Folk Fest Captures Community Spirit

July 26th, 2010 by Victoria Peterson

Security at Folk Fest

Every July, there is a festival in Calgary that brings together both locals and tourists, displays Calgary’s community spirit and celebrates the city’s rich culture. While some may think this is the Calgary Stampede, it is in fact the festival that comes after our annual 10 days of partying.

The Calgary Folk Music Festival is often overshadowed by the grandiose nature of Stampede, but its ability to bring together great music and a wonderful ambiance is what makes it a great part of the Calgary summer.

The best part about Folk Fest is the people involved. First of all, it takes a small army of volunteers to run a festival of this size. Over 1,600 people volunteer every July and it’s such a popular event that the festival has to turn away individuals every year. A friend of mine has been helping out for several years and describes the volunteering at Folk Fest as a “family.” Strong ties are built between volunteers and it feels like a four-day reunion, rather than work.

Amy Millan of Stars

Secondly, the atmosphere at the festival is so inclusive. You never feel out of place or alone. You could show up by yourself and have made a whole circle of friends by the end of the first day. People are friendly, outgoing and easy to engage. This kind of setting is incredibly rare to find in a city of a million people, yet every year, Folk Fest weaves together an environment of kinship for its attendees.

This year’s lack of “big” names on the mainstage bill shows just how successful this festival is. Friday and Saturday were sellouts, with 12,000 people cramming onto Prince’s Island Park and in a recent Calgary Herald article, festival artistic director Kerry Clarke estimated that they were just 1,000 people short of selling out the entire weekend.

While the mainstage brings in the big names, it’s the festival’s unique day-time format that truly showcases the weekend vibe. Workshops are held on six stages across the island, bringing together artists to essentially hold jam sessions. The artists put together may not gel together but more often than not, they create spontaneous magic.

Felix Riebl of The Cat Empire

A prime example was when reggae artist Michael Franti whimsically decided to join in on a Friday workshop. He was set to close out the main stage that night, but he had no afternoon sets scheduled. Franti enthusiasts were slightly dampened by this, but they had a workshop comprised of DJ Dolores, El Puchero del Hortelano and Po’ Girl to fill their afternoon dancing needs.

The three artists hopped onstage and started playing, getting the crowd into their mix of  flamenco rock and urban beats. Everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves but as soon as Franti hit the stage, the crowd was transformed from happily bobbing along to the music to fervent, passionate dancing. Franti’s stage presence and his reggae rock blended perfectly with the three other artists and at the end of the set, every single soul at the Field Law stage was on their feet.

Michael Franti

This kind of magic popped up all over the island all weekend, enthralling crowds with one-of-kind performances before they settled into the mainstage performances.

As for the headlining acts, the bill catered to every musical taste imaginable. Thursday featured indie rock darlings Stars and the Avett Brothers, Friday hosted the sweet sounds of the Swell Season and then Franti’s reggae, Saturday was filled with Alberta country as the legendary Ian Tyson kicked off the mainstage performances and Corb Lund closed out the night. Sunday was more of a laid back bill with Roberta Flack finishing off a successful four days of music.

Corb Lund

Overall, Folk Fest was once again the best part of Calgary’s fun-filled July. While Stampede offers its attendees flash and grandeur, Folk Fest gives the city something much more valuable: heart.

Photo Credit: Torie Peterson

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