Ottawa Citizen Online Sunday, 8/30/98
Ottawa Citizen Online

Musical choices keep festival hopping

Moxy Fruvous the highlight of opening night at the Ottawa Folk Festival

Chris Cobb

Ottawa Folk Festival At Britannia Park Friday Evening

Featuring: Fred Eaglesmith, Moxy Fruvous, Mike Plume Band and Erin Corday

You had to be at the after-show jam at the Luxor Hotel in downtown Bells Corners to catch the second wave of Moxy Fruvous. The four Toronto musicians carried on where their frenetic set at the Ottawa Folk Festival main stage had left off -- playing Bee Gees and David Bowie tunes and generally infecting the audience with their sense of fun and inexhaustible enthusiasm.

The competition was tough on the festival's opening evening but Moxy Fruvous was the band to beat. Not that folk festivals are about competition --heaven forbid -- but comparison is inevitable when a rapid succession of performers are rotated in front of the paying customers.

Moxy Fruvous are accomplished crowd pleasers, capable of intricate ways with words, sophisticated musical interplay and neatly woven harmonies. And they are cheeky chappies which is why they can get away with playing the Gibb brothers Stayin' Alive, or take liberties with Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham. Whatever they do, they do well.

For extra dimension, the quartet threads current affairs through their act -- taking a gentle dig at Bobby Hull's Moscow "misquote" or sticking it to Premier Mike Harris, which is guaranteed to produce a chorus of approval from any Ontario folk festival crowd.

At the Luxor, Moxy Fruvous entertained the tiny room with their Bee Gees, Bowie, wit and overall good humour into the early hours yesterday. These are four guys who clearly love their music and have a healthy respect for each other.

This most informal side of the festival, away from the well-rehearsed main stage shows, is a fabulous idea and, in its own way, not an insignificant test for the performers who choose to take part.

Showmanship is a significant part of the live Moxy Fruvous show but the likes of Ontario's Fred Eaglesmith and Seattle's Erin Corday, who followed Fruvous on the main stage Friday, rely on the strength of their tunes.

Corday's set was short and her voice seemed hesitant. Overall, she didn't appear to be having a particularly good time and for whatever reason didn't fulfil the expectations many had of her.

Corday, who arrived in Ottawa with excellent credentials, plays the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield on Thursday. That may be more to her liking.

There were technical problems with the main stage sound which hit with full force when Eaglesmith attempted to begin his set.

Many performers familiar with playing three hour-long sets per night, or a two-and-a-half hour concert, have difficulties with a festival format that allows no time for a gradual build-up.

Eaglesmith, on the verge of breaking into the United States with his new album Lipstick, Lies and Gasoline, was clearly miffed at the technical screwups that delayed his set by about 20 minutes. With sideman Willie P. Bennett assuming the role as technical foreman, some approximation of decent sound was mustered for the first three or four songs.

Just as Eaglesmith busted his first guitar string, the sound system began firing on all cylinders. The singer rediscovered his good humour and all ended well.

Eaglesmith is no slouch as a performer and inter-song raconteur. Over more than two decades of performing, he's learned the ropes and has developed into both a writer of beautiful, well-crafted songs and an exceptional stage presence.

Vance Gilbert, a rumpled character from Boston, has a voice that sounds uncannily like Jesse Winchester's. He's funny, sings with power and passion, and over the course of the folk festival weekend is generating lots of interest.

As a package, the festival has lots to offer this year. The arts colony is exceptional and the food choices varied and imaginative. Musically, of course, the choices at the various venues are seemingly limitless. Seeing it all is impossible but trying is half the fun.

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