AU ABROAD

Our seven favourite performances and discoveries from the 36th Annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival

Last week, we returned home following an incredible trip to Canada that ended with a weekend in Edmonton for the 36th Annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Surrounded by the beautiful scenery of the riverside city, and perched on natural ampitheatres against almost all of the festival's seven stages, there was a comfort and beauty to this festival that made it an experience unlike any other.

But, naturally, at the end of the day it's all about the music. And here now, we count down our seven favourite performances and discoveries from the weekend, presented to you in alphabetical order. The only thing worth mentioning is that we weren't able to attend the festival's final day - Sunday August 9th - so if we're missing some performances from that day, you can understand why!

The Barr Brothers

Quebec based act The Barr Brothers delivered what was to be the perfect blend of roots, folk and rock for a sunny Saturday afternoon. "Come In the Water" was one of the opening numbers, standing as a relaxed tune featuring strong percussion and the talents of harpist Sarah Page. "How the Heroine Dies" was a soft, sweet folk track with stunning use of the harp and Page's floating angelic vocals across the number, while "Begger in the Morning" featured harmonica, and the soothing vocals and incredible rhythmic guitar had the crowd entranced. Declaring this set to be their last show of a yearlong tour, the band closed with what they declared to be their newest song, which is another soft sweet track showing off Barr's intricate guitar work.

Bear's Den

Bear's Den's stunning, heartfelt new folk continues to astound and draw in audiences across the world. A three piece hailing from the UK, the band's sound has an intimacy to it that makes for a warmer, more inclusive listening experience. Bear's Den opened with "Straight Into the Light", a track featuring a strong melody and surging horns, to then move onto the more dramatic "Mother”, a song with an incredible pulsating beat and banjo. "Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away" was a highlight, as was “Magdalene”.

A favourite of the set would have to be the tender track "Above the Clouds of Pompeii", which started out quietly, to build into a swirling melody filling with brass and heartfelt lyrics. The set was amped up with, "The Love We Stole" working in stronger percussion, as did the cover of Drake's, "Just Hold On We"re Going Home". Bear’s Den closed with the clear crowd favourite that had everyone on their feet, "Agape”, making it clear that by the end of the set this UK band had gained themselves a whole new bunch of fans.

Danny Michel **DISCOVERY**

We caught Canadian artist Danny Michel when he was taking part in one of the festival's "sessions", seeing him collaborate on stage with the likes of Bear's Den, Jenn Grant and John Smith. Michel stood out as an impressive talent, delivering the sweet “Wish Willy”, with the song encompassing entertaining story-telling lyrics involving accidental visits to a brothel. He also took part in the group's entertaining cover of "Dancing in the Dark" by Bruce Springsteen. An artist we definitely want to see again.

Frazey Ford

Opening the Main Stage for Day Two and bringing everyone to the central ampitheatre was the gorgeous Frazey Ford; captivating her massive crowd with her soaring soulful, jazzy vocals. Hailing from British Colombia, Frazey's star has continued to rise higher and higher since she began her solo career in 2010, leading to her chance to play to such a large and adoring crowd here in Edmonton. Also accompanied by members of Al Green's band and backup singers, the highlights included “Bird of Paradise”, her sadder, "Three Golden Trees", and the swoon worthy song about a crush titled "I Like You Better". Also throwing in what she called a Warrior Song in favour of voting, Frazey went on to close with a captivating and truly soulful performance of the Otis Redding track, "The Happy Song”.

Harry Manx

An extraordinary blues and roots artist from British Columbia who incorporates East Asian influences with his intricate guitar work, Harry Manx has been on the scene since he first started out in the 1970s. The beautifully worded “Coat of Mail” had a catchy blues folk vibe, as "Dew on the Roses”. Stating, "Probably just like you, I look forward to coming to this event all year", it was clear that Harry Manx was loving his time at the 36 year old folk festival, going on to deliver "A Love Supreme”, working in more of his trademark Indian guitar style and a melodic chorus. To close his set, Manx brought out his harmonica for a vibrant cover of Muddy Waters' classic track, "I Can't be Satisfied”, offering a perfect mix of Muddy and Harry's own unique style.

Mike Farris **DISCOVERY**

In honour of Nashville being Edmonton's sister city, the Mayor of Nashville himself came onto the stage to introduce one of his city's own artists: Mike Farris. Out to play songs from his latest album Shine For All The People, Mike performed the upbeat and soulful first track from the record titled "The Power of Love". Playing with abundant energy and force, Farris went on to play "Shine For All the People", and closed the set with the inspiring "The Little Light of Mine". We caught him again in one of the "sessions" with Harry Manx and The Barr Brothers and were continually blown away by his impressive on stage presence and fantastic songs. Definitely an artist you need to check out.

Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson made his way onto the stage to start out with "Bathsheba Smiles”, instantly showing off his fast guitar work and dark, descriptive lyrics. "The Ghost of You Walks" was a romantic number, to be followed by the much faster, “Valerie”, which had an almost rockabilly quality to it. Listening to the music of Richard Thompson, it really is astounding and a tribute to him that his sound is so incredibly rich for it to have been just the one artist on stage. And it was something that had us captivated from start to finish.

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The Edmonton Folk Music Festival happens every August in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. For more details on the event, head to: http://www.edmontonfolkfest.org/. Air Canada flies daily from Sydney to Vancouver, from where you can connect onto a short flight to Edmonton. Brisbane will soon be enjoying direct flights to Vancouver as well, from 17th June 2016. For more details visit http://www.aircanada.com/au/en/home.html. While in Edmonton we stayed at the Chateau Lacombe (chateaulacombe.com).

Visit our EFMF hub HERE to see all our photos and reviews from the weekend.

The authors of this piece - Larry Heath and Lucy Inglis attended this event as guests of the festival, Travel Alberta and Tourism Edmonton. All photos by Larry Heath.