The month of August for Edmontononians has always been special. Sure, school is only a month away, and the heat will slowly leave, but the city has so many wonderful forms of entertainment that can put your remaining time to good use. While every form is unique and enjoyable in its own way, none compare to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
For years, Folk Fest has been a haven for music and arts fans to escape the daily toil of their lives and discover a new musician they may have not had the pleasure of hearing.
The main stage will be dominated by some fantastic headliners such as The Head and the Heart, LP, Nathaniel Ratecliff & the Night Sweats, and the Tallest Man on Earth, just to name a few, but please, take some time to enjoy a new artist or two at some of the smaller stages.
One act that should be looked out for this year at stage one is Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers.
It’s safe to say that Helm has music in her blood. She is the daughter of Levon Helm, renowned drummer and singer for the Band, as well as the genre-bending singer-songwriter Libby Titus. On top of that, she is also the stepdaughter of one of the Steely Dan co-masterminds Donald Fagen. While all of these artists did help Helm find her talent, when it comes to creating music, she is most definitely her own artist.
“All of those people were great musical mentors, especially my father,” she says. “Now I’m just trying to continue to develop as a songwriter.”
After a small lifetime of jumping through her gospel like alt-country band Ollabelle and various projects with her father, Helm eventually decided to pursue a career as a solo artist.
“It seemed like the next natural step. I’ve grown as a singer and collaborator so I wanted to apply it to a new challenge in a scarier uncharted territory,” she says.
Her debut roots-folk/blues album Didn’t it Rain was released almost exactly one year ago, and is a true indication that Helm has found her own voice.
The album was recorded over a four-year period and features a plethora of uniquely talented musicians such as Levon Helm, Allison Moorer, John Medeski, and Larry Campbell just to name a few. Helm decided to rework many of the songs on the album after she assembled her touring band the Handsome Strangers with band mate, bassist Byron Issacs.
“The record was sort of an odd process. I had no idea what I was going for,” she says. “It was hard to come up with a clear vision so it became a collage of different phases. Like my father is playing on some songs and then I have a bunch of other musicians on others. Things in my life were nuts so each song kind of had its own little story and universe.”
Helm’s father sadly passed away in 2012, but was fortunately able to hear most of the songs on the record.
“I was so glad he heard most of it,” she says. “He was always very supportive and he was proud of all the work that went into the record. I think it made it stronger.”
In the studio and on stage, Helm’s band the Handsome Strangers is a powerhouse. Guitarist Daniel Littleton’s ethereal blues guitar work adds a unique flavor to the live experience while drummer David Berger’s simple, but effective drum beats compliment the rhythm of the song. Session bassist Adam Minkoff will be subbing in for Issacs at Folk Fest while Issacs tours with the Lumineers.
Helm is very excited to take the stage at this year’s Folk Fest.
“We play a very raucous set. It gets people moving,” she says.
“I played Edmonton a couple years ago and I’m really looking forward to coming back.”
Thurs, Aug 4 — Sun Aug 7
Gallagher Park Hill
$22 — $229