Wednesday, September 1, 2010

American Folk Festival Review

The American Folk Festival is well known as a wonderful cultural and diverse event and people come from all over to attend. The Way Live Should Be was only able to attend Friday evening, but the sample of music we were able to here is a testament to the entire weekend. In one night, we were able catch blue grass, gypsy, cape Breton, Korean drumming, Cajun, and Quebecois styles of music. If you have never been to the folk festival, or don’t think you would like the music there, please allow me to assure you its more than worth attending, every single year. Included here is a few impressions of the many different styles the Way Live Should Be caught in just two and one half hours at the Folk Festival right here, in Bangor, ME.

As is tradition at the Folk Festival, the Pride of Maine Black Bear Marching Band started off the festival beginning near West Market Square and parading over to the Railroad Stage. These guys are really pretty phenomenal, all dancing together and playing in time and in general having and giving a great time. Its pretty awesome that Maine musicians get to start the festival off with such a bang; it gives the festival a sense of place and reminds us all that Bangor, Maine is the host for a significant cultural event.

The next artist we caught was A Taste of Celtic Colours, playing music from Cape Breton. Their music was downright beautiful, a sound based in solidarity and ties to the land. The musicians in this band played a variety of instruments, including keys, violin, guitar, and fiddle. Many of their songs reach really elevated crescendos and often members of the band would come to the front of the stage and dance, taking such joy from their own sound. Their music in general was incredibly joyful, an incredible pleasure to listen to. One thing we found particularly interesting was the element of the keys, something formely we had not seen associated with Celtic music. They were a key element of the sound, and the musican playing the keys played one solo that was very technical and classical, proving his undeniable talent. All the musicians in the band were incredibly talented and we really, really enjoyed their set!

The Other Europeans Band was next and these guys were really wild. Classified as “Klezmer and Gypsy” music sometimes these guys reminded me of old silent films music, but others I was blown away by their technicality. At any given time there were anywhere from 6-14 musicians on stages; although there are 14 total musicians, they often divide themselves into a six piece or an eight piece depending on the style or composition they play. However, they also often all play together, or any combination in between. Instruments played included, but were not limited to, violin, accordion, standing bass, trumpet, clarinet, tuba, fiddle, trumpet, traditional keyboard and percussion. There was also some crazy type of zylephone keyboard thing that was played with mallets. Their music had a definite classic quality, but often featured an extremely fast tempo and intense crescendos. Along with the silent films feel, many songs were carnival like and very fun… a roller coaster of sounds, tempos, and styles. Maybe not my favorite band of the night, but a very intriguing show.

The next group I checked out was Noreum Machi, Korean Samul Nori drumming and dance. This was really cool, but definitely as much about the costumes and dance as the music. Featuring very heavy drumming and a sort of flute often associated with snake charming, the sounds were interesting and certainly well put together. The sound was almost tribal, and their traditional garb was gorgeous, I especially liked the hats which featured 3 foot long bouncy tassel decorations. This show helped me to appreciate the variation and extreme diversity of sounds from around the world… incredibly interesting show!

When I think Cajun, I think spicy. That being said, Cajun music was NOTHING like I expected. The Pine Leaf Boys put on a great show and obviously had a grand old time on stage. Their music was some unique combination of country, blues, celtic, and polka! They consisted of a fiddle player, acoustic guitar, accordion, electric bass, and drums. This show was obviously a crowd favorite and the vocals were great; lots of crooning and hootin and hollerin. People were seriously getting down to these guys and I can understand why, these guys had lots of rhythm!

The peak and last performance of the evening was Le Vent Du Nord, Québécois music. These guys had a lot of French lyrics, but you didn’t have to understand French to be able to hear what phenomenal musicians they were. The heavy bass, extensive and lovely voice harmonies, and emphatic violin made for a truly beautiful and traditional sound. I heard some Celtic references with these guys too, but it may have a lot to do with the fact that they shared that back-to-land, solidarity based, joyous type of sound. They were somewhat more ambient than any of the others bands that evening though, creating a very emotional and echoey sort of feeling in their music. They also played the acoustic guitar, piano, and drums. Even the fiddle/violin player’s feet were miked, adding a really fun, extra percussion element. Sometimes I would think their sound was very traditional, and then they were introduce musical elements I had never experienced before. One example was the wild accordion like instrument with a crank sort of handle on the side. Depending on how fast or slow the musician turned the crank influenced the speed of the notes he was playing and could give the music either a heightened feeling or an even more haunting, ambient affect. Definitely my favorite instrument of the night. The musicianship behind this band is mindblowing, they were constantly switching instruments and created an Immense amount of sound for just four guys. Their music was festive and fun one minute, and then ancient and haunting, but lovely the next. The passion these guys had too… I only hope they return to the festival in the future because this was a show I would have paid to see in a heartbeat. I hope you didn’t miss this!!

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