Interstellar Rodeo 2018

Interstellar 2018

Inter- is a prefix occurring in loanwords from Latin, where it meant “between,” “among,” “in the midst of,” “mutually,” “reciprocally,” “together,” “during.”

Stellar – of or relating to the stars; consisting of stars.

Like a star, as in brilliance, shape, etc.

pertaining to a preeminent performer

Interstellar Rodeo 2018 was among stars, stars of the stage, stars of live music, stars of recorded music. It brought together stars from diverse cultural, musical and geographic backgrounds. We were indeed in the midst of preeminent performers. And it was good, oh my, the moments shine like stars in the sky.

Stars in the sky were a no-show with lots of cloudy and rainy weather across all three days. We were in line at the gates on Friday night when a monsoon moved in with lightning and hail, we braved it to the point of being soaked to the skin and knowing we would be cold and uncomfortable if we stayed. We went home, dried everything out and prepared for a better day on Saturday.

Saturday was stellar. The day started with Nêhiyawak, homegrown talent from right here in Edmonton. They played a set of prog and 1960’s psych inspired music that I found quite enjoyable. An excellent start to the day.

The Deep Dark Woods started playing against a backdrop of deep dark skies which soon turned into a torrential downpour with lots of lightning and everyone took shelter from the storm under the big white Heritage Amphitheatre.

 

After a spell, the rain let up, and the music restarted, I give credit to The Deep Dark Woods for not losing their enthusiasm and energy. They put in an incredible set, and I am enamoured by their sound.

Due to lack of space in a blog post, I am going to touch lightly and quickly upon many artists who deserve much more credit than I can generate in this space.

Jayden, an up and coming star is an example that I enjoyed hearing for the first time. The Mavericks, founded in 1989 and still going strong, showcased great Tex-Mex, rockabilly, and alternative country.

Ruby Boots, I am sure she is a very talented lady, but she got the short straw between The Mavericks and Lisa Leblanc which are two very high energy sets. Ruby Boots is a gentler soul. I hope to hear her in another setting someday.

Lisa Leblanc is from the far east, New Brunswick fer shure. She plays an eclectic mix of genre-mashing music. Margaret Glaspy was up next, and I had not previewed her music before the festival. I enjoyed her ability to play in a power trio; it’s not always easy being the only guitar but she pulled it off with ease.

Jay Gilday is a talented singer/songwriter hailing from Yellowknife. I look forward to hearing more from Jay.

The closer for Saturday was July Talk, a band that I was familiar with and looked forward to seeing and hearing again. Spellbound from the opening note to the very last one, I didn’t want their set to end. There have been a few bands over the years that do that to me. July Talk mixed high energy with fantastic stage chemistry that raced and staggered between songs with ease. Having July Talk close the Saturday set was an excellent choice by the Interstellar Rodeo organizers.

Sunday opened to gray and dreary clouds, but joyful music from Faouzia who is of Moroccan descent and plays music that is a mash-up of influences but a fun listen. I was particularly impressed by the power and cadence of her singing.

La Dame Blanche hails from Cuba and sings in Spanish, I don’t understand more than a handful of words in that language but whatever she was singing was terrific. I can not describe her show, Google it and see for yourself what I mean.

Diga hails from Behchoko NT, about as far from the climate of Cuba as you can get but his singing and playing are every bit as warm and personable. He is a song craftsman, enough said, go now and listen.

The Dead South, from Regina Saskatchewan, are an acoustic group that encourage foot stomping with their energetic mix of folk, western swing and paddle wheel gambling music. They sing quintessential country and western songs; dogs, broken hearts and drinking.

There were no songs about crows nests.

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Josh Q,  A staple of the Iqaluit music scene is a big man with a big heart who sings songs about a big land. He has a good voice and a nice sound going on with his guitar.

The Interstellar All Stars is a mix of musicians who have played the festival in the past, this year featured Jason Plumb and his band The Willing, Rose Cousins and Tim Baker. Tim Baker played in Hey Rosetta but is flying solo. All-star groups are a gamble, sometimes they work, on some songs they hit on every cylinder, but not always. That held true this year; there were moments that were amazing, but there were others that were a John Deere tractor running on 3 cylinders. A good effort by everyone and thanks for coming back to Edmonton.

An artist that I have wanted to see for some time now is Alejandro Escovedo who’s resume is a kilometre long. He started with some newer material including “Sally was a Cop” and then he turned it up a couple of notches, and the band went full-on punk with some incredibly powerful music that included a cover of David Bowie’s song “All The Young Dudes”. He even did Pete Townsend power chords. A great high energy set that brought the house to their feet. That was a high light moment of the Interstellar Rodeo for me.

Riit.

Courtney Barnett is another high light reel moment. She brought out the grunge and power for us, and it was good. She is a powerhouse from the land down under that sings songs that mix equal parts wit, humour and down to earth observations of life in general. Courtney and her band pumped up the volume, the Interstellar crew pumped up the light on the amphitheatre, and the crowd ate it all up. I left the festival grounds one happy camper, after two days of incredible music. I can’t wait to see what next years line up will be.

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A few off the cuff observations before I close this blog. Alcohol consumption. There were copious amounts of it. I like the SevenFest and The Edmonton Folk Music Festival where the drunks are more or less confined to small corrals and the people who came to listen to the music can do so without some loud drunk slurring down their collars. Why do drunk people keep talking louder and louder as they get drunker and drunker? And I really don’t care what your sex life is like at the moment! I know the Interstellar Rodeo makes a killing off booze sales but at what cost. Drunks that require heavy-handed security to enforce and then remove from the premises. Drunks were falling all over because they could barely walk but were driving home or in one case driving to another concert. I was glad they left to hear The Beach Boys so we could enjoy Courtney Barnett without them yelling and slurring at each other. In summary, I was not thrilled with the amount of alcohol on the hill.

Bathrooms, washrooms, cans, loos; whatever you want to call them, there were not enough of them, and they were very poorly maintained. For example, all of the portable potties ran out of toilet paper and ladies were running around trying to find a volunteer to fix this. One gracious lady donated a box of tissue paper to save a few of them from despair. And they were dirty and full of crap, literally. They need to be cleaned, emptied and maintained much better than they were this weekend, it was a disgrace. The permanent washrooms were not much better, and there were not enough. Why is this such a hard concept for festivals to master, there are never enough bathrooms? Even the new Rogers Place received criticism for opening without enough bathroom space, especially for the ladies. I suggest doubling the amount that Interstellar had this year and using the gender-neutral approach, first come first served regardless of gender. Increasing the number and then cleaning and maintaining them would make for a lot more happy festival attendees. It would also make sense based on the number of beers the patrons were pounding back, that liquid all has to go someplace.

Another thing that I think would make the festival better involves the pathways. I suggest covering all the grass pathways with a generous covering of wood-chips. Wood-chips will keep them safer for walking on, or walkable in general since after the rain there was a lot of slipping and sliding. Wood-chip pathways will also clearly show where a path is, so people do not start setting up camp on the space allotted for walking, which I observed more than once. Wood-chip is also easy to clean up after the festival with an industrial vacuum, plus the lawn under it will be in better condition for the pleasure of the next event to be staged there.

The volunteers deserve a huge shout out; they went above and beyond. Their hard work and dedication go a long way towards making this a successful festival. Thank you to every one of them.

The queue was mostly observed and respected. I tend to lean towards the British system where cutting in line is tantamount to a crime against humanity and saving a place in line should only happen under exceptional circumstances such as the driver trying to find a parking spot for a person who is unable to walk long distances. Saving a place for your friend who is just too lazy to arrive on time does not qualify, go to the back of the line. I will make an exemption for the occasional family member but not for the whole Brady Bunch showing up late, go to the end of the line.

Smokers were few and far between which was a pleasure. I only witnessed one selfish person smoking in the queue and one smoking off behind a tree, like that made it more acceptable. I didn’t notice anyone smoking in the festival grounds but did get one whiff of wacky tabacky that was very brief, so I appreciate people adhering to the no-smoking rule that applies to any and every type of inhaling of noxious substances. Thank you for not smoking, anything.

Ford Pier was the master of ceremonies, and he did an excellent job of it. I hope he comes back and I hope the m.c.’s of some other events take notes from watching him, their lack of talent for being an m.c. can only go so far. I enjoyed watching Ford rock out to some of the music, clearly moved by what he was hearing. Rock on Ford.

In conclusion, it was a stellar Interstellar music festival. I enjoyed the music and that far outshone the flaws. Thank you Interstellar Rodeo for making me a happy cowboy.

Seven Music Fest 2018

I really enjoyed Seven Music Fest 2017, St. Albert’s little festival with ambition. The weather was amazing and the lineup was worth every penny of the ticket price.
That was 2017, this is 2018 and the story runs a bit differently. The lineup didn’t have the drawing power or mesh with my listening habits. Last year we had The Strumbellas and The Rural Alberta Advantage, two bands that I followed, had seen live previously and listened to at home fairly consistently. On Saturday, July 7th we had Elle King and Banners, two bands that I had never seen live previously and had only sampled on the internet, so I wasn’t going to the festival unprepared but I also expected to hear a lot of new sounds.

After mulling it over on a lazy Sunday morning after the festival I can definitively state that I enjoyed Banners. They were enthusiastic, and that energy struck a chord with the audience as evidenced by an energetic group of dancers and toe-tappers at the foot of the stage. I came home and relistened to Banners on iTunes and enjoyed them again. I will probably get something on hard copy by them, which segues into one of the problems I had with this year’s Seven Music Fest. The merch tent was very skimpy, I didn’t see anything by Banners on the offering. No Banners t-shirts, CDs or posters. Nothing. In fact, the only merch I saw was Seven Music Fest t-shirts, I checked twice in case they were restocking and I had just missed it the first time. Anyhow, Banners put on a good quality, high energy show with good banter. I appreciate artists who can banter effortlessly and keep the audience tuned in.

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The quality of sound through the festival sound system was good for the Banners set, considering that through the previous two acts it had been less than admirable with way too much heavy bass. The volume was acceptable but the bass was way over the top or under the bottom depending on how you hear it.

Delhi to Dublin were victims of this and it’s a shame because they had a large group of people in the mosh pit engaging with the music that is a bit closer to Delhi than Dublin but was still good. This is a short clip of their set, I apologize for the poor quality. I am a better listener than a videographer.

I came into the concert a bit late due to some inclement weather and missed Kane Incognito, Martin Kerr and Altameda but I did get to hear The Wet Secrets.
I always like to see and hear local bands and of the four acts that I heard at Seven Music Fest this year, The Wet Secrets were the only local talent. They are a band that defies labels with their blend of horns, a bass lead guitar, tons of percussion and a smattering of synth. They suffered from a poor sound mix but their energy and enthusiasm were never in question. They engaged with the crowd and put on a decent set.

The closing act was Elle King, a much-hyped genre-bending band that sounds like a collision between George Thorogood, Debbie Harry and Lynard Skynard. Elle King has a seven-person band behind her which was very appropriate for Seven Music Fest and they played slick, polished southern flavoured rock on some very nice gear. They all rocked out in white attire and never missed a beat. Elle alternated between banjo, guitar and handled all the lead vocals, and did it all smooth as silk.

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A few odd observations. There seemed to be way more kids running all over the place. I thought at one point that I must have been sitting in the kids play zone but a glance around told me that moving would not change the situation, they were everywhere. I thought it was a novel idea for child care, fenced and patrolled by security no less.

The beer gardens, yes it is plural, often seemed to have more people than the festival grounds. That’s not a judgement, just an observation. The beer garden giant Jenga was a real crowd pleaser. I also noticed a few parents in the beer garden conversing with their children across the fence, confirming my child care observation.

There were a few food trucks but they didn’t seem as varied or as plentiful as last year and the prices seemed higher. Water was only a buck a bottle so that is all I spent all day at the festival.

The R.C.M.P. were strolling the grounds and provided one of the highlights of the festival when an officer that was easily 2.0 meters tall went down on his knees to talk to a small child. Canada still has one of the best police forces anywhere in the world.fullsizeoutput_1a24

In conclusion, the highlights were the R.C.M.P., Banners (the band), the sun that felt nice after the rain when it broke through the clouds and the nice gear that the bands played with. Next year? I have to see the lineup before I commit to that. Next up this year though is Interstellar Rodeo and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, both of which have acts that I am excited to be seeing live.