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From Linda Rae from Stratford, Ontario, Canada
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Singer/songwriter Lennie Gallant is one of the musicians at the forefront of the music explosion taking place on Canada's East Coast. (more . . . )


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Fest offers world grooves, masterful folk

The sun shone hot and high on Lunenburg's annual Folk Harbour Festival this weekend. The only rain showers passed through on Thursday night and it was chilly. But the brilliant weather that followed polished the South Shore town's green hills and blue waters to a glory of light and clean sea air. And the streets are alive with the sound of music.

The response to the world music component has been very good this year, said festival co-ordinator Julie Lohnes on Sunday afternoon. "We jumped into it instead of easing into it but it looks good. We won't know for sure until the audience surveys are in."

Attendance was up from last year and many people have commented on how smoothly the festival has gone, Lohnes said.

On Saturday and Sunday, the festival featured two of Canada's best singer-songwriters, David Francey and Garnet Rogers. Rogers closed the show in the mainstage tent on Blockhouse Hill on Saturday night with a mesmerizing performance of Night Drive, his moving account of trekking across the Prairies with his brother Stan on the way to the next gig.

Using a hard-body electric guitar fed into a digital loop device that allowed him to layer harmonies and rhythms, Rogers began with a richly orchestrated playing of the hymn Jerusalem that summed up all that was to follow.

He began with a driving, racheting, spinning road groove that made you feel the pavement rumbling along under the wheels. The poetic evocation of a still prairie night and the unspoken bond between the brothers was accompanied by a texture of explosive accents and improvised layering of tones and sonorities, in a virtuosic interplay of real-time and delayed chords and rhythms as astonishing in their complexity as they were shattering in their intensity.

Rogers also sang of men and women trapped by shame and loneliness or glorified by love and devotion - a range of human situations that reveal him as a storyteller of lives lived in the crucible heat between their inner and outer worlds - human tales that are Shakespearean in their insightful breadth and poetic force.

Like Shakespeare, Rogers has an appetite for the bawdier side of living. He sang a comic, partly improvised rap song about randiness on the road which was, like everything this tall man with the deep, resonant voice sings about, larger than life. It was an outrageously hilarious tour de force.

David Francey, the soft-spoken Scots-Canadian singer from Ayer's Cliff in southwestern Quebec, sang only five songs on the Grand Banker Wharf Saturday afternoon, that were both a prelude to his longer set in the Tent Sunday night. He may be a new singer-songwriter, though a longtime Canadian, but he already ranks among the best in the genre.

Francey does not play an instrument but with David Clarke on guitar, a musician who catches his musical drift with a masterly touch, and Geoff Somers on fiddle/guitar/mandolin, there is no need. Francey writes with great authority on simple themes writing only about what he has lived. As a truckdriver, construction worker, carpenter who has travelled the country, the convincing authority of his writing stems from his honesty and his scrupulous craftsmanship.

His tunes are simple and irresistibly singable, while his lyrics exemplify both the intuitive poet's gift for finding the exact image, and the professional writer's refusal to accept anything less than honed simplicity.

The highlight of his set, a song about Dieppe called The Flowers of Saskatchewan, was inspired by a ferry ride from Folkstone across the English Channel and a photo in a magazine showing three fishermen smoking a cigarette while floating at their feet was the body of a Canadian soldier whose shoulder-flash read, "Saskatchewan Rifles." The song ended with a simple evocation of families, friends and lovers would "wait in vain at prairie stations/Wait in vain for their soldier boys."

He finished with the cheerful Red-winged Blackbird, the crowd joining in on the lilting chorus that so simply captures the joy we feel at catching the first sight and sound of this harbinger of spring, after "winter's bones are broken."

Saturday evening's mainstage lineup, so powerfully climaxed by Garnet Rogers's stunning set, was crammed with delights and surprises. After a tuneful introduction by Australian newcomer Emaline Delapaix, Halifax's Kojo showed what Sudanese thumb-piano style is all about. Assisted from time to time by dancer Jane Gesnerm - who nvoked earth and sharing joy with simple arm movements and high-stepping knees - Alex Atiol, Charles Lokonyen and Philip Lopeyo, with Woody Wood on percussion and Chris Cookson on drumkit, played and sang over a variety of grooves.

Vancouver's Elyra Campbell, playing Irish harp, sang in a high clear voice with superb diction - you could hear every word, every nuance, every inflection, all projected with a trained singer's mastery of her art.

Gordon Stobbe, Greg Sim and Skip Holmes played the most straightforwardly entertaining set of the night, interweaving fiddle tunes with wit and friendly jibes at each other (as only longtime friends and entertainers can do). The set included Stobbe originals like Bubba's Polka and Farewell to the West, as well as a Don Messer Medley.

El Viento Flamenco scored one of the biggest receptions of the festival with their Spanish folk dancing. The highly stylized flamenco genre was expertly performed by guitarist Bob Sutherby and singer Sean Harris as well as Turkish-born singer Maral Perk and percussionists Tony Tucker and Ian MacMillan.

But it was largely dancer and troupe-leader Evelyne Benais's gig. Her tall, statuesque figure expressed pride and danger, her heels clicking out rapid patterns as adrenalin producing as the sudden, too-near stutter of a rattlesnake.

On Sunday afternoon in the Bandstand, Irish pipes virtuoso Eamonn Dillon demonstrated the style that won him five titles in All Ireland competitions by the time he was 18. His ornamentation lit up his reels like a grass fire. Addie O'Connor, a member of Curfa, the Irish band that featured Dillon, is in Irish soul singer. Her strong, fine voice rising above the layered counterpoint of Curfa's fiddles, guitar and pipes created a texture you could hear with your fingertips, like brushing them over brocade.

Stephen Pedersen, Halifax Herald

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