Right, back to Newfoundland and Labrador! Well, okay, St. John’s and Torbay.
We woke the morning of our third to the only rainy day we ever saw in St. John’s, and frankly, it wasn’t very rainy. But we decided to go visit The Rooms, a large museum of Newfoundland and Labrador history and culture.
It’s modelled from the outside as a collection of outsized fishing and fish-prepping buildings that every fishing family would have in the old days of Newfoundland, and there are a huge supply of exhibits – and also a large artspace showing work from Newfoundland artists. There’s also a small bookstore, where I bought a couple of histories; if you go, it’s entirely worth your time.
I took a bunch of photos of exhibits, but I’m only showing one here. Remember Red Dwarf?
Sound as a dollar-pound!
Ah, the shit you could get away with on the gold standard with fixed-exchange rates. :D Of course, you really couldn’t, there were all sorts of arbitrage tricks anyway, but, well, that didn’t stop people from trying. XD
Then we stopped for lunch, where there were bee-shaped light fixtures I posted on Twitter because it was CONTINENTAL DAY OF BEES! apparently, with everyone talking about bees.
Anna is not concerned about your bees.
…before it was time for the folkfest!
The Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival really got this whole trip started. Anna found out about it, and had long wanted to hear Newfoundland music on Newfoundland soil, and also, the third book in the Faerie Blood/Free Court of Seattle series is set partly in St. John’s, which means it’s RESEARCH!
Genuinely was, too. We walked that downtown like warders.
The first thing to understand is that like the Maritimes in general, and to some degree Quebec, this is a musical culture. That means music is something people do, rather than just watch or hear. It has cultural importance in a way that it doesn’t, say, here where I live; recorded music might be omnipresent, but if you do it, you aren’t generally thought of as a contributor – with the occasional and possible exception of classical. It’s frivolous, or worse. (I’ve been called a parasite at farmer’s markets for showing up to play for free.)
Basically, you have to have a special kind of magic to be accepted as that, which is something I’ve been working on.
So when you see festivals like this, don’t think Folklife. It’s not like Folklife. There’s one of these pretty much every week in the summer, when the weather permits, and people play all winter, too, and this event isn’t “for the tourists.” Tourists are welcomed, and they get them – from as far away as, you know, New Brunswick. Toronto? Well, sure, a few, once in a while.
Cascadia? Not so expected. Or that’s certainly the impression I got from the degree of shock we got at being from so very far away.
I promised a lot of video this post, and you’re getting it. This is a minute I shot to try to capture atmosphere.
Note most of all that this is not an old-people audience. Old people were there, absolutely, do not get me wrong; but this isn’t A Generation’s Thing, this is something people just do. I didn’t get a good shot of the headbanger pit at The Once’s show, but the fact that it was unironically and unapologetically there, I think, communicates the difference.
The next day was another glorious sunny day on the tropical island of Newfoundland:
And we always thought Alan was joking
Mornings at the Festival have a lot more participatory/educational programming, scattered over many tent platforms; we learned about Acadian chair-dancing podorythmie, sat in on a session, and! I even got a surprise chance to perform:
photo by Rick West, courtesy of the Folk Arts Society of Newfoundland and Labrador
…doing my story-and-song bit about how not to become a pirate, wrapped around Paul and Storm’s song “Ten Finger Johnny.” (I of course credited Paul and Storm.)
People were coming up to me two days later saying they loved my pirate song. That was awesome. :D
But the biggest part of that day, of course, was not in St. John’s, but heading up to Torbay to see the first Great Big Sea show of the 20th anniversary tour. It was also Torbey 250, their 250th year celebration. We met up with Krista and Sile, local fans Anna knew through GBS fandom…
Actually from dinner the night before…
and got there super-early…
Queue position… 12 through 15?
Which meant we got set up here…
Front and God Damned Centre
…for the show. Now, non-GBS people won’t know that Murray Foster wasn’t their original bassist; that was Darrell Power, and he left about 10 years ago because he just couldn’t deal with the touring anymore. And Murray’s great; the boy had a lot to contribute. But we were thinking, just maybe, for the 20th, right here where he lives, maybe, just maybe, we might see Murray show up. For the 20th.
Then a gust of wind blew this literally to our feet:
I am not even lying
…the Great Big Sea setlist for that evening. Now, if you’re not a GBS fangirl, you won’t know that EXCURSION means “Excursion Around the Bay,” and that it’s in the encore, and that it was Darrell’s signature song. They’ve still been doing it since he left, but, well, in the encore? That was kind of a big fucking hint right there.
But first! Other bands! Repartee opened; they’re good, and a rising thing in Newfoundland right now. Lots more experimental and synth-rockish; I liked a lot of what they were doing, and went to their tent later; when she found out I was a musician too, we traded CDs, or, as she put it, “really expensive business cards.” It’s true. :D
They were followed by The Trews and Jimmy Rankin. Both acts were quite good but not my thing, so we’ll skip past those. Cute roadie, tho’:
…but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what that labrys he’s wearing means…
And then, at last, Great Big Sea! The boys put on a show heavily on the trad and heavy on the goddamn well rocking – it was very much a show straight out of 1999, in a lot of ways, which, as far as I’m concerned, is perfect. To be honest a moment – their last couple of albums, while wildly successful, have really been moving towards country/folk. And, while I wish them the best of continued success – that’s not what I care about.
I care a lot about a lot of original music. I like their older originals, which were more in the Newfoundland style, and less in the western/country style. But not where they’ve been headed. So for them to do it up old-school for the home crowd? That made me extremely happy. And if I had to go to Newfoundland to see that kind of show again?
Worth. Every. Goddamn. Penny.
Here’s what the audience is like before they’re really worked up:
Hear us? We just took over on some songs. Alan would lean the mic out, like y’do, and let us go for a bit. Straight out of the Great Big DVD, honestly. It was fantastic.
And then, well, it’s encore time, and…
…guess who steps out of the fuckin’ shadows…
HI DARRELL! :D
And he does exactly what we expected:
And we were right there.
I’d really intended to wrap up the tour with this post, but it’s so long already, I just can’t. So next week: one more day in St. John’s, some more performance video of awesome, and some closing thoughts.
PS: have 37 more seconds of Darrell and Great Big Sea being awesome. You’re welcome. ^_^