For the uninitiated, the running of the tarpies occurs when the gates of Prince's Island open for the Calgary Folk Music Festival -- as they did Thursday for the first night of this year's event -- and hundreds of people who have been waiting eagerly in line break into a run, ready to spread their tarps out on the grass and claim the highly coveted front-row spots.
In short, they come to get their folk on -- and some of them lined up at the front gates in the wee hours of Thursday morning to make sure they got a prime location.
One of those die-hard "tarpies," as they are affectionately known as, is Ed Penny. The 61-year-old has been first in line at the Folk Festival for the past 12 years.
"It's just become part of what I do every year. It's a tradition," he says. "I've met a lot of good friends in line here."
Come 4:30 p.m., when the gates finally opened, Penny was first on the field -- easily securing a front-row spot. He says he's been coming to the festival since some of Thursday's young performers were teens.
"I like the fact that they are booking new music. It's great. It exposes people like me to new things and brings younger people out to experience music they may not have been exposed to before," he says.
This year's opening-day mainstage schedule certainly seemed to cater to a new generation of folk fest fans. Headlining Thursday's nearly sold out event was Calgary-born torch singer, and indie critical darling, Feist, and her pals in the Canadian indie-rock collective (of which she is a sometimes member), Broken Social Scene.
Tonight's mainstage will include a performance by funk-soul queen Macy Gray, as well as Kingston, Ont.'s Bedouin Soundclash, a band that combines electronica and dub into their rock-pop sound. The festival will close Sunday with performances by B.C. songwriter Matthew Good and punk-rock folkie Ani DiFranco.
While folk fest organizers have prided themselves on diversifying the artist roster over the years, not everybody seems happy about the inclusion of seemingly new-school musicians.
Joan Myles, a 62-year-old woman from Calgary, says she's been coming to the folk festival for years and she doesn't like the addition of what she calls pop and rock acts.
"We need to stop booking these punk-pop goddesses and remember that this is a folk music festival," says Myles referring to several of this weekends acts.
Myles says while artists such as Feist, Macy Gray and Ani DiFranco may be very good at what they do, but they don't meet her definition of folk music.
"I just wish they would stick to true folk music. There's lot of young acts they could book who are still roots and folk. It is called the folk music festival for reason. What's next? Will they start booking Britney Spears or the Spice Girls?"
But for young audience members such as Nikki Sekiya and her friend Sarah Berhstein, both 17, the opportunity to see the bands they love, as well as check out some classic folk acts, is welcome
The teens said they were at the festival on Thursday night to see their favourite Calgary export, Feist.
"I've been up for 24 hours to make sure we had a front-row seat," says Sekiya.
"We're so proud that this awesome music, like Feist and Broken Social Scene are Canadian. Feist is right from here in Calgary and that's great," added Berhstein.
Feist seemed to meet their high expectations. She opened with a rendition of traditional folk song When I was A Young Girl. During the first part of her set, she brought a video camera on stage and recorded the crowd.
Sekiya says her parents brought her to her first festival when she was a child. She feels the addition of alternative and pop musicians means the festival will continue to grow and expand, and that's a good thing.
Opening Thursday evening was Frigg, a Finnish-Norwegian group of seven performers who kicked off the evening with some unique Scandinavian fiddling.
Dan Bern followed up with his Bob Dylan-esque solo performance, and Niyaz hit the mainstage for a mid-evening performance of electronic Persian music. Broken Social Scene took the stage too late for the Herald's deadlines.
Highlights From the Folk Festival's First Night
1. The "running of the tarpies"
2. The Chilean Completo hot dog from the Le Chien Chaud Gourmet Hot Dog Stand -- the Chilean came complete with guacamole, tomatoes, onion, and fiery Aji juice.
3. Meeting new friends in the curry lineup, which was backed up down folk festival main street. (The curry stand has long been known as the most popular food stand at the festival.)
4. The geese that lined the path along the river. Apparently there is a contingent of Canadian geese keen on Broken Social Scene.
5. Fiddling made cool by Frigg, a Finnish-Norwegian ensemble of bluegrass fiddlers.