In an effort to nurture the festival, the directors have continued to manipulate the offerings to extend the audience while maintaining respect for the music and performers the loyal patrons have consistently supported. 20 percent of the talent booked is home-grown with a full 50 percent Canadian. In recognition of the breadth of the offerings, additional sessions were added this year with a side-stage complementing the main stage most evenings. The festival came within a few hundred tickets of being a sellout, with Friday and Saturday tickets unavailable at the gate.
Country music was well represented on Saturday by three artists with strong Alberta connections - Tom Russell, Ian Tyson and Corb Lund. As has occurred in the past, Russell was the standout. Pulling his attentive side-stage concert audience into his "neon world of knives and guns," the Texas-resident opened with his modern classic Blue Wing before launching into a set that emphasized more recent material. With a generous offering of songs of immigration blues, near death experiences, cowboy truths and western debauchery, it didn't take long for Russell to expose much of the nu-folk crowd as obvious pretenders - passionate perhaps, but lacking in the gravel of life. Accompanied by guitarist Thad Bechman,, Russell was in keen voice and humor, reinvigorated since last seen and heard.
Lund could do no wrong with a hometown crowd enthusiastic for his hip, country offerings. Like Russell, Lund concentrated on fresher material. Indeed, the southern-Alberta native performed a handful of songs not previously encountered including R-E-G-R-E-T and an untitled tale of an antique pistol. His calm confidence allowed Lund to deliver personal portraits of love lost and tributes to those who serve with equal composure, but also enabled Lund to effortlessly join in with his mentors - Russell and Tyson - in an early afternoon session.
Into the evening, Tyson opened the main stage offerings with a captivating hour-long set of western country songs.
A bit sultry, a whole lot dirty, Memphis-based Hill Country Revue took things in a different direction with a set of Mississippi education. Destroying any Kumbaya moments that may have been developing, Cody Dickinson's troupe shared a surprisingly flavorful set of modern southern rock. The horn-based pop of The Cat Empire got the crowd dancing, giving promise for a glorious set.
Discovery of the day - Baskery, three Swedish sisters playing explosive lingonbilly on electric banjo, bass and guitar
Appreciation of the day - The staff and volunteers who make this show occur. Hats off, y'all!
Affirmation of the day - The 'good neighbor' policy isn't understood by too many who continue to see outdoor music fests as the place for nonstop chatter
Peeve of the day - Artists who repeat songs - Tyson, Russell and Lund were all guilty
Disappointment of the day - no bluegrass (none scheduled for the entire weekend!