Hard to believe, another Winnipeg Folk Fest has come and gone. This was the 36th festival, my 17th, and this year was bigger than ever with an extra day. That extra day, of course, was in honour of the return of the legendary Elvis Costello. Elvis hasn’t been to Winnipeg since 1978. You can forgive me for missing that show; I was only 4 years old, but this one I wasn’t going to miss for anything.
When I was young and first got hooked on music, I had an amazing role model in my life who gave me a copy of This Year’s Model (among other great classics.) The album became a part of the soundtrack of my youth. At the time, I was still largely interested in whatever was current on the radio, so it wasn’t really until Elvis’ blockbuster album Spike that I saw him as a current performer, as well as some old dude I had a cassette of. Spike really showed me that although Costello was from a bygone era, he could also hold his own with current performers as well. That set me off on a path to discover more of his great work, and kept me going on that path still. Costello is one of those rare performers that I was able to love in my foolish youthful pop music/commercial radio phase, and today when I’m a bit more discriminating. Then, I loved the hits and the melodies, now, I love those words and the amazing diversity that he’s been able to continue throughout his career. I’ve continued to buy his albums, even when, to be honest, there haven’t been many classics for years. I admire and respect everything he does.
I was fan enough to want to see him so badly in the 90s that I first travelled to the Edmonton Folk Festival, alone, in 19985 (read a fine review here). It was an amazing journey for many reasons, but also because it was the closest I ever got to a man that I considered a god. I listened to his music on my car cassette player much of the long journey there, and I made sure I had a good vantage point for the show. That one was a solo, acoustic show, so many of the rockin’ hits were absent. It was also somewhat abbreviated by the 11:00 noise curfew that city-based festivals have to abide by.
But this Winnipeg show was bound to be different. First, it was with a band. Elvis recently put out a rootsy, country based album and is touring this summer with an acoustic band that includes Jerry Douglas and Jim Lauderdale. I know they’ve been working in some hits along the way, but it’s a show that’s not really condusive to rocking out to 30+ years of classics. But I have to give Folk Fest AD Chris Frayer some credit for talking Elvis into doing a show with his rockin’ band, The Imposters, (basically his legendary backing band The Attractions with a different bass player), a band that he’s only playing with a few times this year. Also, because we’re out of the city at the folk fest site, there would be no noise curfew and no time constraints. The schedule called for the show to start at 9:05 and end at 11,but we all knew that we could have whatever Elvis was willing to give.
And you never really can predict what that’s going to be. For a guy who’s dabbled with so many genres and gone through so many phases, there are any number of tricks that he can pull out of his hat. I’ve heard bootlegs of many shows throughout the years and they’ve taken many forms. It seems that at this point, rightly so, Elvis basically does what Elvis wants, and nobody could really say what he would want to do in Winnipeg (or on the outskirts of Winnipeg, anyway.)
I had to be there, right up close, so for the first time in my 17 years as a volunteer/attendee of the Folk Festival, I set up my tarp outside the backstage area (with those “normal” people) because there was more space and a more direct view. Definitely one of the best decisions I made all year. We were seated off to the side, in front of the speakers, so I knew it was going to be loud, but I figured that if people stayed seated, we’d be able to see just fine, and if people stood up, we’d be able to still see. When the show started, a couple of folks went forward with cameras to take pictures. I borrowed a nice one from school, so I was eager to get some shots myself, so I joined them, but left Jaine and Elysha on the tarp (along with my belongings, including my digital recorder…). I guess a lot of other people took that cue also, because soon it was a packed standing area. I felt a bit bad about leaving Elysha and Jaine behind, and I was a bit worried about my gear getting trampled on (although the thought never crosses my mind that someone might steal something at Folk Fest, one of the most beautiful things about this gathering), but I knew that nobody would let a tall brick wall like me stand in front of them again, so I had to stay there. Jaine managed to squeeze in, and we had a great vantage point for most of the show.
And what a show it was. As I said, there was some question about whether we’d get mostly new stuff or the classics. I have followed along with the new material and like lots of it, but let’s be honest, we were there to hear the hits. All questions were answered immediately as the band launched into a rockin’ version of Accidents will Happen, followed by Mystery Dance, and the first “lose your mind” moment of the show, I Don’t Want to go to Chelsea. It was one great hit after another, before things slowed down a bit for some more obscure classics, and of course the inevitable new material.
I know that lots of people (Eugene) complained about that middle portion of the show, but if anyone’s earned the right to play some new material and some older stuff that you don’t hear often, it’s this guy. Unlike so many other performers (Bob Dylan), the new material doesn’t doesn’t pale in comparison to the glory days and stick out from what got him the glory in the first place. Sure, the sound and tempo may be different, but it’s quality material that fits right in with the classics, if you ask me. I always appreciate some dynamics anyway, so it doesn’t hurt to slow things down a bit (and I do mean slow things down, the “hits” in the show averaged around 2 1/2 minutes long, while the newer and more obscure stuff stretched out to a whopping 4 minutes some times.) One of the other acts on the bill, the lovely Lovell sisters, joined the band for what I assumed would be a song or two, and ended up being a whole bunch.
The main set ended with a rockin’ version of the classic “Mystery Train,” leaving so many great hits unplayed. I knew there was an inevitable encore (there was still plenty of time left and lots of songs to hear), but I had no idea it would be as long, powerful, or amazing as it was. Watching the Detectives, Alison, Radio Radio, among others. Not to mention an amazing show-ender, What’s So Funny ’bout Peace, Love, and Understanding.
I can’t imagine how anyone could possibly be disappointed with that show, because it had everything you could possibly want.
The one possible disappointment I had placed on the show, was that I was bound and determined to meet the guy who I’ve loved and respected most of my life. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of legends at Folk Fest (Daniel Lanois, Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Randy Newman, Ray Davies, and more), and I wasn’t about to miss any possible opportunity to meet a guy who meant so much more than all of those performers put together. There was a bigger than usual crowd gathered backstage (which I didn’t think was a good sign) and a longer than usual wait, but we weren’t disappointed.
I can’t say much more, but will let the pictures do the talking:
My photos (which really aren’t that good)
Want good photos, check out the ones taken by my pal Mike who is an amazing photographer (you’ll have to find ’em)
Best of all, I did manage to bootleg the show. Again, it’s not exactly top quality, but it’s a great keepsake of probably the greatest show I’ll ever see.