Vancouver Fringe 2019: There Ain't No More

In There Ain’t No More, Willi Carlisle mostly disses a musical tradition he clearly loves.

Well, that’s … opaque.

I admire the musical skills of writer and solo performer Willi Carlisle, but I have very little idea what he’s trying to say.

In There Ain’t No More, Carlisle plays an old folksinger who’s giving what may be his last concert: he’s dying of congestive heart failure. Within that framing device, Carlisle explores the history of American folk music through flashbacks — and finds it wanting.

As a young man, Carlisle’s character is a fan of the genre in which tunes are “passed from dead man to dead man to the live wire of the strings”, a “link to old countries and old music”, but also a living form that allows settlers to build a new “house” in America. But this guy becomes disillusioned by the misogyny of some of the songs and, more deeply, by the contribution that folk music made to the Vietnam War.

Wait. What? What contribution was that exactly? Carlisle’s character entertains the troops and realizes that the version of masculinity that led to the slaughter in Vietnam was bullshit. But, given the centrality of protest songs in the folk tradition, drawing a direct line between folk music and the tragedies of the Vietnam War feels like a stretch.

And Carlisle treats folk music like a dying tradition; maybe he just doesn’t like the new stuff.

On another level, There Ain’t No More seems to be trying to mourn a lost — and flawed — vision of America itself. And there’s a heavy dose of individual mortality thrown in: both Carlisle’s central character and an old folkie he interviews as a young man are on their last legs. But the terms of There Ain’t No More feel so skewed to me that I found very little in it coherent or compelling.

That said, the guy can play — the guitar, the fiddle, and the squeezebox. At one point, he fiddles, sings, and step dances all at once. That was the highlight of the show for me.

At the Revue Stage. Remaining performances on on September 8 (5:30 p.m.), 10 (9:15 p.m.), 11 (5:00 p.m.), 14 (9:10 p.m.), and 15 (3:30 p.m.)


About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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