Saskatchewan Jazz Festival 2005
But it seems my fate is to first review the four-show "Concert On The Roof" rock marathon setting up literally outside my window, which is doing full-volume sound checks by 5 p.m. and scheduled to go until 2 a.m. (so much for my request weeks in advance for a quiet room so I can work).
Shortly after the rest of the perfect storm hits. The internet goes down in the middle of editing/writing the day's work, the uncontrollable climate system drops to frigid levels and the toilet's flushing system fails for the third time this week. I throw my stuff into a dozen plastic grocery bags and check out early - a first for me - relocating a few blocks away to a place costing twice as much. By now Mayes' show is about to start, but I notice he's playing the next night and I therefore broaden my knowledge of Canadian culture watching Edmonton and Winnipeg play football (plenty of diehards will tell you the CFL is much more fun than the NFL, where it's impossible to witness the 105-yard touchdown pass I saw).
Friday: A holiday all-star tribute
"Closed for the holiday - will reopen July 4."
This is a bizarre sign for an American to read, but they are everywhere on July 1, which is Canada Day. The few places open downtown are American imports like Starbucks, McDonald's and 7-11, as Canadians celebrate their history and culture.
A series of park concerts attracts, as expected, something larger than the usual weekday crowd. But it's one of the less memorable lineups for Kara Uzelman, a Vancouver installation and sculpture artist ("it's not really sellable for me") working at her parents' coffee wagon for the week. The stand does a brisk business all week selling pie made from ingredients on their farm; by the end of the festival they're forced to buy pies from other farmers to keep up with demand.
Uzelman says the line-up, featuring a bluegrass/New Age/reggae/reggae-funk quartet of bands, isn't terribly impressive and lacks a jazz presence (the third band, Natural Mistik, plays far too many Bob Marley covers). But the day's concluding performance by the thirtysomething-piece Salvation Army Celebration Band strikes a better and more energetic note.
"Whoa. Listen to this," she says. "It sounds like 'Star Wars' or something."
The concert coincides with a 7 to 9 p.m. party for the volunteers in the park's Club Jazz beer garden, which mostly is just a excuse for many of them to get together since they still have to buy their own burgers and beer (for the half price discount they get all week). Those carrying two-way radios seem to mostly be ignoring them and drivers are, in theory, able to drown a few from the area's Great Western Brewery since no artist transportation is scheduled.
Festival officials also hold a drawing between sets, giving away 32 prizes to volunteers, beginning with pair of tickets to a Willie Nelson concert. Other non-jazz prizes such as ballet and symphony tickets are handed out along with the expected assortment of t- shirts, CDs and travel mugs with sponsor logos. A few volunteers joke about getting something more practical like certificates to pay for their cell phone bills for the week. Tobin says afterward he'd like to offer a "grand" prize like a trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival in the future if such a donation can be arranged.
The night performances are highlighted by vibraphonist Matthias Lupri, a former rock drummer who's gone the intellectually progressive mainstream in thought and tone. His twin two-mallet touch is, in fact, lighter and more subtle than I expect, but some such moments are also among the more intriguing, such as using a bow to extract metallic hums from the sides of his pipes. Meanwhile, saxophonist Donny McCaslin blows away the room in a variety of high-energy ways, such as mixed long tones at the high and low extremes with a flurry of punctuating runs on the opening "Wondering Wandering." Nate Radley contributes a sort of chorused electric guitar poetry on "Glass Stairs," stringing together a series of not-quite-complete phrases into a solo that still manage to form a collective whole. Drummer Jordan Perlson shows good alertness throughout, changing beats frequently in ways generally fitting where his co-players are going, although at times it seems more like change for change's sake than true interaction.
Those volunteer neck ribbons are great for easy admission to venues, but also make one a potential target. As I'm settling in at my table one of the bartenders asks if I can bus tables between sets since the person scheduled to do it is a no-show so far. I'm agreeable, although I spend much of the first set nursing unspoken concerns about dropping trays of glassware. But it all comes to nothing, as the scheduled help finally shows up.
Saturday: Getting down to the roots
There's no doubt the jazz festival is an "other" concert today, as even many participants are talking about the worldwide "Live 8" concerts. But maybe that's just as well.