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.