One of the highlights of the BC festival season, the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival never fails to impress. Of course, it’s impossible to cover all the festival, given there are three stages of music going on all day until the Main Stage opens up, then it’s two stages for the rest of the night.
The first show of the day was at the Shade stage, a jam session between Tom Landa and his Latin/folk fusion band The Paperboys, and Mexican folk band Son de Madera. They spent most of the time simply trading songs, but by the end of the session, they were playing off of each other’s songs like pros. Son de Madera were one of the standouts of the festival, playing a very traditional style of Mexican folk, with two guitars, an small stand-up bass guitar on a stand, and two of the three members dancing tap like a percussion instrument. They played extremely fast at times, with one guitarist strumming so fast, he was hitting several notes a second, plus hitting a note with every single finger he strummed down with. Intriguing band and a style of music rarely heard live outside of Mexico.
The rest of the festival was spent at the Main Stage, with legendary blues performer Lil Jimmy Reed taking the stage with some classic Louisiana blues. Very little banter here, just classic blues. Reed even did a Buddy Guy style solo, wandering out into the crowd for “Hoochie Coochie Man”.
Horsefly, BC old time folksters and instrument makers Pharis and Jason Romero were up next, performing stripped down old time folk, country and bluegrass. They brought out world-class mandolin player (and fellow Canadian) John Reischman for several songs as well.
Vancouver’s Harry Manx put on a spectacular set of rootsy blues. Manx’s guitar style comes from playing it lap style, and his music has a distinct drony Indian style to it. He also played banjo for several songs. Mostly interestingly, he played with a classical string quartet, The Yaletown Sting Quartet, for his entire set.
The Family Stone finished up the Main Stage set, featuring two original members of Sly Stone’s band, and Sly’s daughter Phunne Stone on vocals. They did a high-energy set of classic rock and funk that the crowd really enjoyed.
Day 2 of the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues experience started where yesterday started: at the Shade Stage. The Herald Nix workshop started up around 11:30 AM. Nix is a Salmon Arm native who put his own stamp on the punk and indy scene in Vancouver in the 80s. He was an original innovator in dark roots music, merging blues, country, folk and punk. The workshop was run by the always entertaining Vancouver-based accordionist Geoff Berner, who introduced each performer, who did a version of the own favourite Herald Nix track. The line up was stellar, featuring Pharis and Jason Romero, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage, Bill Kirchen, The Lonesome Ace Stringband, Steve Dawson, Monkeyjunk and Russell deCarle. Berner himself did a version of “What a World”, replete with profanity, but stripped down and made weird the only way he can.
Sticking around at the Shade Stage for the Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch workshop, where some real collaborative magic happened. This one was hosted by Pharis and Jason Romero, who led the ensemble to play some of their favourite country and roots songs. American bluegrass and country act Greg Blake, and his fiddler played a Johnny Cash tune. Nova Scotia’s legendary country singer Cindy Church teamed with BC dobro player Nathan Tinkham for a version of “Satin Sheets”. Bill Kirchen did a version of “Looking at the World Through a Windshield” and legendary American country artist Jimmie Dale Gilmore growled his way through a couple of tracks. The ensemble worked to play with each other, with each performer signalling another one to take the bridge and solos. Bill Kirchen was especially good, improvising and breaking out into bridges like the seasoned veteran guitar player he is. This was one of the better concerts of the weekend.
Off to the Barn Stage for Russell deCarle and Steve Briggs. deCarle is an ex-member of the legendary Canadian country band Prairie Oyster and has been performing solo for a few years now. His style has been moving more in the country swing direction, and he’s put out an album of jazz songs as well. As expected, deCarle played a solid set of country, blues and swing, and his voice was in a sultry top form all set. Cindy Church was a surprise guest for the middle of his set, performing a series of duets with deCarle.
The Barn Stage was host to the legendary Jimmy Reed, who plowed through a tight set of blues standards. Disappointingly, he did play exactly the same set as he did on the Main Stage the previous night.
Major Love was the first indy-rock band of the day. This new band is formed of Edmonton-based musicians Colleen Brown and members of band Scenic Route to Alaska. They had just released their debut album and spend most of their set playing tracks from that new album. They have a upbeat and melodic rootsy take on indy rock and already tightening up their sound.
Steve Dawson next played the Barn Stage. He is a truly talented guitarist, playing both standard guitar and a lap-style guitar. His set was a fascinating mix of country, blues, rock and roots. He brought in fiddler and trumpet player Daniel Lapp for his set. He even busted out a couple of track of traditional 30s Hawaiian guitar tracks.
Off to the Main Stage for the final two concerts. French-Canadian band Oktopus were on the stage, and were easily one of the most inventive bands of the Festival. They played a mostly instrumental style of Eastern European folk, French-Canadian folk, klezmer and classical, formed of a fiddler, organist/pianist, clarinetist, and two ranges of trombone. They were incredibly entertaining and their music was a style rarely heard at summer festivals in Western Canada.
Capping off the festival was Canadian blues rock legend Colin James. His band was an 8-piece cobbled together from two members of Monkeyjunk, saxophonist David Babcock (who played with the Salmon Arm House Band all weekend), trumpet player Daniel Lapp and parts of his own band. Despite being put together over the weekend, the band was incredibly tight. James himself was very entertaining and highly energetic, and played most of his hits like “Five Long Years” and “Why’d You Lie”. He even played some tracks from his upcoming new album, due out in September. Great cap to the entire festival!