Edmonton Folk Music Festival: la tierra del hippie posmo

FolkFestPoster_00Texto: Sandra Murillo / Corresponsal

Foto: Zach Hoskin

 

Edmonton, Canadá.- Es apenas miércoles y el rumor en cuanto a planes para el fin de semana ya se empieza a esparcir. No se trata esta vez de salir a acampar, organizar una carne asada o construir la terraza, aun cuando el clima es perfecto –cuatro días seguidos a más de 20 grados es una verdadera rareza–. No; este fin de semana sólo hay dos tipos de edmontonianos: los que van al Gallagher Park y los demás. Los que deciden jugar al hippie posmoderno y el resto. Bienvenidos a la aldea del Festival de Música Folk de Edmonton.

Durante el invierno, las colinas del parque Gallagher en el modesto centro de Edmonton, funcionan como campo de esquí. En el verano la inclinación natural resulta inigualable para montar siete escenarios más el principal. Para llegar es necesario caminar, tomar el autobús o llevarse la bici y asegurarla a cualquier poste, pues no se permite estacionar el coche en las calles aledañas.

Una amplia diversidad de público asiste mientras que los vagabundos deciden apreciar gratuitamente los actos desde las afueras del parque. Gracias a la destacada organización, hay espacio para todos: desde zonas designadas para discapacitados junto al escenario principal, áreas de juegos para niños, beergardens, lugar exclusivo para fumar y tiendas de campaña; hasta incluso un “muro de intercambio” de boletos o swapboard para aquellos desafortunados que no pudieron conseguir los tan codiciados pases, agotados en dos horas.

El Ritual

Varios de los afortunados que sí lograron comprar sus entradas por teléfono, también deciden asegurar un buen lugar en la colina. Las largas filas para entrar se forman cuatro horas antes del inicio del festival y rodean el parque. Grupos de veinte personas que parecen excursionistas entran junto con gaitas escocesas que los escoltan hasta las primeras filas. Entre lonas, sillas y bloqueador solar, el gesto de bienvenida y reconocimiento a la dedicación corre por parte del staff.

Vale la pena una mención especial a los voluntarios que, en gran parte, hacen posible el evento, además de darle la calidad necesaria para destacar internacionalmente. El trato, su dirección y disposición también es premiado con exclusivas fiestas donde tocan bandas del cartel al terminar la jornada. Por supuesto, los rumores se escuchan entre voluntarios y artistas antes y después del festejo.

En términos prácticos, el plan para asistir al Folk Fest puede ser tanto austero como lujoso. Las concesiones de comida en el festival tienen buena reputación en la ciudad, y por lo tanto, a ésta equivale el precio. Desde waffles orgánicos de $4 dólares hasta cenas completas de comida hindú o italiana por $16. La alternativa para no gastar más de la cuenta en alimentos es llevar los propios. Se permite incluso entrar con hieleras –sin bebidas alcohólicas–, sombrillas, lonas y sillas de ciertas medidas.

Una vez que el monte se pinta de plástico azul, es buena idea reconocer el lugar. Merodear descalzo por los escenarios y el sitio en general, es más que pretensión. El clima no obedece a ningún patrón, especialmente en la provincia de Alberta. Las temperaturas fueron de los 13 a los 30 grados, con lluvia exprés, vientos y arco iris.

No importa la excentricidad en el vestuario mientras sea cómodo. Los que asisten en plan lujoso deciden empacar ropa contra lluvia, botas y un par de frazadas por si acaso. Para aquellos en plan austero, el pasto es el mejor aliado para disfrutar el golpeteo de la lluvia sobre el cuerpo.

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El Festival

La peculiar voz y energía de Imelday May inauguraron el escenario principal la tarde del jueves. Momentos después tocó el turno a Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros en uno de los actos más esperados. Prueba superada. Alex Ebert, vocalista de la banda, tradujo su buena vibra mientras caminaba descalzo entre la gente entonando Home y 40 Day Dream. Lo hippie, más que cliché, se fue tornando realidad tangible conforme pasaron las horas. Más tarde, los característicos rostros inexpresivos de los Gipsy Kings cerraron la jornada entre miles de velas –a 2 dólares cada una– que alumbraron la noche.

Pero la grata sorpresa de este evento son los talleres o workshops con un nivel protagónico que le da buena batalla al del set principal. Se trata de escenarios más discretos que hospedan sesiones entre artistas de diferentes ritmos, contextos y nacionalidades. El resultado: fusiones eclécticas para nada despreciables, que de sólo escuchar los nombres en primera instancia, no parecen tener mucha lógica.

La cuestión es atreverse a imaginar un violín de Chicago, percusiones nigerianas y jazz de Nueva Orleans juntos en el mismo escenario. Andrew Bird y su característico silbido melódico se encontró con la música tradicional africana de Etran Finatawa y la enorme doble trompa de The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Es casi como el platillo más raro y aparentemente poco apetitoso que termina por ser la exquisitez del menú.

La multiculturalidad canadiense encuentra terreno común en el folk y lo refuerza con talleres que la gente sabe apreciar. La banda canuck The Paperboys fue otro destacado de la tarde sabatina, combinado con reggae a cargo de Mighty Popo y Alpha Yaya Diallo. Resulta satisfactorio encontrar en el extranjero un colectivo de origen mexicano, sólido y bien armado, experimentando con ritmos ajenos a lo tradicional sin perder su esencia latina.

Tom Landa, líder de The Paperboys, decidió dejar de ser chilango a los 15 años para formar su agrupación en Vancouver. Ellos basan su música en el son jarocho y juegan con ritmos celtas, bluegrass, tintes de ska y country. Durante su colaboración con artistas africanos, estos músicos desmitificaron al frío canadiense promedio y lo pusieron a mover el cuerpo.

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El objetivo es liberar la energía. No importa en qué formato ni ritmo o arritmia, la gente baila como sea, por todo el sitio, todo el tiempo; de pié, con el hula hula o en silla de ruedas. Todos tienen lugar: voluntarios, miembros del staff, espectadores e incluso los vagabundos que deambulan fuera del parque. Delhi 2 Dublin reforzó la fiesta con sonidos de guitarra hindú mezclados con beats electrónicos, en uno de los conciertos vespertinos con más audiencia.

La banda Noah and the Whale contribuyó a la atmósfera festiva con un poco de brit rock, justo antes de partir hacia Grant Park, Chicago. La expectativa era alta al ser uno de los actos principales; sin embargo, lograron satisfacerla con un repertorio variado y el público lo agradeció. Más tarde, el legendario trío Taj Mahal cerró el día con una buena dosis de blues.

Jeremy Fisher y The Deep Dark Woods representaron dignamente la esencia del folk canadiense. El estilo de Fisher es simple, cotidiano y contagioso, por lo que ha sonado tanto en radio popular como alternativa. The Deep Dark Woods, instalados en las historias del chico de campo, tocaron las fibras de los canadienses aunque éstos se resistan a aceptarlo. Aquí el country sí termina por conmover. Vale la pena también seguirle el paso a Scenic Route to Alaska quienes, originarios de Alberta, demostraron el potencial local para retomar el country y convertirlo en rock mucho más ruidoso y emotivo.

Con el paso de los días y las últimas horas del festival, comienza la melancolía. No sólo significa el término de la fiesta, sino prácticamente las últimas semanas calurosas. El verano es corto, y aunque éste es el evento más esperado de la temporada, representa también una marca en el tiempo: de ahora en adelante, los días serán cada vez más cortos.

El Festival de Música Folk de Edmonton no es sólo una actividad recreativa y rentable para la ciudad, también es una exhibición artística de calidad internacional que une a la comunidad entre voluntarios, espectadores, artistas y organizadores. Universitarios y vagabundos. Propios y extraños. Canadienses y mexicanos. Hasta el próximo año.

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***

— English version —

Edmonton Folk Music Festival: the land of the postmodern hippie

by Sandra Murillo

Edmonton, Canada.- It’s barely Wednesday and already the rumors are spreading about weekend plans. This time, however, the discussion is not about camping, having a BBQ, or building the deck, even though the weather is perfect –four days in a row above 20 degrees seems to be a true peculiarity here–. No, this weekend there are only two types of Edmontonians: those who are going to Gallagher Park and the rest. Those who decide to play the postmodern hippie game and everybody else. Welcome to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival village.

During winter, Gallagher Park in the modest downtown of Edmonton, Alberta, serves as a ski hill. In summertime, the natural inclination of the ground turns out to be incomparable to set up seven small stages and the main stage. You can walk, bus or even bike to the festival, since there is a post available in almost every corner close by, and since it is not permitted to park cars in the neighborhood.

A broad range of people attends the festival, while the homeless enjoy every performance for free from the other side of the fence. Thanks to the outstanding organization, there is room for everybody: from designated areas for handicapped just by the main stage, to playgrounds, beer gardens and smoking spots. Even a swap board is available for the unfortunate ones who could not get tickets, which sold out in two hours.

The Ritual

Some of the lucky ones who managed to buy their tickets by phone also decide to assure their spot on the hill. People start lining up, literally surrounding the park, a good four hours before the kickoff. Gatherings of 20 people get in among Scottish bagpipes, which escort them to the front rows. Between tarps, chairs and sunblock, the staff welcomes the most dedicated festivalgoers.

A special mention to the volunteers is worthy, since they pretty much make the event possible. Their manners, direction and disposition are also awarded with exclusive parties where some of Folk Fest bands play at the end of the day. Of course, stories run wild among volunteers and artists before and after the celebration.

Basically, there are two ways of attending the festival: austere and deluxe. The food franchises have a decent reputation in the city, which is reflected in their prices. The range goes from 4 dollar organic waffles to 16 dollar Indian or Italian dinners. The option to avoid spending more than necessary on food is to carry your own.

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Once the hill is painted in plastic blue, it is a good idea to get acquainted with the place. Wandering around shoeless in the park is more than a mere pretension. The weather does not obey any particular trend in Alberta. The temperatures were from 13 to 30 degrees, with short storms, winds and a couple of rainbows. It does not matter how eccentric one’s clothing is, as long as it is comfortable. Those on the deluxe plan might decide to pack their rain gear, boots and some blankets, just in case. For the austere festivalgoers, grass is their best ally to enjoy the rain au naturel.

The Festival

Imelda May’s energetic voice opened the main stage on Thursday afternoon. Later on, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros went onto the stage in one of the most anticipated moments of the night. Expectations exceeded. Alex Ebert, the band’s front man, transmitted his vibe with Home and 40 Day Dream while walking barefoot among people. The cliché of hippie turns into tangible reality as time runs by. The Gipsy Kings’ inexpressive faces came at the end of the day, among thousands of 2 dollar candles that lit up the night.

The nicest surprise of the festival was the so-called workshops, which almost stole the leading role from the main stage performances. Discrete platforms host sessions between artists of different rhythms, backgrounds and nationalities. The outcome: eclectic fusions that might not make much sense at first.

It is all about daring to imagine a violin from Chicago, percussions from Nigeria and jazz from New Orleans together on the same scene. Andrew Bird and his tuneful whistle met the traditional African sound of Etran Finatawa and the huge tuba of The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Almost like the most bizarre and least appetizing dish that ends up being the most exquisite on the menu.

The Canadian multiculturalism finds common ground in folk music and it is reinforced with workshops that the festivalgoers appreciate. The Canuck band, The Paperboys, was one of the Saturday’s afternoon highlights along with Mighty Popo’s reggae and Alpha Yaya Diallo’s mix. It is satisfying to find abroad a solid, well-armed Mexican collective that experiments with rhythms far from their own tradition, but still keeps their Latin essence.

Tom Landa, lead singer from The Paperboys, decided to leave his hometown at the age of 15 to later become a musician in Vancouver. Their music is based in the son jarocho while playing around with Celtic melodies, bluegrass, some ska and country. During their performance with the African artists, The Paperboys destroyed the myth of the cold Canadian and put him in the dancing spot.

Release of energy is the main goal. What matters is not really the way or the rhythm, or even arrhythmia, in some cases. The carefree public dances away all around the park all the time: standing up, with the hula-hoop, or in a wheelchair. Delhi 2 Dublin lit up the party with their combination of Indian guitars and electronic beats, in one of the most attended shows of the festival.

Noah and The Whale contributed to the atmosphere with a bit of brit rock, just before heading to Grant Park, Chicago. The expectation was high, as they were one of the main acts; but they managed to meet expectations with a varied set list that people appreciated. Later on, Taj Mahal closed the day with a solid dose of blues.

Jeremy Fisher and The Deep Dark Woods stood up decently for the essence of local talent. Fisher’s style leans more to the pop side: simple, common and contagious. Both the mainstream and alternative radio stations have played his tunes for quite a while. The Deep Dark Woods, a fair representative of Canadian folk, base their songs on the country-boy story. The fans were moved by the lyrics even though they refuse to admit it. Here, country music ends up touching people’s feelings. It is worth mentioning that Scenic Route to Alaska constituted a big Albertan surprise, demonstrating their potential to pick up country sounds and integrate them into a much more emotional, noisier rock.

Days go by and as the last hours of the festival wind down while a sense of the summers-end melancholy sets in. This not only means that the party has come to an end, but also the advent of the last hot weeks. Summer is brief here, and even though this is the most anticipated event of the season, the Folk Fest’s end also represents that, from now on, days will be shorter.

The Edmonton Folk Music Festival is not only a recreational activity profitable for the city, but also a first-class artistic exhibition that unites the community among volunteers, festivalgoers, artists and organizers. Students and homeless. Natives and foreigners. Canadians and Mexicans.

We’ll see you next year…

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Photograph by Zach Hoskin

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