By Lisa Gregoire with photography by John Ulan and Ian Jackson
Four days of chair camping and barefoot dancing at the annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival
IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT. Late. Baka Beyond, a seven-piece
Cameroon-Celtic groove train, is cooking up a mess of African
beats, and I’m dancing with hundreds of strangers on a patch
of trampled grass beside the Edmonton Folk Music Festival’s
12-metre-high mainstage speaker tower. Teenage flower children
in flowing skirts are swaying on dirty bare feet; men their
parents’ age are doing that white-boy, foot-to-foot shuffle; thirtysomethings
are shedding tight, civil-service day jobs. Pot and
tobacco smoke waft by periodically. Someone’s blowing bubbles.
And I’m dancing, in public, like the Baka forest people of
Cameroon. My knees are bent, and I’m sort of squat-stomping and pumping my forearms like the lady onstage. When the band
shifts effortlessly into a Celtic jig, I’m prancing from toe to toe
like my Irish ancestors. I am Riverdance.
Folk Fest regulars ask one another the same question every year:
what was your Folk Fest moment? It’s always tough to choose
between the various intimate side-stage jams by multi-ethnic
musicians and the incomparable mainstage superstar performances
of, say, David Byrne, Daniel Lanois or Joan Baez. But my
moment last year was neither. It happened when I waved goodbye
to my husband Dan as he rode away on Saturday night with our
twin daughters in the bike trailer. Only minutes before, yawning
and sunstroked, I’d been fighting the urge to join him, but the
notion of flying solo at Folk Fest gave me a jolt, and I bounced
back to my kid-free friends. Arms liberated from 13-kilogram
two-year-olds, knapsack drained of toy harmonicas, cookies and
sippy cups, and ears alight with music instead of “Mommy, is that
a boy or a girl?” I felt oddly effervescent. Hence the aforementioned
“So You Think You Can Dance” TV show audition.
A behind-the-scenes chat with photographer John Ulan on assignment at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
“Are you writing down the set list?”