You set everything aside for four days and stand in a river of rhythm and sound.
There are shallow places, warm and lovely for wading; sometimes you are up to your knees and you feel the pull of a mystifying current; and sometimes you feel the gravel bed begin to move beneath your feet and after one song you’re in deep.
There are no bad shows here. And you can believe almost all the artists who say they love being here. Then there are those who simply say it by their ambient presence, and go on to play their hearts out. When this happens, you may be swept away.
With that in mind, here are Grow Mercy’s deep-river picks:
John Butler Trio: Captain to a brigade of fingers borrowed from the gods—a deal made with Apollo perhaps. This man and his eleven string guitar, and the metronomic genius of the two other band members, swept the hill away.
LP: Maybe, with our exponential population growth, a voice like this will start coming along every few generations. But don’t bet on it. I’ve not heard anything like her. Add a ukulele, a three-piece suit, a haircut from the cover of Highway 61 Revisited, and your on the thinning margins of self-containment.
Delhi to Dublin: Who knew that Hindi could mediate and articulate a Celtic groove? Or that the Irish and Punjabi got together to quaff Guinness, listen to Bhangra and go table stomping? Throw in some electric, some hip-hop and reggae…and try not to dance. It’s like trying not to blink when someone throws a sitar rigged with Humbucker pickups at you. Yes, just like that.
Just a few of the many side-stage tributaries worth noting:
Alex Cuba: Where else do you go for some Latin riptide, some Cuban reclining, but to the man with the same last name?
Cold Specks: Plugged by Feist, this is an activist soul that’s still evolving, with a voice that moves through your heart leaving edges torn.
Good for Grapes: This hyper-active Canadian west coast group spends more time in the air (not talking of aeroplanes) than on the stage, and yet manage harmonies and a full-tilt-alt-pop-folk sound that quickens the coolest of blood.
Amy Helm: My favourite side stage act—that came with one of those transcendental moments. I was an avid fan of her father Levon Helm, and that rich streak of musical history called The Band. If you were parked anywhere near this confluence during the 70’s you’ll be happy to know that Amy Helm is deepening that groove.
Back at the main stage it was Loreena McKennit, that Celtic fakir, and her hurdy-gurdy band, along with the sultan of the violin, Hugh Marsh, that called in the collision of skies. One or two songs before the end and just before the closing anthem, the lightening opened a seam in the overcast and the rain flew down. It was a poetic finale. And even as we hurried and skittered down Gallagher Hill under tarps and umbrella’s, you could hear many singing “Four Strong Winds.”
Top photo by Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal. Bottom photo by furtive friend, Len.