Tuesday, 28 July 2015



Not Our First Rodeo


Summer. We once again bought weekend passes for Edmonton’s Interstellar Rodeo music festival. The full fan commitment is reminiscent of your first part time job: Friday nights and weekends. Our experience last year was marred by an inconvenient death, the scheduling of the funeral and worse, the trays of rancid Spam sandwiches served up at the reception following the ritual.


Interstellar Rodeo, now four-years-old, is a Waring blender of music performed in a modest amphitheatre situated in the city’s verdant river valley parks system. You will hear roots, folk, country, rock and soul. Some of the artists are established, others are up-and-comers; some are old, some are young enough to sport really bad haircuts; most enjoy the vibe of the event and cheerfully mingle unmolested with the paying audience, a few do not.


Ann and I attend as seekers and so we will delve a little deeper into the recordings of Shakey Graves, NQ Arbuckle, and Black Joe Lewis who lovingly destroyed and reassembled a brassy version of the Stones’ cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Stop Breaking Down.’ A large part of the festival’s charm, as Ann noted last Friday night, is its human scale and so we count on bumping into friends, relatives and neighbours without having to text them on site. These folks, these fans, have their own musical agendas too, ranging from The Wet Secrets and Justin Townes Earle to Elle King to Buffy Sainte-Marie.


The festival format is a mixed blessing. Organizers excelled at keeping a lively pace getting artists on and off stage, sets ranged from about half an hour to an hour. If you’re drawn by a particular artist, you will not get to hear a full concert. Conversely, if a performer doesn’t move you, it doesn’t become an endurance test. Besides, there are plenty of other things to do. Interstellar Rodeo has embraced Edmonton’s burgeoning food truck culture. Each artist is paired with a particular wine so there’s an extensive selection to be sampled. Drink tickets cost $2 apiece and a tall can of beer sold for four tickets; the rehab deal was 48 tickets for $80. There’s reasonably priced merch to be picked over and new this year was a market area featuring local artisans and small businesses.


I spotted an amusing trend among this year’s festival attendees. There was a tacit tee-shirt contest on the grounds. I was silently awarding points based on obscurity or what I hoped was irony. So a black Foreigner ‘Jukebox Hero’ tee was worth the same amount as a tee trumpeting some band I’d never heard of. Each one was worth more than the two ‘vintage’ ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ reproductions I saw combined.

My black tongue and lips ankle socks prompted this: “Excuse me, sir, what are your favourite Stones songs? I just bought ‘Beggars Banquet’ and was wondering what else to get.” I’m not sure what shocked me more, being addressed as ‘sir’ or meeting a young person willing to pay for recorded music. I suggested he buy ‘Exile’ and then fill the sandwich with ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Let It Bleed.’ Cheers, kid, whoever you are and wherever you are. Same time next year. Maybe we can talk some more.

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