Archive for category Great music

Do-it-yourself folk fest, part IV

So the “do-it-yourself” folk music festival of my imagination has been going smashingly well (see here for editions one, two and three).  And below are a few more additions to this summer’s line-up (so many more to bring along but there’s always next year).

Yet there is something missing.  One of my favourite things about going to folk music festivals is the surprise factor, connecting with a band you never heard before or never expected to like but their music grabbed you and made you come alive in a new way.  I’m missing that from this folk festival … and that’s where you come in.  Bring the surprise factor and help me find a few bands to add to my playlist.  Who would you suggest to add to this folk fest line-up?

Neil Young – hey, I can dream can’t I?

The Milk Carton Kids – these guys feel like Simon and Garfunkle reincarnated.

The Be Good Tanyas – these Tanyas are really good.

The Decemberists – and this version of “Down by the Water” includes the huge bonus of Gillian Welch

Michael Bernard Fitzgerald – Calgary boy who does a superb job on Heroes (I love how this video must’ve been shot on his back deck complete with snow covered dishwasher and dryer in the background)

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Build my own folk fest, ed. III

So I’m putting together my own Folk Fest (I still need a good name for it, but you can see the bands I’ve already lined up in part 1 and part 2).  What’s a summer without a really good folk fest?  Since I can’t get to one this year, I’m making one up.

And in my imagination, it’s happening right at our home.  I’m planning the front steps and porch as the main stage, our driveway decked out with tables full of good food and ice chests of drinks, the city will have closed off the street so its only foot traffic, with everyone pulling up a chair or sitting on the curb and a whole lot of dancing in the street.  Can’t you picture that goodness?

So with that scene in mind, here are a few more bands I’ve lined up for my folk fest:

The Waifs – a fine Aussie folk band.  And they have to pull off this great rendition of Crazy Train below, with Vikki Thorn playing some crazy good harmonica – because what is a folk fest without some harmonica.

Great Lake Swimmers – hey, we’re a short walk for a dip in Lake Ontario.  And they’d have to sing Parkdale Blues too.

La Bottine Souriante – a fabulous Quebecois band that will get you clapping and dancing in no time.  Fiddles, horns, piano, accordion, foot stomping – pure musical joy that needs no translation.

Eddie Vedder with his ukelele – that’ll do.



Build my own folk fest, part II

In the absence of going to a folk music festival this summer, I’m putting together my own folk festival right here at Squinch.  Here’s my first post.

Next up on the stage of my imagination are The Most Loyal.  An indie folk/rock band from Toronto, I’ve gotten to know a few of the fine folks in this band during my short time in Toronto.  They listen to me preach and I return the favour and enjoy their music (I think I’m getting the better end of that deal).  Great musicians and even better people.

And Toronto friends, The Most Loyal are having a CD release party this Thursday night June 13.  I can’t be there so do me a favour – head out to Clintons (693 Bloor St. W, Toronto) and cheer them on.  And you can check them out below.  And you can buy their CD here.


Build my own folk fest

I’m growing sad about not getting my folk fest fix this summer.  I did snag tickets to Mumford and Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road stop in Ontario, but beyond that I’m dry. Oh, wait – there is the 3rd Annual Fast Folk Fest at Knox Presbyterian in Toronto (details soon to follow).

But in the absence of my previous annual enjoyment of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, I figured I’d put together my own folk fest line up right here at Squinch.  So, pull up a festival chair, feel the grass in your feet and enjoy a few of the bands that I’d love to see line-up my own personal folk festival.  And while you’re enjoying the music, tell me about the bands you would put on stage.

And first up are Joy Kills Sorrow.  Won over by their name, I was kept close by their music.  Vancouver friends – they play Sunday June 9 in your gorgeous city.  But everyone can check them out below.


My musical memento mori

Eugene Peterson tells of a time he was staying at a monastery and being shown around the grounds when he noticed an open grave.  He asked his host if one of the brothers died recently.  The monk giving him the tour casually responded: “No.  That’s for the next one of us.”  The open grave served as a reminder of their own mortality, a memento mori.

Think that’s macabre?  That’s most of us these days.  We live in the most death denying culture in history (for the implications of this see Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death).  We talk all around the edges of death in hushed, taboo tones, like Voldemort’s name in Harry Potter, “the one who shall not be named.”

Although it seems so contrarian, in truth we live best when we have a clear sense of our own demise – it teaches you to “live the life you’re given.”  Biblically speaking, it’s probably the healthiest thing for someone to linger for a while on your mortality; it scrubs away any frothy spirituality, pointing you to the real life held in our daily living.  So in the face of a culture largely dodging it (but trust me: I’ve done the research on this one and the statistics show a consistent 100% mortality rate), we need helpful friends who can help us live with the reality of our dying.

Poets and artists are good starts, and books like Ecclesiastes are even better.  In the past few years, I’ve found Ecclesiastes-like friends in the music of the Avett Brothers.  I was introduced to their music a few years ago and was hooked immediately (when the first lyrics I heard were “shame, boatloads of shame, day after day, more of the same” and I knew I’d like these guys).  Fabulous live performers who bring it; raw energy; amazing banjo picking; Joe Kwon’s cello regularly thrashing into the mix; music that switches gears in a heartbeat from a soft melody to a frenetic, rave-like romp; a fusion of sadness and soul and joy; and the heft of their lyrics.

But with the release of their latest album, The Carpenter, I figured out something more – these guys are my musical memento mori.  There is an unflinching focus on death that surfaces throughout their music (Die, die, die, Murder in the City … even the cover art for I and Love and You hints at the traditional memento mori image).  And this latest album of theirs has the reality of our statistically-secured mortality layered throughout (Once and Future Carpenter, Live and Die, Through my prayers – this last one so emotionally packed with that yearning to communicate just once more with a lost loved one – “My dream of all dreams and my hope of all hopes, is only to tell you and make sure you know, how much I love you and how much I always did,”), yet woven into tracks so richly beautiful and lovely and infectious you’ll want to smile and dance and cry all the while.  A lot of the tenderness with which they handle it emerges from the real life experience of bassist Bob Crawford whose two year old daughter had brain cancer.  The end result is that their music is like a walk through a cemetery on a gorgeous spring day with a blue-bird sky and dewy green grass, birds singing and flowers blooming – the beauty of all that life helps and heals.

That’s the strange and lovely paradox, the blessed affliction of facing your mortality – it brings a heightened appreciation for life it brings, a clarified vision for embracing life.  That is why the ancient wisdom was to remember your death, why Benedictines will dig a grave for the next one – to live and die well.  Or as the Avett’s sing it: “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.”

Here’s a cut from their recent album …

… and one from a recent Jimmy Kimmel show, where they played with the Brooklyn Philharmonic.



The book of love – 25 years in

25 years today.  I can hardly believe it.

The wedding pictures show what looks like two kids shining with sweat, standing in front of their community and making a gift of their life to one another, too young to fully comprehend what they were really doing, recklessly making promises to be faithful until death – that’s a long time when you’re that young.

I could hardly have imagined then what it would call out from me and demand from me, how deeply this covenant would forge the me I am today.  My marriage to Betty has become the most formative, influential part of my life.  Which is not to say it’s been without its share of pain because you know that’s always the way we are formed.

It began remembered as the “wedding from hell” (it was about 42 C with humidity off the charts that day in Chicago).  But the story that’s unfolded has been far different, something rather magical and hard and baffling and tender and life-giving and messy and elegant and subtle and beautiful, sometimes all at once.

Entering into marriage you become a witness to another life, you give the gift of attention to the particularity of a person, taking note of the holy, peculiar beauty in that one life.  This might sound lovely, maybe even romantic, but the trouble with a witness is that they see you on both your good days and your bad ones (and if you’re at all like me, you give plenty of evidence for the bent and broken side of yourself).  You allow another person in close and there they see your cracked heart and all the shawdowy junk we mostly like to hide and photoshop out.

Chick-lit author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert gets at that reality:

People always fall in love with the most perfect aspects of each other’s personalities. Who wouldn’t? Anybody can love the most wonderful parts of another person. But that’s not the clever trick. The really clever trick is this: Can you accept the flaws? Can you look at your partner’s faults honestly and say, ‘I can work around that. I can make something out of it.’? Because the good stuff is always going to be there, and it’s always going to pretty and sparkly, but the crap underneath can ruin you.

The most remarkable grace in marriage is to be loved in all your incompleteness, accepted even in the face of all the crap that is our condition (after all, there is no other type of person to marry than someone who will disappoint you and let you down and probably hurt you along the way).

For 25 years, I’ve been given that stunning gift.  Thank you for saying yes to the adventure, Betty, for calling out the good stuff in me; and thank you for saying yes everyday since, for writing a book of love and grace with me, despite all the crap you’ve witnessed in me.

I can’t think of a better song for this day than Peter Gabriel singing the perfectly serious and silly, quirky and beautiful “The book of love.”

Do me a favour – find four minutes and someone you love (your spouse, your roommate, your child, your cat), pour yourself a glass of the best wine you can find in the house, imagine yourself at a summer garden party with us celebrating our anniversary.  Feel the grass in your bare feet, see the candles reflected in friends’ faces and white lights in the evening dusk.  Now, join us for a dance to this song.


On Folk Festivals

I love folk music; ergo I love folk music festivals.  Nothing sings summer like lounging on a lawn and taking in fabulous music.  For years, the Calgary Folk Music Festival was my late July summer staple.  It’s a unique musical event that wonderfully stretches the term “folk” (where do you get to hear Yiddish hip-hop, Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans, Michael Franti, The Avett Brothers, Bruce Cockburn and the Decemberists together).  Four days and nights of great music, people watching, and just plain fun – which is why I’m going to miss it so much.

But here’s my great consolation – I’m part of a church that puts on a Folk Festival!  How fabulous is that?  As part of the Harbord Street Festival in Toronto, Knox Presbyterian hosts the Fast Folk Festival (fast, as in, brief, of short duration, or “wow, that went by way too fast”).  And I can’t wait to get my inner folkie on and hang out for the afternoon.

If you’re in Toronto, it’s happening next Saturday, July 21, starting at 4:00 p.m.  I caught an early preview of one of the bands headlining our Fast Folk Festival, The Most Loyals (check out their website and some photos).  Loved their music and so glad Sarah and Andrew are part of the Knox community.

And for everyone in Calgary, keep an eye out for The Most Loyals because you’ll be enjoying this group on stage at the Calgary Folk Festival one day real soon.

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