Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Boston Folk Festival '06

Went to the Boston Folk Festival this weekend at UMass Boston. The campus is a lovely venue, situated on a paeninsula off Boston Harbour. The weather was perfect. Sadly, we were not allowed to take photos nor (obviously) use any recording devices. I did get a hat and a duckie, though.

We arrived just in time to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of his demise with the Phil Ochs Tribute, hosted by Sonny Ochs, and featuring Kim and Reggie Harris, Greg Greenway, and emma's revolution. They all together started the set off with 'Power and Glory'. I wept. The sound and the memories reached deep into my soul.

My eyes misted up again when Greg Greenway performed a haunting rendition of 'No More Songs'.

I pulled myself together enough to lend my voice to everyone else's on the finale, 'When I'm Gone', a song that, for me says it all:

"And I won't be laughing at the lies when I'm gone
And I can't question how or when or why when I'm gone
Can't live proud enough to die when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here."

Next we were treated to the sweet voice of Tish Hinojosa singing her songs of the West and her multi-cultural heritage.

Next came Richie Havens, another moving and spiritual experience, as he interwove tales of his Greenwich village days with stirring renditions of topical songs of yesterday and today, all relevant to our current sociopolitical experience.

His performance of 'Lives in the Balance':

"There are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
There is blood on the wire"

was nothing short of electrifying.

A beautifully hypnotic rendition of Joni Mitchell's 'Woodstock' led into a climactic performance of 'Freedom/Motherless Child' which left us shaken AND stirred. Pass the hanky please.

Havens left us with a message of love -- "Do for each other..." which seemed to become the theme of this folk festival.

Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul came on next to close the evening, and got everybody dancing and singing with their exuberantly and impeccably played blend of Celtic, Jazz, and show tunes. We were tired puppies as we headed home.

The next day, we arrived too late to catch Tony Bird, a performer I had hoped to see.

We staked out our spot in the main field and enjoyed the traditional and original songs dance tunes of the Cottars,a fine group of young musicians from Cape Breton.

Next came the Kennedys. Pete and Maura Kennedy regaled us with their captivating and spiritual original songs, including 'Half a Million Miles', a delightful song about their falling in love and marrying at Buddy Holly's grave.
In keeping with the aforementioned unofficial, yet apparent theme of the festival Pete and Maura taught us to sing in Sanskrit and Japanese:

"Namistai, (the divine spark in me recognises the divine spark in you,)
Domo Arigato, (thank you.)

Next we moved to the Coffehouse Stage to hear Pierce Pettis perform his very moving original songs.

We returned to our stakeout in the main field to hear Jesse Winchester, another favourite of mine. Jesse's laid back demeanor gave the impression, even though we were several thousand strong, sitting in a six or seven acre field, that we were invited for a little chat in his living room. The chat was filled with Jesse's beautiful voice, untarnished by time, singing some of the most accessible melodies ever written, delivering lovely lyrics that touched us all deep inside.

The spiritual theme of the festival continued as Jesse finished by leading us all in a rousing a cappella gospel song.

Which leads us to the headliner for the festival -- Bruce Cockburn. Bruce is not only a brilliant lyricist, but also a consummate musician. Accompanied by only a drummer and a keyboardist who doubled on harmony vocals, Bruce delivered an impeccable set that was at once danceable and enjoyable, and yet spiritually profound. Like the songs of Phil Ochs, Bruce's songs, while topical, are timeless.

Bruce paints a bleak picture of Baghdad today in 'This Is Baghdad':

"Carbombed and carjacked and kidnapped and shot
How do you like it, this freedom we brought"

Bruce dipped into his new album to end his set with a sing-along song called 'Mystery'. One of my favourite verses from this song is:

"Infinity always gives me vertigo
Infinity always gives me vertigo
And fills me up with grace"

The last verse reiterates the theme of the festival:

"So all you stumblers who believe love rules
Believe love rules
Believe love rules
Come all you stumblers who believe love rules
Stand up and let it shine
Stand up and let it shine"

We all stood shining and applauding and brought him back for an encore -- 'If I Had a Rocket Launcher'. We remained standing and dancing through this song. Amazing how relevant the lyrics are today, some twenty years later!

We headed back to the car to the driving beat of 'Night Train', a perfect finish to a perfect weekend.