Plenty of “Spirit” at 2010 Ottawa Folk Fest

by Lynn Stevenson

If the test of character is how you function under pressure, then the people behind this year’s Ottawa Folk Festival passed with flying colours.  Facing weather one fan called “biblical”, organizers quickly shuffled acts and rearranged venues to turn a bad situation into something very special.  Much credit goes to Folk Fest organizer Dylan Griffith and his core team – but also to the many rain-soaked yet still smiling volunteers who made sure that the bands played on.

And play they did!  Anywhere and everywhere shelter could safely be found, musicians jammed to the delight of a wet but enthusiastic audience.  When the skies opened on Sunday and lightening forced most outdoor stages and tents to close, musicians found themselves in close quarters with artists they had never played with before – the results were always interesting and at times magical.

I am pleased to report that the Spirit of Rasputin’s rose to the occasion as well with great activities throughout the festival.  SoR performers and volunteers were not put off by the weather or any other obstacles. For example, when sound-bleed from the main stage threatened to drown out our Open Stage in the OFC tent, our supportive audience came to the rescue clapping along with such energy that it seemed we built a sound-wall around the stage. The SoR info table came together nicely and the fridge magnets were a hit!  While weather prevented having the table on Sunday, Spirit volunteers, in distinctive red Rasputin’s t-shirts, roamed the grounds sharing as much information and enthusiasm as possible. If you would like to get your hands on one of these limited edition “banjo version” t-shirts (design courtesy of Kate Morgan), come to our new Open Stage Monday nights upstairs at Whispers.  You can also go to our website (http://www NULL.rasputins for more info and updates [coming soon!] about our exciting Fall line-up (which may include some of the great performers featured in the 2010 Ottawa Folk Festival).

My favourite part of this year’s already eclectic Folk Fest mix was the shuffling together of different talents and genres at the many excellent workshops.  On Saturday, I was pleased to find myself in the cool of the “Woe Is Me” workshop that featured Horse Feathers, Jenny Whiteley and my new favourite: Clarksdale Moan.  Kevin Harvey on vocals and Kenny Pauze on harmonica and steel guitar added gorgeous delta blues to Whiteley’s perfect plaintive voice.  (I had to go back Sunday for more Jenny, who together with her brother Dan on mandolin and an amazing back up band made me not regret having had to miss the FAB world rhythms going down in the dance tent.) While I was less thrilled with Horse Feathers, aptly described as “weary, yearning and a little distant” by the Citizen’s Patrick Langston, their clearly talented but awkward offerings were warmed up by the others in the workshop with the end result that all left smiling.

Sunday’s machinations were even more interesting as organizers tried to get as many performers as possible in front of fans.  Hence Carolyn Mark found herself together with, not only the duelling fiddles of Scottish duo LAU and Acadians Joseph Edgar and Sébastian Michaud and the way too talented, too young and too cute guitarist from Wales, Gareth Pearson, but a “choir attack” complete with a back up band that included our own Hollis Morgan and Arthur McGregor.  It was weird but wonderful – and performers and fans alike seemed to have a great time.

I would be remiss not to mention other highlights – including, of course, folk legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliot who delighted fans not only with his still wonderful music, but with his fabulous stories that stretched back fifty years.  Mike Regenstreif’s interview with Ramblin’ Jack was a folk history lesson I felt privileged to take part in.  Elliot’s unplanned collaboration with Jill Zmud in the It Takes Two workshop was sugarcane sweet as were others in that workshop that included Kim Beggs, Jim Bryson and Jim Cuddy.

While I did not get a chance to see them, delightful discoveries for my Spirit of Rasputin’s colleagues included Namgar, who played an amazing fusion of traditional Mongolian and rock and Delhi to Dublin that mixed traditional Indian instruments, fiddle and Hip Hop which SoR General Manager George Laing called “infectious”.  I enjoyed Frank Turner’s high energy Billy Braggish tunes, not to mention his hilarious tales of scary girlfriends past and riot police.  I also liked the smoky songs of Bahamas (although perhaps not as much as certain CBC radio hosts) which reminded one of Chris Isaac.  The strange but thoroughly enjoyable evening ended with Jim Cuddy, his excellent band and special guests Luke Doucet and wife Melissa McClelland who did a fantastic and unexpectedly intimate show in the dance tent.

Lots of spirit and loads of fun – a little bit of weather can’t keep this fest or these great folks down!

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