Folk Fest offers up a beautiful time
A very serious look back at Serena Ryder
At the Calgary Folk Music Festival, time is not sequential.
When I look back over the years at my encounters with this annual celebration of unwashed hair and musical talent, they appear before me not as a chronological succession of events but rather as an enjoyably messy jumble of sensations and experiences.
From the sweet smell of butter chicken wafting out of that Indian place with the ridiculous line-up to the plaintive sound of an old homeless man’s saxophone blaring the Addams Family theme, this singular festival never fails to leave an indelible impression on my musical psyche.
But this year, the only question I was really asking myself was: will Serena Ryder marry me?
It’s a long shot, sure. After all, she’s a 28-year-old Canadian music phenom who began her recording career when she was 15, writing her own songs while putting a distinctively personal twist on hits from Leonard Cohen, the Band and, yes, Jordin Sparks. She toes the line between mainstream pop artist and indie auteur with ease and enthusiasm, plus she looks terrific in a white dress and brown cowboy boots.
And on the Saturday night of Folk Fest — flanked by long-time friends The Beauties, from Toronto — she gave the most rousing mainstage performance of the weekend, head-banging and foot-stomping her way into my heart.
However, my future wife was far from the only highlight of another wonderful late-July weekend at Prince’s Island Park.
Chris Isaak and his bedazzled red suit brought the crowd alive as the last act on Thursday night with an old Calgary favourite, Johnny Cash’s signature Ring of Fire.
Justin Townes Earle rocked out in his fly-fishing hat during a Sunday afternoon workshop, cigarette dangling oh-so-coolly out of the corner of his mouth.
Dan Mangan got some excited members of the audience in trouble for dancing outside of the two designated dancing zones, but he made up for it by playing Basket, perhaps the most moving song about old people and bike theft ever written.
Pause for a moment and you might recall Tom Wilson of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings promising to take a fan to The Keg after the show. Or Randy Newman singing the song from Toy Story for all the children (and man-children) in the adoring throng. Or Serena Ryder, being Serena Ryder and stuff.
Whether you came for the Hungarian dance music or the poetic musings of a bearded man from Texas, you would have left the 2012 edition of the Calgary Folk Fest feeling satisfied, with at least one moment to cherish until next year rolls around.
For me, that moment arrived on Sunday afternoon, when I lined up to get a signature from — you guessed it — Serena Ryder. I mulled over how best to propose at an autograph table (“Excuse me, can you sign my entire life, from here to eternity?”), but when my turn came I found I could barely utter a sound.
As I was leaving the tent, I turned back over my shoulder and barked out a quick “Your show was great last night.” She had already turned to sign someone else’s things.
So the timing wasn’t right. So what? It was still the best moment of my summer.
And Serena, if you’re reading this, please note: I may not have perfect vision or know how to drive, but my mother makes great cannelloni.
You should come over sometime. See for yourself.