Willi Carlisle is an impressive musician. Equally at home on the guitar as he is on the banjo, fiddle, harmonica, and accordion, his performances of a few classic but obscure folk songs in There Ain’t No More, are masterful. Moving from the humorous “Hallelujah! I’m a Bum” to a haunting rendition of the Vietnam protest song “The Ballad of Penny Evans”, he showcases his ample talent.
The thread between the folk songs is the story of an elderly folk singer remembering his past, while contemplating the legacy that he will leave behind.
Traveling at a breakneck speed, Carlisle serves short vignettes from the singer’s lifetime. It is a journey that takes him from the discovery of his musical passion as a square dance caller, to his self-imposed exile to the mountains of Arkansas after witnessing the horrors of the Vietnam War.
In one frenzied scene as the old man descends into darkness following the war, Carlisle fast forwards to the present day with snippets from Lady Gaga (“Poker Face”), Miley Cyrus (“Wrecking Ball”) and others. While wholly anachronistic, there is a sly wink in recognition of these as the folk songs of today.
While Carlisle’s skills as a musician are undeniable, There Ain’t No More doesn’t fully deliver on the emotional front. For all its content, including mask work, illustrations, and even sock puppets, there is little to draw us into this life’s journey.
Sometimes context can be everything. In his post-show chat, Carlisle tells us much of the content and music in There Ain’t No More came from extensive real-life interviews with folk singers. One can’t help think being armed with this knowledge before the show, or introduced as part of the narrative itself, may have made a difference in the overall appreciation of his show.
There Ain’t No More continues at the Revue Stage (1601 Johnston St, Vancouver) as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Visit vancouverfringe.com for tickets and information.