Let’s get straight to it. It’s finally happened. The day that I dreaded, but thought might never come. You knew it would catch up with me one of these days, so feel free to say I told you so. This is tough for me, but here it comes:
I was wrong.
I’ll give you a moment to get over the shock and amazement. You surely know that I say ridiculous things all the time, spouting out some opinion that everyone should immediately accept and believe. The thing is, until now, all of those opinions and beliefs have been ABSOLUTELY TRUE.
OK, maybe not.
But seriously, I know that the stupid things I say are often way off, and this is no exception in a few key areas.
You see, the musical lineup, which I’ve gone on and on and on about being terrible, turned out to be amazing. Sure, I didn’t have many acts that I was excited about seeing going in, but that allowed for the magic of discovery, and that happened in unbelieveable fashion. Honestly, I discovered and fell in love with more this year than I have for a long time. I spent more money at the store than I have for a long time. And I’ll be raving about new acts louder and more proudly than I have in a long time. (the plan is to do a post for each of the mind-blowing discoveries. We’ll see how that works out.) Apparently, it turns out that I do not know about everything out there. I did some research and made my mind up about a few of the names on the list, and my research let me down. Wrong again.
As it turns out, I was treated to what I thought was the best solo concert I’ve seen in years (probably ever) (more about that in a separate post), and what I firmly believe was one of the best main stage shows in history.
That one was at once no surprise, and yet a bit unexpected. Luke Doucet is certainly no stranger to the festival, having grown up here and having played solo and with bands at our festival several times, and his talented wife Melissa McClelland has played here before and certainly had a successful solo career which came with lots of festival experience, but together as Whitehorse, they are even more than the sum of those already esteemed and experienced parts. But because we know them individually so well, and since we’ve seen Whitehorse in town a few times already, I didn’t really prepare to be wowed by them – after all, I was already a big fan. But stepping up to the big stage, or perhaps just a lot of hard work and road experience, has served them well, and made them an unstoppable force on stage. Their set was as musically sound as they get, dynamic, powerful, energetic, and irresistible. You couldn’t take your eyes off of them, and you would have a really hard time finding any fault at all with that show. If you expected more from a main stage set, I really want to know what it is. Seriously. This was a flawless show, well placed in the night and definitely deserving of a main stage slot. Putting them on that stage at that time was absolutely the right decision. No doubt.
The festival also came through in a big way with the new location of the food vendors. What a phenomenal improvement that turned out to be! Way more room, absolutely no congestion, and they’ve got it all at the top of a gradual hill, so no matter how much it rains, it shouldn’t turn into a mucky swamp. Major victory there. Plus, some of the new food vendors were terrific. (I loved having Lovey’s on site, even if I did balk at their field prices. Ouch. I’ll stick with the dine-in.)
Of course, Mr. Negativity does have a little of his usual complaining standing by. It comes with a bit of a qualification though. The forest stages were great for shade, and they weren’t quite as far as it seemed on the initial map (although when you book bands to play on the path during the walk, and you put benches all along for people to stop and rest, you know you’re in for a bit of a hike.) Luckily, Stretch here has no problem dashing long distances in short amounts of time.
HOWEVER, when there’s a big changeover between shows, the path gets so crowded, even Mr. Lightning Bolt couldn’t get out of there in any hurry. This is interesting, because the festival is all about safety and emergency planning now, with a big “emergency meeting place,” constant weather updates, and all kinds of contingency plans in place – somebody’s been putting some thought into things that we maybe should have considered long ago. It seems, though, that they made a HUGE oversight when it comes to these stages. As many people remarked over the course of the weekend, if there were an actual emergency, everybody at those forest stages would die. You can’t possibly manoeuvre that path in a hurry. And if there were any kind of panic, people would get trampled.
And if you’re thinking that people could just dash through the bush to get out, that forest is COVERED in poison ivy. It’s EVERYWHERE. If you’re walking out there with little kids or dumb adults, hang on to them, or else they’re in for trouble.
Anyway, having the huge slowdown on that path between shows means that it’s much harder to get from stage to stage in a hurry. Or, as I found, if you need to go pee pee, you’d better go long before you’re crossing your legs. Luckily I didn’t leave a puddle, but it was close. There are no porta-potties out there, so you have to hike back, and when the path is crowded, watch out. There’s no food or water out there either. I saw that there is a plan to have a water tap out there next year, but it was damn hot this year, so people could have run into trouble. More than once out there over the years I’ve seen people showing some distress and signs of sunstroke or dehydration (and the way the beer tents have expanded and moved, people are drinking like fish, so dehydration is a certainty), I’m just glad it didn’t happen out there this year.
This congestion means that when you have two sessions back to back that you want to see (or you just have to dash out between acts out there), you end up missing something.
On the topic of those beer tents, I’m annoyed. I used to be proud of how at our festival, the beer tents were away from the music. This had two huge benefits, people had to make a point of getting out of there to see some music, and it kept the rowdy party away from the people watching the show at the stage. I hate the fact that at the Calgary Folk Festival, the beer tent is right in view of main stage and a side stage, so you can sit and drink all day and see the music, and people sure do take advantage of that, especially with the special pitcher price – everyone buys a pitcher at a time. Ours seemed not to be so interested in having people sit and drink all day, but to provide that option elsewhere, but now, the drunken loogans can disrupt Snowberry and Big Blue during the day, and can sit in sight of Main Stage at night. Not good if you’re hoping to keep your kids away from a big drunk-fest. I hope and pray that this will never turn into Countryfest, but this seemed to be a move in the wrong direction.
Back to the music, as I suspected, adding the new stage didn’t add any more performers, it just watered down the talent pool even more. As the total number of acts at the festival drops, they end up doing more workshops and longer workshops. Some of the workshops seemed to go on for an eternity – sometimes it’s better to give people a taste and then leave them hungry to seek out more. There used to be years where I couldn’t possibly see everyone I had an interest in, this year, I saw those people all over the place. (ie, I was curious about Robert Ellis, thought I’d have to make a point of seeking him out, but it turned out that he was in just about every workshop I was interested in. Not a bad thing, but it is a sign that things are a little weak.)
(Speaking of Robert Ellis – a good discovery, but not worthy of one of my long winded raving rants – he fell into an age old trap, American performers seem most likely to fall victim – wherein they want to play their best song(s) for as many people as possible, so they play them at each workshop. Because of the repetition this year, I ended up seeing Robert do the same few songs a few times. I know he’s fairly young and new, but I hope he’s got more than just a few good songs. I bought the CD, so perhaps I’ll let you know, but I did get mighty tired of his Bible Belt song and a couple of others by the time the weekend was through.)
Don’t even get me started about the madness at Little Stage in the Forest. First, space is tight there. The word “little” is well placed – seating area is very finite. It didn’t seem to be too much of a problem the times I was there, but I could see how things could get a little tricky in the future if the audience were to grow or a really popular performer were scheduled there.
Little Stage is NOT the place to be if you have raging ADD like me. I need the intimacy that the little area provides so that I can be close and focus on things (couldn’t see more than a few songs at Bur Oak or Green Ash this year, because they’re always jammed, and if I’m out back by the talkers, I get none of what’s happening on stage. Seriously, talkers, socializers, and active parents, stay at the camp ground or hang out near the food or something. Why are you at the stage if you’re not going to focus or allow others to?) At Little Stage, because it’s directly on the only path to Spruce Hollow, there’s a constant stream of people walking by the stage. It’s totally distracting and annoying.
But the biggest distraction and annoyance of all is one that I know might get me into trouble. That’s never stopped me before, so here goes. For reasons completely unknown to me, they’ve got three sign language interpreters at Little Stage, and only at Little Stage. I’m all for accessibility and equality, and I want everyone to be able to enjoy the music asI do. I know how lucky I am (which raises another concern about people with disabilities getting out there or getting the services they might need), and I would never ever deny someone something that might make their experience more fair and more pleasant, but these three ladies were SUPER distracting, not only for me, but for the musicians as well. Every show I went to featured some kind of interaction between the musicians and the interpreters because they couldn’t possibly help but be distracted. These ladies (wonderful and caring ladies no doubt) were right on stage, dancing and signing along to everything. You couldn’t help but focus on them, except if you were off to the side, where I eventually set up so that they weren’t in my line of sight.
The thing is, NOBODY appeared to be paying close attention to them, except each other. I’m not ignorant enough to think that there is some clear way of seeing who is deaf and who isn’t (I have a profound hearing loss myself, and almost nobody notices), but I searched the crowd for some sign that someone out there might need this service, and never did I see any indication that it was necessary or even being utilized. (If it were necessary, wouldn’t they have interpreters at every stage? I now hope not!) And, I assume, in case someone needed to pay attention to them, they had a big tarp right at the front of the stage, right in front of the interpreters, reserved with a sign. NOBODY ever sat on the damn tarp! Not a soul! Finally it was pulled up near the end of the day on Sunday, but for the rest of the time, it sat there taking up valuable real estate for absolutely no purpose! These lovely ladies, however, were totally engrossed with one another. They watched each other like hawks. Why? Were they trying to impress one another? It was clearly a show between the three of them, and lovely and well intended as it might have been, it was annoying and distracting, and I sincerely hope that there’s another option. I saw nothing indicating that people with a hearing loss should choose this stage, and can’t imagine why people would want to be stuck in the same spot all day. As much as I do want to improve equality and accessibility, someone needs to find a better spot or a better way of doing this and letting people know that the service exists.
Oh, I could go on, but you’ve already seen how I can start out trying to be positive, only to end up back in my curmudgeonly rut. All in all, this was a great festival. The best I can remember in a long time. My complaints are few, and genuinely intended to raise some thoughts that might make things better in the future (if anyone bothers to read this whole thing!)
I was wrong.
The festival was amazing.
There’s room for improvement.
Consider leaving your thoughts and reflections below, or send me an email through the contact page. Thanks for reading. Hope you had as much fun out there as I did.