Once upon a time music pretty much defined my life. From waking to sleeping I was always listening to something.
That isn’t the case anymore. If I have the radio on I am more likely to be listening to public affairs programming than to music.
I still listen to a lot of music though; I still work in the music industry, I still love music and discovering new music. These days though I do tend to be a little more selective in what I listen to.
When I was younger I spent a lot more time checking out live music than I do now. It was not unusual for me to be out three or four nights weekly listening to all sorts of musical acts (different genres too). Nowadays it usually takes someone really special to stir me out of my home. But some old habits die hard, which explains five nights in a row at CityFolk, Ottawa’s folk music festival.
When the lineup was announced in the Spring there was no-one on the bill that I would have considered a must-see, except possibly Van Morrison. Even then, I think I may have seen Van back in the late seventies or early eighties, though I can’t be sure. I have seen probably 5,000 different musical artists live over the past 45 years, and my memory isn’t what it once was. Most shows aren’t that memorable. Looking at the entire lineup for CityFolk however, I bought the full festival pass. I figured it would be a good opportunity to see new artists that I otherwise would not be exposed to. In the past I have made some great discoveries at festivals. With multiple stages there is always something going on, and you can always check out something new while waiting for the next group you came to see.
Thursday was the second night of CityFolk and I took in a couple of bands I had read about but never heard. (Yes I know about YouTube and that you can hear anything you want on the internet, but I usually don’t bother for bands I have read about – unless a friend makes a recommendation.)
Opening on the main stage was a Canadian band, Walk Off The Earth. What I had read about them didn’t impress me; the appeared to be primarily a cover band, putting their own spin on other people’s music. They seemed to me to be an acoustic version of Arcade Fire. Does the world need such a thing? I guess so, because people turned out to hear them; they drew a bigger crowd than UB40, who were the previous night’s headliners. I must admit I was initially dismissive of them as derivative copycats, but I wound up really enjoying the last part of their set. They may not be terribly original, but they are talented, and by their closing song, “Summer Vibe,” they had won me over. Though probably not enough that I would go to a show they headlined or buy an album.
The headliner on that second night was The Avett Brothers. I think I skipped their set a couple of years ago, probably somebody on another stage I wanted to see. I’d read a lot of good things about them, so I made a point to catch their set.
They grabbed me from the beginning. This is a band that knows how to use their instruments to paint an interesting sonic picture. My original plan had been to catch maybe half an hour of their show and make an early night of it. They were too good for me not to stay until the end.
I don’t think I can really pigeonhole their sound: roots music fits the bill, though that term is a bit of a cliché. A little bit bluegrass, a little bit rock, some folk, some country, all blended together. My thought, about halfway through the set is that this is what Mumford and Sons would sound like if they were from North Carolina instead of Britain.
Would I pay to see them again? Definitely. Would I buy an album? I bought two at the festival.
All in all, I would describe it as a pretty good night. I always like discovering new music.