71st Annual Folk Festival

Last July I reported how much my family and I enjoyed the 70th Annual Folk Festival, held in Butte, MT. Last year, being my introductory experience with this event, I had low expectations that were far surpassed by the wonderful entertainers. I commented on some areas in which I thought improvements could be made for this year’s festival.

This year I had high expectations and I’m happy to report that we, again, enjoyed high quality entertainment and that the areas that I thought most needed improvement — availability/frequency of shuttles and condition of porta-potties — were both much improved this year.

We spent Saturday afternoon and evening at “The Original” Stage.

What a great venue! We enjoyed Bob French’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Band (New Orleans jazz) (we were there for both the 2:00 set by this band and also the 7:45 set), Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited (Zimbabwean chimurenga), Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano (Mexican mariachi), Bill Kirchen & The Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods with George Bedard (Telecaster guitar), Magic Slim & The Teardrops (Chicago blues) and especially Sierra Hull & Highway 111 (bluegrass).

I’ll be checking the tour schedule for Sierra Hull & Highway 111.   Sierra Hull’s mandolin picking is fantastic and her singing voice is wonderful. If you have an opportunity to see her with the musicians she is currently picking with, don’t miss it. I’m sure she’ll always be in the company of excellent musicians, but I’d not be surprised to see the young man playing banjo with her at present, Corey Walker, on his own some day so you might be getting extra bang for your buck seeing her with the band she’s currently picking with.

As you probably noticed, we experienced and enjoyed great diversity in the traditions represented.

Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano
Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano

I found Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited to be very interesting. Thomas Mapfumo shared with the audience, in the introduction to a song concerning beer, that he doesn’t drink it any more since beating his mother-in-law while “under the influence.”  The blunt manner of his statement was striking.

“Now living in self-imposed exile in the U.S., Thomas Mapfumo is his native country’s most famous musician. In the 1970s, Mapfumo, known as the “The Lion of Zimbabwe,” combined traditional Shona melodies and rock instrumentation with revolutionary political and social lyrics to create “chimurenga” (in Shona, “struggle”) music. …. Throughout the 1980s Mapfumo, remained a national hero and achieved international acclaim through touring. The situation at home was deteriorating, however, and Mapfumo increasingly directed his musical ire at the Mugabe government. He recorded “Corruption,” which once again put him in hot water with the authorities. In April of 2000, Mapfumo quietly left Zimbabwe and moved to Oregon. For a few years he continued to return to his homeland to play, but when his 2005 release, Rise Up, was banned on Zimbabwean state radio, he realized that it was no longer safe to return to his beloved homeland.”

quote from> http://www.nationalfolkfestival.com/2009/festivalinfo_performers/thomasmapfumo.html

The weather was ideal — it was a hot July day, but passing clouds and breezes brought relief from the heat. Food and drink vendors were handy and as was the case with the music, a great variety of food represented diverse traditions.

We stayed through until the last act, by which time darkness had fallen and “The Original” Stage was lit.

Night Lights -

We returned for more fun on Sunday. We decided the Quartz Street Stage would be our Sunday venue. That turned out to be a most fortuitous decision — a decision which we made based on the performances but which was fortuitous due to the weather. Passing storms dumped rain and even a little bit of hail but we had arrived early enough to be seated under the pavilion. We enjoyed learning about the tradition and music of Finnish kantele by Wilho Saari, a collaborative Irish and Acadian performance by Chuck & Albert with The Pride of New York (fantastic collaboration!) and Texas Fiddle by Texas Shorty. Some of my family stayed for more performances but it was time for me to hit the road for home but not until I had made a trip up to the cd sales tent up near “The Original” Stage to pick up some cd’s from performers I had particularly enjoyed.

I’m already looking forward to the 72nd Annual Folk Festival which will, once again, be held in Butte, Montana. Keep up the good work organizers and volunteers!

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