Edmonton Folk Music Festival: A New Note

It's the Sunday morning after the August long weekend in Edmonton, and that means Gallagher Hill, the home bowl of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, beckons.

I've got the program open on the dining room table. I think I'll start the day at the Stage 5 workshop. It's called Ancient Cultures, featuring the Mairtin O'Connor Band, Sidi Toure, Joanne Shenandoah, and the Masters of Hawaiian Music. I've never heard any of them before.

And that's part of the point about the Folk Fest. Maybe it's the point.

How do you find new music these days? It's still by word of mouth, for sure, but there is more and more of a role played by recommended picks. It's an algorithmic world. Buy a book on Amazon, and a computer program will send you five other books you might like, typically in the same genre or field of interest. Get a movie, get the same kind of pick. Or download some music, and iTunes will download into your thought process a few more suggestions, usually along the same like-to-like trail.

The folkfest can certainly be experienced that way. If you like roots, you can follow the roots routes. If your tastes are more twangy, you can pick bluegrass.

But the festival also encourages you to do that old-fashioned thing, and just trust the music programmers. It's an old bargain: I will give you my time and listening presence, and you give me something wonderful to listen to. And it usually works.

Call it all-go-rhythms. It certainly runs against the spirit of the times, this sense that you can pass over to an expert, in this case, festival producer Terry Wickham and his gang, what you will listen to. And it usually works. You can actually force yourself, relatively easily,  to go and listen to music that no computer would ever recommend to you.

Todd Hirsch, the senior economist I work with, makes a similar and memorable point in his book, The Boiling Frog Dilemma. The book is about creativity and thinking new thoughts. Hirsch asks you to imagine being at a magazine stand where, in addition to the magazine you came looking for, you also pick up one that you know nothing about. Came for People? Pick up Field And Stream, too. The point isn't to talk you out of your interest in beautiful celebrities as much as it is to see new things, or the old things from a little different angle. That's where dots are connected and new thoughts are thought. It's an interesting challenge.

The same possibility exists at the folkfest.

Now, it's true that there is a lot more to the four-day experience in Cloverdale. There's the beer tent, green onion cakes, the lantern parade, running into old friends on the hill, the candles that are so many upside-down stars from the performers' perspective, the arc of the sun that drops behind the skyline, the different kinds of folks.

But hearing new music, thinking new thoughts is why I'll go and check out the Masters of Hawaiian Music for a few minutes this morning.

And let those notes float around in my memory while listening, maybe with new ears, to the Jim Cuddy Band on main stage at 2 pm.


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