I spent a glorious pre-election weekend in Moab, Utah attending the 4th Moab Folk Festival. I didn’t even hear of Rev. Haggard’s meth-fueled gay sexcapades until three days after the story broke, as I was immersed in daily hiking and evening concerts. I probably missed out on being bombarded with thousands of negative campaign ads. Oh, well.
But, boy did I get to take in some fine music by some excellent singer/songwriters. Fifteen main acts and a Local Showcase of eight more made for a fine time. I cannot review all the musicians here, so I’ll go with my favorites. One of the things I liked about the festival was that everyone got to vote for their favorite act which then becomes the People’s Choice with an invite for next year.
Right off the bat, the first main act was Kenny White. Kenny is perhaps best known for his work–percussion, keyboards, backing vocals and assistant arranger– on Marc Cohn’s unbelievable break-out gospel anthem Walking in Memphis. A New York singer/songwriter whose instrument of choice is the keyboard might seem out of place in a traditional folk fest, but his East Coast progressive sensibilities fit right in this election eve. White’s song How Long begins and ends with “One’s slow and one’s grumpy, they live in the White House, they have lots of parties the fun never ends, let’s make sure when the day finally comes to move out, they don’t hand they keys off to one of their friends.”
On his CD Never Like This, Kenny sings of being “nauseous, neurotic, but primarily pissed.” I’ve never heard a CD so joyful and defiant when the topic, our Bush Nightmare, is so bleak. He ended his set with a magnificent cover of Paul Simon’s American Tune.
Lynn Miles is a winner of Canada’s Grammy, the Juno Award, for her CD Unravel. This gifted vocalist/guitar/harmonica player sings a number of sad songs, though keeps to poignancy, rather than the woe-is-me whining of most of the break-up songs that permeated the entire festival. Her song 1000 Lovers is right up there with Bonnie Raitt’s masterful version of Pro-Football Hall of Famer Mike Reid’s saddest love song of them all, I Can’t Make You Love Me. That song and many other fine ones, like Casinos El Camino are on her newest release Love Sweet Love.
The polished duo of five-feet-five-inch Keith Grimwood and six-feet-nine-inch Ezra Idlet have been playing together for thirty years as Trout Fishing in America (yep, named after the Brautigan book Keith told me “The Abortion just didn’t work.” I said, “but what about Hawkline Monsters?”) These guys were my People’s Choice. During their careers, they’ve sold over 250,000 CDs without the assist of a major label.
The hilarious fellas have three National Indie awards and multiple Parents Choice Gold and American Library Awards, as well as two Grammy nominations. Their instrumental abilities are vast and they play everything from Boogie Woogie to rock. Their take on the obligatory break-up song? A defiant, “I’ll have more space in my closet.”
My favorite of all was Melissa Crabtree. This talented singer/songwriter is first an environmental activist. She’s a river guide. She lives in an abandoned cabin in Colorado. She’s toured in a vegetable-oil-powered van, even recording a song Bio-diesel Van on a CD with commentary by Dune Lankard, a native Athabaskan Eyak of the Eagle Clan from the Copper River Delta, whose interest in getting beyond oil might have a bit to do with being part of the people most impacted by the Exxon Valdez crime.
Melissa’s activism comes from her love of the wild, of course. I was privileged to hike with her to the Colorado Rim after the festival, as she is good friends with many of my friends. As soon as my friends heard I was gong to the festival, I was told by a number of them to “tell Melissa hi for me.” I now consider her a dear friend, as well. A group of seven of us hiked across the slick rock and spent election eve under a red-stone arch with a full moon looking down, singing songs of love and peace. A couple fireballs flashed through the sky perhaps an omen of the next day’s vote.
Her CD Off the Beaten Path contains anthems to the Southwest rivers she knows so well. Her good-heartedness is ever present. Her take on the break-up song is especially defiant, as in “Guess you need money. That’s why you left me, honey.”
I know I’ll be a Moab Folk Festival regular. Another Melissa I know, the talented organizer Melissa Schmeadick and a crew of over 100 local volunteers put on the festival with proceeds benefiting local non-profits. Check out these folks’ CDs.
Check out the festival website www.moabfolkfestival.com for more of the acts.
See you in Moab next year.
MICHAEL DONNELLY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org