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Greensky Bluegrass leads Edmonton Folk Music Festival, day two

Gallagher Park, Edmonton, Canada, August 11, 2023

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

After several days of sporadic, heavy rain, the second evening of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival began under grey, overcast skies. Never fear, all went well with only a few drops being felt on the hill late in the evening.

The evening held promise for roots types although headliners Fleet Foxes' brand of rock left many of us wanting. Greensky Bluegrass, however, brought that desired by the 20,000 or so in attendance.

"We Can Grow Together," an easy-going number that set the tone for the quintet's set comprised of extended jams, snappy rhythms, and engaging lyrics. For a band like Greensky, individual songs are likely less important to the casual festival listener as is the entirety of the show experience. Each song slides into the next, no introduction or drawn-out stories required. "Windshield" morphed into "Room Without a Roof," which progressed into "Past My Prime." Both Dave Bruzza (guitar) and Paul Hoffman (mandolin) were in fine voice.

Michael Arlen Bont's extended banjo break within "Courage for the Road," both rhythmic and challenging, led into Hoffman's equally impressive showcase which flowed into Anders Beck's reso interplay. It was an impressive set well-received by an audience likely unfamiliar with the group, with songs near the conclusion — "Reasons to Stay," Pink Floyd's "Breathe" and "Leap Year" garnering an especially enthusiastic response.

The community of the hill is one of the many elements separating the EFMF from similar events. It is a place without rancor, aggression or jostling, a place that exists for only a few days annually, but which never appears to change. Babies, weekend hippies, grandmothers, wispy bearded teens and scribes sit together riding the positive vibes emanating from the stage. The audience seems younger than ever.

Earlier in the evening on one of seven side stages, local hero Maria Dunn (guitar and accordion) with her trio of award-winning McDades (Solon McDade, bass; Jeremiah McDade, guitar and horns; and Shannon Johnson, violin) opened with several favored originals including "Speed Up" (a work song), "Katy Came A-Calling" (rooted in the Scottish-Irish folk tradition) and "When the Grandmothers Meet" (a song encouraging reconciliation through considered guidance of Indigenous Elders).

Dunn, a clear-voiced singer and sensitive songwriter, communicates effectively through songs, often based on her family's experiences while remaining firmly grounded in folk traditions. A saga of local labor strife, "Heart in Hand," received enthusiastic applause, as did "Ontario Song" and the title track from her recent, Juno Award-winning disc, "Joyful Banner Blazing." No "Whiskey Evening," but the exceptional "The Elder Daughter" was fair compensation.

A quick wander through the mud, guided by Aysanabee's singular voice brought some to the closing of the Lessons Learned session. Capped by QUITAPENAS' lively Afro-Latin cumbia music, their culminating song had all up and dancing with Tami Neilson and Aysanabee providing shaker support.

Well-established as a powerful, gritty blues belter, Crystal Shawanda is still best known in some circles as a successful, mainstream country singer ("You Can Let Go" hit number 21 on Billboard's Country chart in 2008.)

Making her EFMF debut, and now four albums deep into her blues career, Wiikwemkoong First Nation's Shawanda got her side stage concert going with a selection of numbers encouraging movement. Dewayne Strobel's guitar solos were appreciated, especially as lead into 'true' songs like "Church House Blues" ("It's like Sunday morning service, only served on Saturday night,") the recent "Midnight Blues," and "I'd Rather Go Blind."

Attired resplendently in bright pinks and purples, for an hour, this self-proclaimed "Voodoo Woman," another excellent song, owned the stage, alternately strutting and stomping through a powerful set. Additional highlights included giving The Tragically Hip's "New Orleans is Sinking" the blues treatment it has always needed and a run-through of Jim Lauderdale's "Why Do I Love You?"

The impressive breadth of offerings of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival were on full display.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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