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"St. Vincent's "The Neighbors"" from Actor
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"The Avett Brothers' "Incomplete and Insecure"" from I And Love And You
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"Natacha Atlas's "I Put a Spell on You"" from Ayeshteni
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Calgary Folk Music Festival View Additional Info

Don’t Let the Folk Fool You: Calgary Folk Festival Defies the Laws of Music with the ‘Arranged Marriages’ of Songwriters, Rockers, Emcees, and Globalistas  

Surreal perfection: A festival where Gil Scott-Heron and Rufus Wainwright, the Decemberists and Kid Koala rub sonic shoulders with beat poets, Siberian singers, and West African hipsters. Where on-the-fly collaborations bring unexpected artists together on one stage. All in a verdant village at the heart of a vibrant city, where the skyline rising over the trees is backed by distant mountains.

This is the 31st annual Calgary Folk Music Festival held July 22-25, 2010 on Prince’s Island, whose dreamlike balance of urban and bucolic, friendly and far-out, superfly and earthy reflects Calgary, Canada’s cowboy can-do and progressive DIY aesthetic. It’s Annie Oakley meets Ani DiFranco.

But don’t let the “folk” fool you: This year’s 64-act lineup includes everyone from indie darlings like bluegrassers the Avett Brothers and folk/punkster Frank Turner, to the sultry global electronica diva Natacha Atlas; from the effortless soul of the legendary Roberta Flack to the wit and grit of acoustic songsmith Greg Brown.

The Festival embraces all the upsides of a good-quality, mid-sized summer festival: basking in the great outdoors—albeit a mere hop, skip and a jump from urban amenities—and catching dozens of great musicians, the icons and the upstarts, as part of a laidback, ecologically astute community-for-a-day. It’s got cool wind power and hot main stages.

Yet the Calgary Folk Music Festival goes above and beyond creating a temporary city-within-a-city or booking diverse acts. It takes risks that spark one-off works of art by tossing wildly different artists together on stage.

“What happens at our festival will never ever happen again. Artists don’t just pass each other on the way to their shows. There are many spontaneous collaborations, and one-time creations, at our sessions,” Festival artistic director Kerry Clarke explains. “It’s technically challenging and it’s really risky. But what results is astounding.”

The Calgary Folk Fest has put Arrested Development on stage with a Scottish folk singer, Jamaican dub poet and a Scottish-Canadian reggae artist. It’s hooked the cerebral godfather of new wave Robyn Hitchcock up with Canadian country rockers The Sadies. “One year, Chumbawamba, a punk acoustic group, wound up on stage with Nathan, who play warped Canadian country, and Tuvan group Chirgilchin,” recalls Clarke. “It was based on vocals and on the idea of the wind. The Tuvan throat singer made a wind sound, and Chumbawamba leaped in with vocal harmonies. Before you knew it, a wonderul new song unfolded.”

“Singing an a capella song along with a throat-sung drone was risky, ridiculous and beautiful, all at the same time,” Chumbawamba’s guitarist Boff later reflected. “This wouldn't happen this easily anywhere else in the world.” These seat-of-the-pants moments of brilliance give artists a new energy and transform the entire ethos of the Festival. “We had an amazing time!” the members of Arrested Development gushed to Festival organizers. “It was hands down one of the most inspiring festivals we've been a part of.”

“At Canadian festivals like the Calgary Folk Music Festival, they don't feel the need to massage the artists’ egos by keeping them separated from the other acts,” Chumbawamba mused. “It forces us musicians into thinking on our feet, working together, dealing with stuff outside our cozy worlds.”

Even skeptical artists swiftly become converts after their first workshop experience: Clarke remembers that one Canadian rock legend who was less than thrilled by the prospect of jamming on stage with musician strangers exclaimed afterward to festival staff that if he had known how wonderful they are, he would have agreed to ten of them.

It’s not just artists learning new tricks on the Festival’s stages; festival goers also get a unique chance to learn from their favorite guitar heroes and song craftsmen as part of master classes, lovingly referred to as Boot Camp. Held at Calgary’s best kept musical secret, the Cantos Music Foundation, festival artists teach a dozen of the willing for three hours, three days in a row, among the Foundation’s collections of rare and curious keyboards, organs, Theremins, and instruments played by the Rolling Stones.

Past classes have included vocal tips from gospel greats the Sojourners, and unconventional guides to a life in music by members of punk mainstay, the Mekons. “You learn more and more as time progresses. Some musicians take people step by step: rhyming, themes, the basics of songwriting,” Clarke explains. “Some of our more unconventional artists have just talked to people for three days straight, and they loved it.”

These unconventional Festival experiences reflect the ethos that has guided it for the past three decades, when it started as a left-leaning and eccentric kitchen party writ large. About fifteen years ago, after eight years straight of rain, the Festival turned over a new leaf, keeping some of its Woodie Guthrie-style folksy militancy, but striving to bring big names and local favorites, history-makers and innovators, to Calgary. What resulted is a broad-ranging vision of folk with an edge, and a festival with a wry, get ’er done attitude. This mix attracts audiences from the far reaches of North America, Loreena McKennitt fans cruise up from Mexico and die-hard Festival aficionados travel from Illinois and Ohio on their motorcycles, dogs in tow.

They come for the Festival, but often fall for the city. “Calgary is a cool medium-sized city with lots of great restaurants and a strong underground scene that’s not on a lot of Americans’ radars,” Clarke enthuses. “You have the Rockies 90 minutes west and the Badlands two hours northeast. It’s a red rock desert where the dinosaurs roamed plopped in the middle of Alberta. You couldn’t get more different.”

The Calgary Folk Music Festival experience captures Alberta’s wild and varied geography. “We aim to take people to different place,” Clarke smiles. “That emotional, spiritual place only music can take you.”

Additional Info
Don’t Let the Folk Fool You: Calgary Folk Festival Defies ...
Festival Director's recommendations for things to do in and around ...
Festival by-the-numbers
Full List of Performers - 31st Calgary Folk Music Festival

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