Can You Say “Off Of The Fucking Hook”?

I knew you could! And if you can say it, you can surely imagine it.

Back in Seattle now, after a whirlwind final week in Montana, from which I’m still reeling.

Here’s the deal. The National Folk Festival touches down in a given city, spends three years there, and then is off to the next one — leaving behind its legacy: each host city is requested to keep the tradition alive even without the National’s imprimatur.

In ought-eight, the National touched down in Butte, Montana — its first stop west of the Mississippi in, if you could believe it, seventy years. In its three years there, it rocked the city almost beyond the realms of the imagination. True to its charge, Butte has kept the tradition alive, having now completed the hosting of the first-ever Montana Folk Festival.

How’d it go? See here. (And, hey, look: whereas it took me three weeks to write about Folklife, it’s only been two-and-one-half since the Montana fest. Progress!)

Saturday began at the Family stage with some righteous Detroit-based Arabesque; which band included this guy, a kanoun master from the word “go”…

Over at the Dance Pavilion, this guy played one helluva cajun squeezebox, while his voice — sung in French — was pure gold…

Still at the Dance Pavilion, this guy…

…is a flat-out GOD. A God of what, exactly…

…I’m not sure. Well, let’s just call him a God Of Fucking Awesomeness, and leave it at that:

This guy; well, how could you not love him?

While this guy…

…may be the next coming of Jim Morrison. He led a troupe of twelve (maybe more!), delivering an electrifying Haitian roots revival show (or what) that was surely one of the best performances of my three years here.

Those were Saturday’s peaks. The other sets, while very good indeed, didn’t quite live up, in my estimation, to last year’s Fest. Sunday, on the other hand, was pure mind-blowing-ness from start to finish. How do the Festival programmers do it?

Got the day rolling with some knockout Gypsy Jazz which, I assumed at the time, would be my favourite set of the weekend. Then on to some boogie-woogie blues piano, to keep the blood pumping.

Next, Riley and Ira raised the bar again with their fancy footwork…

…and, even (wait for it) fiddlesticks!

Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars then took the stage and, with the help of their outrageously charismatic vocalist…

…knocked it out of the park. (Even if the tuba player was a bit of a sourpuss.)

Couldn’t possibly get any better, could it? It could! Acadian trio Vishten overcame many soundboard issues to wow the audience at the Family Stage in what I was sure, this time, must have been the best set of the Fest.

Except! Kermit Ruffins & The BBQ Swingers closed the Fest out with a jaw-droppingly scintillating set which left the audience panting for more.

Perhaps the most incongruous sight of the Festival:

Now, who the fuck ever heard of a Chinaman playing piano in a New Orleans Jazz band? Not me! But I’ll tell you what: the son of a bitch nearly stole the show on two or three different occasions. Dude could stone-cold play!

Toward the end of the set, Kermit brought his daughter out to play piano and sing one song. After which, the audience demanded she sing another. After which, the band lit up again, while members of the band’s family came out onto the stage to help celebrate. And to help them celebrate, members of the audience climbed up on stage to get in on the act:

By the time it was said and done, the band were fifteen minutes past their scheduled end-time and still going strong; meanwhile, the emcee was bringing cans of beer out to the band-members, and goosebumps ruled the day.

Well, you probably had to be there, and blah blah blah. And you oughta be there next year. From one who was there, I can say that it was a scene of pure elation. It’s the power of music, ain’t it?

Lots and lots (and lots and lots) more pics at my Flickr page. Why don’t let’s give Kermit the last thousand words:

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