Alex Cuba, OKA, Las Alegres Ambulancias

33rd Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Dates and Venue 16 - 18 July 2010 | Jericho Park, Vancouver

Reviewers Ed Farolan & Anita York

As we crossed the bridge last Sunday and embarked onto Jericho Park where the Folk Fest was, I had a distinct feeling of controlled chaos.When we got there, I was first allured by the Incurable Blues consisting of Alvin Youngblood Hart rendering his blues with Bettye Lavette who belted out her soul- wrenching, throaty "Anyway you wanna roll and steal my heart" away accompanied by Raoul of Raoul & the Big Time. His harmonica, or blues harp as known in the musicians' circle, was physically wooing me in; the tight intonations of voice, stand-up bass, guitar, and harps, all came together in a full synchronicity of the true blues.


My interview with Alvin Youngblood Hart started with “I am known as the interviewee from hell!” Gulp…(that was my reaction). Born in Oakland California in 1963, and he said that at the tender age of three he would sneak into the neighbour’s garage and listen to the “D.Dynamics”. He was hooked; the life of a blue’s man was in motion.

At 14 he was well into his first acoustic guitar. His own band the (Muscle Theory) has two ensembles, one in Europe, the other in Memphis. Both bands consist of the guitar, singer, drums and blues harp. When asked of his genre in music, he replied rock & roll, blues, rhythm & blues: "They’re really all the same, aren’t they?"

Working in Louisiana on the river as Buoy-man with the Coast Guard for three and half years, he dearly sympathises with their plight of the latest horrendous oil spill. His next venture leads him to Switzerland to teach his thirteen year old son to play Smoke on the Water…

I moved on to another show, Dancing Feet. Without a doubt, this blew my head away, with its diverse modulation of Celtic, Cajun and bluegrass.. This was a full sixteen piece orchestra, giving you the big band sound! There wasn’t a still foot in the house.

The group was composed of a seven member ensemble from Scotland, bringing their bagpipes and flutes in full kilt: the fiddle (Peter Tickell), guitar(Thomas Salter), keyboards (Innes Hutton), drums (Iain Copeland) and sax (Nigel Hithcock) gave to the Celtic wave. The oher goup was Mauvais Sort. which means "spellbinders", from Quebec. This is a young upcoming and not to be forgotten band. A blend of “Folk and Rock” according to Alexander Dion, the sax player.

During my interview, I was introduced to each of the day’s performing members of the band by their spokesperson Nicolas Geoffrey (vocals, guitar), Patrick Camire (trumpet), Stephanie Richard (vocals and an awesome accordionist). When you listen with closed eyes, you'd imagine yourself sitting on a veranda sipping mint juleps or bourbon and branch water in the bayou country. Claudia Gagne on bass made my heart beat a little faster, and the last member, Patrick Giroux (vocals, fiddle).

When I asked how these bands fit on to one stage, I was told, “Well, it kind of goes this way, the stage manager tells you who you are performing with very little notice, so in essence it’s a huge improv music jam”. This band has only ten years under its belt but is as tight as any well heeled ensemble.

The third group stood their place, as part of the entourage of Dancing Feet, a duo, Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, from the small towns of Creignish, Nova Scotia and Kincardine, Ontario. Together for ten years, they gave an additional flavour of Scottish with their smooth as silk velvet harmonic voices, and some mean fiddle playing and guitar strumming.

Back at Centre Stage, we were succumbed to the enigmatic yet seductively alluring (Brett Dennan) in English cap covering his shocking red hair and over sized dark sunglasses, accompanied by (Ethan Williams) on bass and (Pete McNichols) on drums. The incredible range of pitch and tones Brett Dennan’s voice could reach pulled the hair on your neck and arms to attention. They are a fabulous trio, with songs "Don’t be afraid of this Hazy Place" and "Its only Rain". I assure you this voice won’t be forgotten any time soon.

It just wouldn’t be fitting not to spend a Sunday evening with Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Singers. Ten years ago, Naomi hooked up with Cliff Driver, the piano player and musical director of the group; three gospel singers (Amy Birbaum, Starr Busby and Alexandra Bosquet), along with Gabriel Caplan on guitar, Fred Thomas, bass and Mike Post on drums. A unity of R&B and Gospel sound was discovered. The raspy voice and kerchief in hand of Naomi Shelton and the sweet voices of the Gospel Singers perfected harmony. Just when I thought this lead singer (Naomi) was taking her job too seriously, all of a sudden, a beaming Cheshire Cat smile would sweep her face followed by her no-messing- with-mama jig with renditions of "I want to know what love is", "Oh Happy Day" and "The Child is Hungry". Yes, quite a lady. and queen of soul.

Another singer that was fabulous was Nathan Rodgers, son of the late great Stan Rodgers, the man who made The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald famous. Nathan sang "The Northwest Passage" dedicating it to his father, while wearing his father’s boots, a couple of sizes too small, and prompting us all to sing along. He said he wasn’t crying but sweating from the setting sun in his eyes. I did distinctly see a tear roll down his cheek, however, as he waved and left the stage.

As we trundled back to our awaiting chariot not much was said other than "Phew, what a Glorious Day!"

© 2010 Anita York


Ah, it was so good to go out last Saturday, a warm summer day, and go to this great site in Jericho Beach, enjoy the ambience similar to the open air rock festivals of the 70s, seeing all the old senior hippies and the middle aged yuppies dressed as hippies, and listen to all kinds of music from hip-hop- rap, to traditional folk, blues, indigenous music from Australia, Cuban fusion, Palenque music from Colombia, and so many others.

The Festival has the same successful format used in previous years: seven stages operating continually from 10:00 am through 5:00 pm Saturday and Sunday, and three evening Main Stage concerts from 5:00 pm through about 11 pm all offering a smorgasbord of eclectic, musical gems from around the globe. And extras include workshops and the Little Folks Village where children do arts and crafts, such as painting, sculpting, and storytelling.

I saw bits and pieces of the different concerts, but I enjoyed three concerts the most: Alex Cuba, OKA from Australia, and Las Alegres Ambulancias from Colombia. I headed off at 11.20 to Stage 6 for "Freedom Ride" hosted by Boukman Exsperyans who introduced Las Alegres Ambulancias (The Jolly Ambulances). As soon as these green-clad Afro-Colombians started singing and dancing, some members of the audience stood up and danced along with this group. This ensemble is from Palenque de San Basilio, the first freed village in America, a small piece of Africa in Colombia, and they sang ancestral Palenque music.

OKA from the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia, was another fascinating ensemble with Stu Boga Fergie (DidgeritStu) called thus because of his skills with the didgeridoo, an Australian insrument. They started off with the haunting tunes of the didgeridoo, and later on exhibited fusion music, from the outbacks of Australia to modern, contemporary tunes.

Alex Cuba (born Alexis Puentes in 1974 just outside of Havana) was next on Stage 1. He is a multi-styled multi-instrumentalist who got his start as a small child with his father's group, Lost Puentes. After touring and performing with the band Temperamento with Roberto Fonseca, Alex moved to Canada in 1999, and it was there that the creative direction of his music began to move away from the more traditional aspects of the Cuban sound.

He released his debut album, Humo De Tabaco in 2005, and it was a critical success It scored Alex a Juno Award for Best World Music Album in 2006. His follow up, Agua Del Pozo, was released in February of 2007. His songs during the fest were fusion-like, as seems to be the trend, songs fusing traditional roots with the modern sound. He was well-received for his afternoon concert.

It was a fabulous Saturday of great music. Each year, the Festival remains basically the same but at the same time, changes, attracting younger crowds, and embracing the diverse and multicultural world we all inhabit.

© 2010 Ed Farolan