Calgary’s Music Scene Bursting With Talent

August 1st, 2009 by Victoria Peterson

As the 30th annual Calgary Folk Music Festival closed on Sunday, one fact was very apparent: Calgary’s music scene is bursting at the seams with talent.

Over the past few years, the city has been seen a surge of musicians gain commercial success and become household names. From the emergence of Feist as an international superstar to DIY rock heroes The Dudes, Calgary has established itself as a vibrant epicenter of musical talent.

Some of the recognition local musicians are receiving comes from the city’s thriving festivals. Folk Fest created history this summer by selling out all four days. With over 50,000 people strolling through Prince’s Island Park, musical discoveries are made at every gig.

Another gem is Sled Island. The festival turned three this year and has already defined itself as not just a music festival but also a cultural festival.  Despite it’s infancy, Sled Island has been able to bring in names like Broken Social Scene, Mogwai, Tegan and Sara, Andrew W.K. and Grizzly Bear. It added to its cultural breadth by collaborating with the Calgary Market Collective and by screening independent films.

Add in the Calgary International Blues Festival, the Africadey! Festival, the Fringe Festival, the Calgary Jazz Festival and the Calgary International Reggae Festival and you’ve got a musical landscape that shows no bounds.

“It used to be that you have to go to Toronto to get a record deal,” said Calgary’s golden boy, Chad VanGaalen.

“Now you can be signed on a record label and still live in Calgary.”

To VanGaalen, the city’s music scene rapid growth reminds him of mold – in the most complimentary way, of course.

Chad VanGaalen at the Calgary Folk Music Festival (Torie Peterson photo)

“It’s grown just like a disgusting fungus, like out of a sock,” smiled the former busker.

“You can’t stop it. You’ve got to throw away your shoes but you just bought those shoes. You made the mistake of wearing the socks that you were wearing in your old shoes in your new shoes so you’ve soiled those new shoes but you’re never going to throw out those shoes because they’re like Air Jordan’s.”

VanGaalen points to Calgary’s ever-growing population when asked about reasons for the evolution of the arts in the city.

“Cities get bigger, people have more access to better music and they’re able to search for things that they’re interested instead of just being spoon-fed AM radio like when I was growing up.”

With a plethora of bars and clubs hosting live local talent, downtown Calgary has become a hot spot for the city’s burgeoning music scene. For many local artists, pegging a favourite place to play is impossible.

“Oh man, there’s so many,” sighed Michael Bernard Fitzgerald.

“I love the HiFi club. I’ve played there for the last couple of years and just that love place.”

Fitzgerald also pointed to the Jack Singer Concert Hall, the site of his Love and Manners gig which featured 120 performers on stage at once. While this was the largest and most ambitious show he has put on, in the past he’s thrown over 50 people on stage at a time.

“It’s chaos but good chaos,” he chuckled.

All four members of the Ramblin’ Ambassadors chimed in with different venues but the group agreed there is a wealth of great spots for musicians.

“Broken City is great,” was guitarist Doug Waite’s choice.

“Zach (Pashak), the owner of Broken City, really cares about music. It’s such a great place to play.”

“The Ship & Anchor is so solid,” came from bass player Scott Nickless.

“There are tons of great places to play at. Old and new. The Drake was a recent one.” was guitarist and longtime Calgary musician Brent Cooper’s response.

“It’s impossible to name one because there are so many venues out there. I don’t want to leave anyone out,” said drummer Tyler Pickering.

With so many musical avenues to explore, Calgarians are guaranteed to have many more artists and venues come onto their radar in the future and that can only mean good things for the city.

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One Response to “Calgary’s Music Scene Bursting With Talent”

  1. Lance Warren says:

    It has been a remarkable upswing in new emerging talent here in Calgary. The Dudes are already breaking new ground here and are a welcome flavor of upbeat rock music. If you like to watch rising stars check out the Shagbots and the release of their first CD “We We’re Born Tigers” It is a refreshing blend of rock and punk sounds!

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