Festival Folkies, Stephen Hunt, Calgary Herald, July 26, 2009

Posted by on 27 July 2009

For better or for worse, folk fest turns into safe haven from reality

Obviously, The Calgary Folk Festival is about the music, but during the hot part of the afternoon, when your shirt is stuck to your back and all your fantasies are reduced to a single, simple desire--shade--it sometimes becomes as much about the people who attend as the musicians who perform.

That's when the audience becomes the attraction as much as the show they're watching.

Maybe it's because somewhere along the way, folk festivals became safe havens of a sort from reality, a place where the usual laws of order, decorum and fashion find themselves temporarily suspended until Sunday night--for everyone, performer and audience alike.

As a result, you get to see things you normally don't. Sometimes this is great. Sometimes not so hot.

I like to think of the folk festival's audience as a human sculpture garden full of folkies.

By Sunday, the tent village that Prince's Island Park turns into for four days every July will be gone for another year. However, memories-- or are they flashbacks? --will probably last forever. - The Snoozer: A guy on his back, under a tree, sunglasses on, ball cap tipped forward, nestled under whatever shade is available, snoring away the hottest part of the afternoon. Not to be confused with Rodin's The Thinker. - The Quirky hat: Everyone has one. Quite often, they came into your life as one of those it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time things, and then it disappeared into the drawer you keep your quirky hats in. It takes a folk festival--particularly when the forecast calls for cloudless and 30 degrees--to get you to break one out. Now picture 12,000 people doing this, at exactly the same moment, and you get the idea. - The Solo Folkie Dancer: While it is quite a common occurrence for someone to burst into spontaneous dance on TV commercials, it is much rarer in real life--except at folk fests. Here, an individual at any given moment might just feel the beat, stand up and start to shimmy-shake in time to the music. I like this idea, although this has never happened to me. - hugging guy: I'm out on the festival grounds Saturday, walking around, and two 20-something guys walk up to me and ask if I want a hug. Stuff like that only happens at folk festivals. I swear. (If the humidity had been a little lower, I would have said yes.) - Babybjorn-Wearing guy: This guy, like many of the others in the human sculpture garden, used to be me. However, after seeing The Hangover, one can never see BabyBjorn Wearing Guy and have it be the same again. - Tattoo Girl: She's pretty, she's free, she's 23, she has more tattoos than a Samoan chieftain. Call it the Angelina Joliezation of our young women. We're in favour. - Shorts-wearing Guy: Easily the single greatest concentration of middle-aged men wearing shorts since the British Empire abandoned India. (Also, be on the lookout for his close cousin, Culottes Wearing Guy). - The chair people: Forget a classless society where everyone is the same as everyone else. Folk festivals are strictly divided into two hierarchies: those who have those nifty little chairs and those who don't. The Chair People always win. - little hippie kid: Having been born in 2000, they missed the Summer of Love by 33 years, but mom dresses them up so that they look like Haight-Ashbury moptops, circa 1967.