Live: Winterfolk Music Festival 2008
FEBRUARY 8 – 10 – by Carl Gouldson –
Michael Jerome Browne set the tone for the first night of the Winterfolk blues festival along the Danforth when he accredited his first number to the evolution of Robert Johnson's "walking blues" style last weekend.Tradition and authenticity were consistent throughout Browne's set, as well as that of the Winterfolk Jugband that followed. An ensemble put together for the festival, the band modeled itself after Will Shade's '30s Memphis Jugband.
Jugbands of the '20s were early versions of the blues quartets, consisting of traveling buskers playing predominantly homemade instruments and brass, substituting an empty jug for a bass.
The Winterfolk homage consisted of Browne, Juno winner Jack de Keyzer, and five other acoustic musicians who — in bona fide delta style — took turns taking hold of the set, leading walk or shuffle, and calling names for respective solos.
Browne's backup set peaked with another delta-tribute called "Blacktown," one of the few originals of the night that he brought home with a solo on a slide guitar below his signature salty, slightly subtle vocals. Having mastered strings in almost every form, he transitioned effortlessly throughout the night between the 12-string, slide, fiddle and an antique West African fretless banjo that put out an incredibly smooth and mellow slide during more up-beat shuffles.
The Jugband looked wildly out of place without a half-empty bottle of Maker's Mark jostling on a creaky plywood stage somewhere in Kentucky. The material was littered with missed cues and stepped-over notes, but the end result worked. Most of the set consisted of varying takes on Blind Willie McTell and other covers and also featured a guest appearance by '60s jug-player and Cabbagetown native Chick Roberts, formerly of the Dirty Shames. All in all, the opening night of Winterfolk proved this is one festival not to miss if you want to hear some original, fun music.