Alabama Shakes, M. Ward bring the thunder
Lightning storm during finale capped a thrilling beginning to Folk Fest
By the time the first day of the Calgary Folk Music Festival was wrapping up, the cheering of the crowd was so deafening that is drowned out the thunderclaps raging above. The Folk Fest has a habit of leading with a strong one-two punch on Thursday, and M. Ward set the tone before Alabama Shakes brought down Prince’s Island Park to cap off the day.
While the threat of rain persisted throughout the entire day, it never truly came to be until the last 30 minutes of the day, and attendees and volunteers alike weren’t going to call it a night because of a light drizzle.
Alabama Shakes, still touring their debut album Boys and Girls which was one of 2012’s biggest overnight rock sensations, had the audience on their feet by the third song, and they stayed up dancing and cheering until the night was over. Brittany Howard led by force, as she was wailing on both her voice and her guitar with an emotional tour de force.
Leading strong with hits like “Always Alright” and “Hold On”, the group saved a lot of their softer songs until later in the set, when the crowd was already hooked in. By the time they came back for the quick encore though, their energy was on par with the lightning storm that was beginning to enclose Prince’s Island Park just in time for the day’s end.
Before that, M. Ward took the stage with his solo act, although that may not be how most Calgarians recognize him. As a man who has been part of bands like Monsters of Folk, Bright Eyes and perhaps most famously as the Him of She & Him with Zooey Deschanel, his resume speaks for itself for folkies. Although he began with a slow start to his set, he was rocking out by the end of it and did not leave the audience disappointed.
The day began on a loud, shiny note as Fanfare Ciocărlia, a Balkan brass ensemble who were as flashy as their harmonies were solid. They began their set with a quick speech in Romani, and even though it fell on deaf ears with most of the arriving crowd, what they had to say came through loud and clear once the sweet blend of trumpets, tubas and saxophones rang out. One particular highlight was an incredible tuba solo, played at a speed not ordinarily seen from an instrument of that gravitas.
Danny Michel with the Garifuna Collective were the other act on the Mainstage Thursday night, and they kept pace with their other performers. Michel, who had a solid folk career already before relocating to Belize, fell in love with the Garifuna Collective during his time there, and the band split the stage with Michel in his spot Thursday night.
For an eccentric band featuring animal jawbones and hollow turtle shells as instruments, it was a nice touch to see Michel insist of them sharing the spotlight. Make no mistake though, his soft voice and warm storytelling were the highlight of set.