The Calgary Folk Music Festival is back for another year with 70 musical acts, seven stages and a multitude of food vendors and activities over the course of four days on Prince’s Island. Calgary’s version of the classic folk festival that many cities have is unique in its longevity and evolution.
Founded in 1980, the Calgary Folk Music Festival was part of Alberta’s 70th anniversary and has been around ever since. It takes some level of innovation and growth to exist for 37 years, which is what Calgary has done.
Yet Executive Director Debbi Salmonsen says the festival hasn’t stuck to true folk and roots for a long time.
“We broadly interpret the definition of folk,” is how Salmonsen describes the style of music you can expect to hear on Prince’s Island.
“We broadly interpret the definition of folk.” – Debbi Salmonsen
Something that they always pay attention to, says Salmonsen, is appealing to a big audience and leaving room to surprise them along the way.
“One of the things that people experience every year, whether they’re coming as a first-timer or whether they’re long-term veterans of the festival is that without exception people always say, ‘Well I came to see XYZ artist but I was at a workshop and I was completely blown away by XYZ artist I’ve never heard of.’ I think that’s a really unique part of the folk festival experience.”
It’s difficult to focus in on all the specific genres that are encompassed by the Calgary Folk Festival’s broad definition of folk, but there are a few stand out categories that Salmonsen says the festival’s Artistic Director Kerry Clarke has been good at highlighting.
The best way to bring in attendees is to book familiar names. This year, one of those names is none other than the Barenaked Ladies. This band is definitely high on the list of well-known Canadian bands. For almost 30 years the Barenaked Ladies have been shaking up the Canadian music scene and shaping what it is today.
Maybe a more recent familiar name, compared to Barenaked Ladies, is City and Colour. The solo project of former Alexisonfire’s Dallas Green, Calgary is more than familiar with this Canadian folk singer/songwriter. Green has been to Calgary numerous times to perform, and has previously been to the Folk Fest in 2007 and 2011. His latest album, If I Should Go Before You, steps out of his more acoustic sound of previous albums and into the pop arena.
Veteran folk icons
What’s a folk festival without at least some true folk? Billy Bragg & Joe Henry will come together at this year’s Folk Fest to sing songs of the past that ring timeless to ears today. Their most recent work was recorded on America’s railways, in waiting rooms and at trackside while passengers boarded the train. “They sing for both the the brakeman and the hobo, the established and the illicit, giving each equal weight in a world once again thrust into the nuclear shadow of us or them,” says the Folk Fest about the classic folk duo.
Coeur de pirate, or Béatrice Martin, has a style described by the Folk Fest as varying between ’60s-style French pop and North American folk. Based in Montréal, she has a mix of songs in both French and English, but has numerous fans who enjoy her music even though they may only speak one language. She’s an acclaimed Canadian and Francophone artist, having been nominated for Francophone Album of the Year at the 2009 Juno Awards.
Basia Bulat is also no stranger to Calgary, having visited the festival in 2008 and 2014 and played many shows with other folk friends like Oh Pep!. Folk Fest’s website says of Bulat, “In the last 10 years Bulat has grown into a bolder, stronger artist who is willing to jump off emotional and artistic cliffs for the sake of pushing her music forward.” Her strong voice and tendency to change costumes frequently makes her someone you won’t want to miss.
Canadian festival programming often ignores Indigenous artists, which is something the Calgary Folk Festival has done well for the past few years. DJ Shub is among the amazing array of Indigenous musicians at the festival this year. After parting with A Tribe Called Red three years ago, DJ Shub has been combining his love of hip-hop with Indigenous culture. His music, according to the Folk Fest, is “shining a spotlight on systemic racism and promoting an uncompromising pride in indigenous heritage and talent”.
The Calgary Folk Music Festival takes place between July 27 and 30. Tickets are still available at calgaryfolkfest.com.
Editor: Ian Tennant | firstname.lastname@example.org