Masterclass was a 90 minute session on Stage Three of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008. The musicians Alison Brown, Jerry Douglas, Daby Touré and Maura O'Connell were given the theme for the session, one which gave them a lot of latitude in choosing their songs. It became a master class, one which provided a learning experience for them and for us, the audience. They learned from each other and we learned from all of them.
I had heard the great Jerry Douglas before, but I'll never hear enough of his music (you'll hear some of that music if you click on this link). When he played his first song today a fellow sitting behind me said 'It doesn't get better than this.'
One could say the same about the amazing Alison Brown and the excellent musicians who work with her: bassist Gerry West, violin player Paul Elliot, John Burr on piano, and drummer Larry Atamanuik.
I had never heard of Daby Touré or Maura O'Connell before yesterday's session. Touré has roots in Mauritania, Senegal and Paris while O'Connell hails from Ireland and Nashville. Their backgrounds and their musical skills combined with those of Brown, Douglas and the other musicians and created magic on Stage Three.
Touré was a great catalyst: he watched, listened and often joined in, sometimes with verses sung in another language. His joy in the music was reflected and amplified by others, particularly Brown and Douglas.
The audience had as much fun as the musicians did.
I'm off to the next series of sessions at the festival which finishes today (Sunday, August 10).
The annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival sells out every year. Gallagher Park, the site for the main stage and the seven small stages where small concerts (sessions) are held over the Thursday to Sunday (Aug. 7 - 10, 2008) hosts approximately 17,000 avid music fans from Edmonton and elsewhere. Musicians from Canada and many other countries play styles of music which usually include Celtic, traditional Canadian and American folk music, African music, music from many other countries, and music that is difficult to categorize. Great music, thanks to Terry Wickham and his staff. Two thousand volunteers help the small number of permanent staff make the event succeed year after year.
The main stage concerts held in the evenings and late into the night, rain or shine. The smaller sessions are more intimate and flexible. Groups of musicians – usually three, four or five individual performers or groups – asked to play songs relating to that theme. When Steve Earle was here several years ago playing in one of these sessions (and, later, as part of the main stage concert) he told us that 'Back in Nashville, we call this a guitar pull.' Indeed. You play one, then I'll play one.
Here's where the magic often happens. Most musicians asks others to play along if they wish to. 'This one's in G, folks. Join in whenever you'd like.' This is not unusual for a festival like this, but Terry Wickham and his staff choose their session groups so that they are diverse – different styles, different countries in some cases, but always a group that will create a fine 90 minute performance.
Most of the musicians join in when they can. New harmonies, rhythms, and instrumentation happen. An African musician adds a chorus to a Celtic traditional tune, but in his language. A harpist takes a solo in an American country music tune. A guitarist gets a chance to play with some of the best musicians anywhere.
In the next two blog entries I'll discuss two of the sessions I attended today, sessions that inspired and moved the musicians and the audience. Magical sessions that I'll remember.