Stunning vistas and crisp Rocky Mountain air are the backdrop for Banff, Alberta’s Performance in the Park. This year’s guest – Sam Roberts Band.
With gates open at 2:30 and opener Dan Mangan not on til 4pm, Performance in the Park organizers invited First Nations groups to share a drum circle and dance with the crowd of festival goers. There were also plenty of concession booths, set up and manned by local charitable organizations.
Despite our best efforts, the will of the sold out crowd (3000) could not hold off the rain and by the time Dan Mangan walked on stage, the audience had swapped umbrellas for all out rain gear, hoods, and tarps. A few brave souls danced barefoot in the rain, but rubber boots dominated the crowd, as did Dollar Store blue plastic Rain Ponchos (out-of-towners stood out a mile away).
Mangan was well known to most of the audience who sang to the songs, or cheered at the intro when one of their favorite songs was played – but I found his lyrics to be rambling, and was distracted in most of the songs by the band’s attempt at ‘special effects’ (ie speaker feedback done on purpose, or chaotic mishmash of sound over the vocals) which served to muddy the song rather than enhance it. Mangan has a superb voice, and engaging stage presence and held the audience from start to finish. By the last song, I decided to head back to the RV for a change of dry clothes, a quick bite, and then the short walk back, just in time to hear the final sound check for Sam Roberts Band.
Amazingly enough, the deluge eased up to mere spitting rain, which wasn’t even noticeable by the time Roberts was halfway into the first song. Just as amazing (and this never fails to give me that ‘wow’ factor), all Roberts has to do is hold the mic out to the crowd once, or motion with his hands in the ‘get up’ sign, and before you can blink, the entire audience is singing the chorus to songs Brother Down, Where Have All The Good People Gone, Don’t Walk Away Eileen, and even relative new songs Let It In and Graveyard Shift.
One interesting thing about Sam Roberts fans- they’re typically mostly male youth, typically happy, and typically vocal! Very seldom the paltry squabbles of people trying to squeeze past to stand in front of you- except for today! Three young men all over 6′ 2″ tall did just that! Hard to stay mad though, when they sang the words to every song, danced and head banged, helped a stranger body surf the crowd, and let an 8 year old push past them to the front rail! And yes, they made room for this somewhat short person to see.
The band played exceptional – they’ve really kicked it up a notch and seem to have truly gelled as a unit. Sam was stellar- giving it everything he had- smiling more than I’ve seen at past shows although the intensity was there too. At one point he forgot the lyrics to Don’t Walk Away Eileen. At first we thought he was just waiting for the band, but they were waiting for him- and at the end of the song he confessed to us with a smile- telling us the show audio was being taped, and hence his mistake, for all time. No embarrassment, just smiles and giggles. Made the show even more fun.
Last song done, the band left the stage but we all knew they had to come back. They hadn’t played Without a Map (my personal favorite) or Mind Flood yet. The audience made such a ruckus with chants of “Encore”, and those on the front lines banging the plastic barricades to a deafening roar, that the band came back with grins a mile wide. The finale of course, was Mind Flood and I glanced at my watch as soon as they started it- then again when the last note of this mind bending song was done. A full 16 minutes! The band was absolutely on fire, jamming and just letting loose-giving back everything the crowd had given them over the last 2 hours- and typically with SRB, the longer Mind Flood is played, the more the band enjoyed the show, and us! The kicker was the band jumping off the stage to do quick handshakes with the front row, and true to form, Sam shook hands with nearly every single person from one end to the other, even through the fencing on the side, before waving and disappearing behind the stage.
The show was a smash success in all respects – Banff knows how to run a top notch event – clean, organized, complete with Twitter hashtag for people to share before, during, and after the show, with total strangers – which is how I found the people who’s photos I chose to use in this review! Despite the October cold in June, this is one of the best outdoor shows I’ve seen in a long time. And despite feeling and looking like a drowned rat by the end, I had a smile just as wide as the band’s by the end. Well worth the weekend trip, definitely one for next year’s calendar!
©nightMair Creative 2012 All Rights Reserved, photos courtesy of nightMairPhotography.com and select concert goers (see captions) and used with permission