I arrived earlier in the day and took a walk around the site as I waited for my pass. The first thing that came to mind was how gorgeous the grounds are and how much I liked the setup. The move to Hog’s Back was initially met with slight trepidation considering the picturesque quality of Britannia Park but let me assure you that at least one tradition has been kept intact. You can feel the stamp of Bluesfest at every turn which is actually quite welcoming considering the feeling of this being on a much smaller scale. What I didn’t expect came later that night. The sound on each stage was absolutely perfect. “You can hear the pressure each musician is putting on his or her fret.”
When I returned for the evenings festivities I got there a little later than I had hoped and went straight to Justin Townes Earle on the Falls Stage.
He performed on an acoustic guitar while backed by a couple of women flanking him on fiddle and a stand up bass. He brought some great country flavoured songs to Folkfest, in particular the wonderful ballad Mama’s Eyes. Immediately following that number I left the overflowing tent and headed over to the Raven Law stage to catch a bit of the Punch Brothers and my first thought was that I had found my new favourite stage. It’s at the bottom of a hill and combined with the wonderful night sky it was as welcoming as a warm blanket. The Punch Brothers showcased top notch musicianship on the fiddle, stand-up bass, banjo, acoustic guitar and one of my favourite mandolin players in Chris Thile. If there had any question whether or not Chris Tile is the Justin Timberlake of the mandolin world, it was answered with a resounding “yes” during one of their new tunes entitled Who’s Feeling Young Now. In fact, I thought I was listening to CT do a JT cover. They then covered Jimmy Rodger’s The Brakeman Blues and it was the first time we saw some traditional bluegrass from this outfit. Solos were actually solos and the song ended with an unbelievably long vocal note from Chris that brought joy to everyone in attendance. It was extremely difficult pulling ourselves away to go see Hornsby and as we headed towards the main stage I secretly hoped CT would join Bruce later in the night but it didn’t happen.
Opening with Little Sadie it should have become obvious to those in attendance that Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers were going to play an apt set with regards to context and considering his former band mate Jerry Garcia was a folkie at heart, I was not surprised with the number of nods he sent that way. White Wheeled Limousine proved Bruce et al were as tight as ever as the song traversed through all kinds of musical styling. Doug Derrberry’s guitar had a wonderful Mark Knopfler tone so I was immediately drawn to his playing. It was interesting to hear the difference in sound he provided throughout the rest of the night because I was a touch concerned he might have ended up replicating a bit too much. None the less, I was smitten. Bruce then sat center stage and introduced everyone to an Appalachian instrument called a Dulcimer. Again, completely appropriate given the context and another nod to Jerry Garcia came out with the interpretation of I Truly Understand but following the unique reading of The Valley Road it was time he put it down because it had become overkill for me. It was almost a cosmic joke when he opted for the accordion instead of his Steinway. Back when he was a member of the Grateful Dead you could find a t shirt for sale on the parking lot with a ‘no accordion’ sign on the front.
When I think of Hornsby, I think of the perfect piano player so it was great to finally see him get back on the bench for the remainder of the show aside from at the end when he jumped on top of the piano. His chord voicings are wonderful live and were showcased during Barcelona Moma which Bruce then told a story of how he and Branford Marsalis composed it and won a Grammy. We found out he is a 13 time Grammy nominee and a 10 time loser but in this instance he theorized everyone was sick of Kenny G winning so they took home the prize. Mandolin Rain followed and featured a few teases inside of it including The Grateful Dead’s Brokedown Palace. A spirited The Way It Is closed the set and rather than leave the stage for an encore call, Bruce let it be known this was it and asked for requests. I yelled out Terrapin Station which may have been what placed a smile on his face but he opted for a completely rearranged Rainbow’s Cadillac to close out a wonderful headlining spot.
All in all it was a great way to kickoff Folkfest and I hope to see some more of my friends attend over the next three days because I promise you that you will be impressed by the location and the quality of the fest. We’re so blessed to have this quality at this size.