My friend Jae (and several others) has called the Calgary Folk Music Festival the best 4 days of the year in Calgary. Despite having lived in Calgary 10 years and a great aversion for folk music (and music in general), this is the first CFMF that Amber and I have attended. We have always been out of town as it takes place on the exact middle weekend of my summer holidays.
So, yes, it is the best four days of Calgary’s year. What a sublime festival!
Amber and I spent Thursday evening, Friday afternoon/evening and all day Saturday/Sunday relaxing with many friends, under almost entirely sunny skies (just some rain for the first couple hours of the festival on Thursday), listening to sweet, sweet music from around the world (though mostly Canada).
Best musicians I heard:
- Chad Vangaalen* – local Calgary artist that I should have heard long before this weekend. Very original and enjoyable sound/voice. Some of the best stage presence I’ve seen. And big R.E.M. fan to boot!
- The Milk Carton Kids – Caught the last half of their set, couldn’t hear their lyrics too well, but their sound and stage presence make me want to hear more. Plus some of my friends are big fans.
- Mission Songs Project – Temporary state sponsored group paid to revive and promote old Australian aboriginal songs from the missions (think Australian residential schools). Terrific harmonies, simple and beautiful, all contextualized in the resilience of the lost generation.
- NQ Arbuckle – Ontario rockers with just heaps of cred and just a blast to listen to. Lead singer Neville Quinlan is just someone you want to have a beer with while listening to his rockin’ tunes.
- Archie Roach – Australian folk legend. A voice that makes guitars stand at attention and grown men weep.
- Stars – I’m really not a fan of Torquil Campbell (saw him in Montreal and he really put me off), but Amy Milan’s voice and the band’s sound are just too fun. Plus, I knew half the songs.
- Jeremy Dutcher* – I heard about him on CBC as he was just shortlisted (final 10) for the Polaris Music Prize last week. This classically trained vocalist and pianist from NB has revived archived Maliseet wax cylinder recordings from 110 years ago and reworked them into beautiful, ethereal compositions, all in the indigenous language (of which he is one of only 100 native speakers). And a French-Canadian cellist backs him.
- Quantum Tangle – Juno winning Inuit songwriters from the north blend throat singing and traditional themes into gorgeous melodies.
- Rev. Sekou – The descendent of Pentecostal preachers, this activist can sing! He had the beer gardens singing gospel resistance music in seconds. Resist! Plus the fact that his back up band was young Swedish men just made so much sense.
- Kobo Town – Caribbean music that I want to listen to. They won a Juno earlier this year.
- Damien Jurado* – Seattle singer-songwriter legend I hadn’t heard of but not love.
- A Tribe Called Red – I heard these guys back in 2014 in Squamish and they were so much fun! Blaise really liked them too. We heard them again in 2015 at Osheaga. I listened to them steadily while working on my Masters of Math. I spent the whole set in Calgary at the front dancing (with Amber dancing beside me most of it too). Aside from the music being super danceable, the fact that it is indigenous music incarnating urban DJ hip hop is simply a beautiful thing. The dancers they had – traditional, hip hop, and modern dance – was stunning! One of my favourite moments of the festival for sure.
- Scenic Route to Alaska & Altameda – These are two Edmonton bands that I’d love to see again in a club.
- AHI* – Gifted and determined songwriter and story teller, but also a fantastic voice and sound. Meaningful songs that had Amber in tears.
- Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers* – I only caught the last 4 songs of his set, but some of the most amazing music I heard all weekend. Think Tom Waits, but more theatrical.
- Neko Case – I’m a big fan and she’s one of the 3 reasons I bought weekend passes for Amber and I. Jasen and I snuck to the very front of the field and sat on the grass for the amazing though short set. I love her music and voice so much.
- Bahamas – Simply the best performer at the festival. No contest. This is the third time I’ve seen him and he just gets better and better! He has a voice and guitar skills that won’t quit – and then he has another amazing vocalist and guitarist on either side of him, both of whom may be better than him!
- Mayor Nenshi and our councillor Carra sat right next to us on the first night in the field.
- Martini Pizza owned and operated by my former coworker – hooray for free pizza!
- Taiko Tacos had delicious kimchi on tatortots and tacos on steamed buns
- Big Rock beer gardens had decent beer – Citradelic IPA and Belly Flop apricot grisette were my choices
- Walking to and from the festival from home was a definite bonus – no parking, no transit
- We had a full moon (and almost full moon) every night walking home late after the shows
- We ran into so many friends from cohousing, church, and the board game community, it was great to catch up
- Our friends got to the festival early each day and set up their tarp for the main stage in stellar locations that we got to enjoy each evening
- A Dragonstein photo of part of our community was presented on the big screen as a part of the Twitter feed.
Things the festival could improve upon:
- The festival has many daytime sessions where they put 4 bands together for an hour to play songs, but almost all of them are like bands, and they just take turns playing their own songs. The sessions are meant to be collaboration times, so the festival could put different genres together so new instrumentation and styles could blend in unique ways. Most of the sessions were pretty disappointing.
- Sunday evening’s MC and in between acts on the main stage were just terrible. Terrible.
- Our puritanical laws in Calgary make it illegal to walk around a festival with a beer, so if you want a cold beer on a hot day, you are restricted to the beer gardens where there is one stage (there are 6 other stages in the festival).
- Several times while trying to listen to a band, we had to move in order to hear the music because we had people directly behind or beside us having ongoing shouting conversations with each other. Simply suggesting that people who wanted to talk could move to the outer fringes would likely help in this area.
Things the festival did extremely well:
- Bathrooms were so clean!
- Volunteers were all over to help.
- I have never experienced cleaner festival grounds in my life. Amazing!
- Shade was abundant thanks to big trees.
- First aid: free sunscreen and earplugs. Plus my pizza friend sliced his finger open and they did a great job putting him back together again
- Water was available all over for people to refill their water bottles. No disposable water bottles littering the grounds at all.
- The artist line-up was super. Thanks!
*I purchased these musician’s records. So expensive.