawa’s Craig Cardiff. He’s known for his staunch professionalism and refined performances, both of which come out clearly in his stage presence. He managed to fill the entire stage with only his guitar and his voice, sometimes a harmonica & a loop function. He plays sentimental folk rock, parables with morals. Being thankful for a beautiful day and a happy crowd, he played a song based on the harder shows, when all you can make out from the stage is the backroom chatter of the inattentive and the twits. He quickly spit out fragments of conversations & drunken cries from his less fun shows and looped them all with a tap of his foot. He also managed to win a $10 bet from a friend who said he couldn’t get 80 per cent of the crowd up and slow dancing. “And it has to be dancing, not just annoyed standing,” he said. It was nice to see him win the bet, proving you just have to ask earnestly. I suspect there’s more involved too, but Mr. Cardiff is not giving classes on that yet, I believe.
Not an exact definition of wholesome but the synonym I need here is pure, and that was Béatrice Martin’s set. Coeur de Pirate‘s performance was low key and a little bundled up with a variety of songs from her first, second and most recent album. Not only were songs a mix between English & French, but her chitchat was also bilingual. It’s interesting to notice that she sounds Canadian when she sings in English and Parisienne in French. Luckily I had my friend Renée Labrosse explain to me that she played “Verseau,” “Danse et danse,” “Saint-Laurent,” “Cap diamant,” and “Golden Baby” throughout her set. My favourite was “Place de la rébuplique,” which is a beautiful love/break-up song ranging Paris, Toronto & the Atlantic Ocean.
She ended with the single from her debut 2008 album “Comme des enfants,” which she was happy to mention is a staple for French music teachers to teach their students. My Coeur de Pirate contact, Renée, is also a teacher and confirmed this. Thanks dude!
A legend took the free stage at 7 p.m. In the original Blues Brothers movie, Matt “Guitar” Murphy was a short-line cook married to Aretha Franklin. His real wife of 30 years was there last night as a guiding force for Matt, who seemed incredibly small compared to my mental image of his from the movie. “I’m doing the best I can,” he said. “I had a stroke but I still remember you guys!” The Matt moving stiffly through the greasy spoon in The Blues Brothers to Aretha’s song and dance was not the man we saw. He was sometimes momentarily lost for words but was helped on by his sound tech and his wife, and he finger-picked and slid his way through old tunes that the crowd at the Hill Stage cheered. His cheeks were wet and his cap was low but his smile was his own, as clumsy & shy as ever. The crowd cried for him, told him they loved him, and requested songs. “Play my favourite song?” he heard. “I played it already.”
“Play it again!” yelled a fan.
“You know, that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” he said and laughed as he started to riff.
The beautiful Joss Stone nor the anthemic Hey Rosetta! were enough to keep me battling the crisp weather, and so my Folkfest experience ended on the bittersweet set of Mr. Murphy, continuing to play throughout the hardships of life. I left worrying that he might not be playing for much longer and was warmed by the information I found online: that he had suffered his stroke on stage in 2003 and that he finished his set playing with one hand! The gods of guitar smile upon him!