Calgary Herald coverage

Posted by on 28 July 2010

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Full coverage from the Calgary Herald staff writers Heath McCoy, Eric Volmers, Steven Hunt and Kelly Doody.


Calgary Folk Festival plays it indie-rock cool on first day
By Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald, July 23, 2010

Afternoon workshops delight Folk Fest crowd
By Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald, July 24, 2010

Turning tables on folk
By Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald, July 24, 2010

Festival weekend not music to everyone's ears
By Steven Hunt, Calgary Herald, July 24, 2010

Opposing world views find harmony at folk fest
By Steven Hunt, Calgary Herald, July 25, 2010

Folk fest a wonder of culture
By Kelly Doody, Calgary Herald, July 25, 2010

Calgary Folk Fest balancing act brings success, criticism
By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald, July 26, 2010

Staff Blogs:

Blade Runner: The Calgary Herald editor Steven Hunt sums up his experiences at the 2010 folk fest:


 Calgary Folk Festival plays it indie-rock cool on first day

By Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald, July 23, 2010

For at least the past decade now the Calgary Folk Music Festival has wisely been reaching out to a younger generation of fans – namely, the lovers of indie rock – in the hopes that they'll embrace the event and follow it faithfully into the future.

Thursday night's kickoff to the four day festival couldn't have made that credo any more clear and the rationale seemed perfectly sound with 11,000 fans packing Prince's Island Park to see hip Americana group the Avett Brothers topping the bill, seconded by acclaimed indie pop band Stars from Montreal.

To be sure, the Avett Brothers – a North Carolina unit whose sound is firmly rooted in the worlds of folk, bluegrass and country-rock – were arguably the biggest buzz band of the festival this year and they more than lived up to that hype.

Hitting the stage with the melodic, high-energy bluegrass of Shame and following it up with the gorgeous country shuffle of And It Spread, which recalls The Band if Robbie Robertson had grown up on punk, the Avetts played a fantastic set which festival goers will be talking about for a long time to come.

Other highlights in a gig full of them included The Fall with its raucous hillbilly stomp, tender country ballad I and Love and You and Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, a country-folk number with real depth.

The showstopper, however, had to be Kick Drum Heart, a pop-tinged rush that stood as one of the best tunes of 2009, hands down.

In keeping with the evening's theme of indie rock cool the festival began with a performance by Library Voices, an eight-piece art rock group from Regina who operate as more of a collective than an actual band, in the style of Toronto's Broken Social Scene.

Taking the the stage all dressed in white (some members in white Bermuda shorts, others in suits) the band made a playful, experimental pop splash replete with horns, guitars, busy drums and waves of synthesizers.

The group's energy was impressive, with guitarists bouncing around the stage and the saxophone player throwing his instrument high into the air and catching it at the show's conclusion, which captured those alt-rock vibes nicely.

That momentum was lost for a time, however, when Library Voices were followed by Belgium's Natacha Atlas, an artist who served up a helping of lilting Middle Eastern folk music which made for an uneven blend with the other acts on the bill.

It probably didn't help that Atlas seemed uncomfortable and uptight at the beginning of her set, preoccupied with issues to do with the sound mix that weren't all that big a factor from the audience.

Nevertheless, her music had an exotic quality to it that will probably make Atlas a strong asset at the weekend workshops.

Luckily, when Stars arrived for its set, for which the stage was adorned in white roses, they picked the crowd back up.

The band – whose members also belong to the critically adored Broken Social Scene – is currently riding high on the strength of a fine new album, The Five Ghosts and, live, they delivered a set that the audience loved.

Stars' synth-pop sound can be a bit too elegant for its own good at times, but at its best the band brings an impressive blend to the table, fusing dramatic experiments in art-pop with catchy hooks that recall classic new wave.

On Thursday the Montreal band's greatest asset was certainly Amy Milan whose voice rang out beautifully through the park.

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 Afternoon workshops delight Folk Fest crowd

By Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald, July 24, 2010

It only amounted to an extra couple of hours on the sidestages, but the fact that the Calgary Folk Music Festival has extended it's programming to include Friday afternoon workshops, for the first time ever, shows how significantly the festival has grown.

Folk fest devotees well know that while the mainstage attractions serve as the festival's selling point each year, it's the weekend workshops that are the heart and soul of the event.

On those stages, spread across Prince's Island Park, artists of various musical and cultural backgrounds share the spotlight, the great hope being that they'll make magic together.

Sometimes the chemistry is there and sometimes it's not, but it's that spirit of collaboration and community that so perfectly captures the folk fest vibe, so a superb afternoon of workshops has to be seen as a triumph.

And there was much to love on Friday afternoon.

Significantly, mainstager Michael Franti – a hip-hop reggae-rocker from San Francisco, who was forced to cancel his festival gig last year when his appendix burst – made a surprise afternoon appearance, which I kicked myself for missing as people were buzzing about it for the rest of the day.

Another hugely popular workshop featured mainstagers The Swell Season and Joe Henry, along with Robin Holcomb.

The Swell Season is the indie-folk duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who won countless hearts with their star turn together in the 2007 Irish indie film Once.

They're easily one of the biggest draws this year. That was clear when I was walking into Prince's Island Park and saw all the people trying to find tickets for the day's sold-out event. Pretty well every one of them expressed regret that they'd be missing the Swell Season.

But the hottest workshop had to have been the one featuring Australia's Cat Empire, Israel's Coolooloosh and the colourfully attired robe and turban wearing Etran Finatwa from Niger.

The three groups sparked up an intoxicating, funky jam session that incorporated Middle Eastern grooves, ska, jazz and hip-hop, among other flavours. This was workshop spirit at its best and it had folks dancing in the summer sun which is a tough scene to beat.

But, make no mistake, the mainstage had plenty to offer as well.

The evening got off to a strong start with England's Frank Turner who summed up his seething style of folk perfectly with the title of one of his albums, Campfire Punk. Turner's fiery acoustic set started the night off right.

Next up was acclaimed singer-songwriter and producer Joe Henry, who's worked with everyone from Elvis Costello to Solomon Burke. Henry played rich, dark Americana that was both inspired and mesmerizing (even if his stage presence was a bit on the dry side).

Toronto-based Shakura S'Aida offered knockout blues, hit home fully by her gutsy delivery and gospel-powered vocal range.

As for eagerly anticipated The Swell Season, Hansard and Irglova played a romantic, couple-friendly folk set highlighted by his hard, raw strumming and soulful vocal style and her tender, almost ghostly singing – not to mention their lovely harmonizing.

The Swell Season's music is too airily sensitive and lacking in bite for my tastes, but they deliver their tunes with an emotionally wrought passion that makes their appeal perfectly understandable.

At press time Michael Franti and Spearhead were just getting onstage to cheers from a crowd that was certainly geared up to dance.

Things are looking mighty fine for the 2010 Calgary Folk Music Festival. Bring on the weekend.

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 Turning tables on folk

By Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald, July 24, 2010

By many accounts even Bob Dylan was shaken by the hostile response he received at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 when the young singer-songwriter -- already a giant of the folk music world -- dared to perform with an electric blues band.

He was heckled and booed by audience members who felt he had sold out to the pop world, that he was a Judas who had turned his back on the serious acoustic roots of folk music. Pete Seeger, another hero of the folk scene, reportedly threw a fit backstage, threatening to destroy the sound system.

But if the outraged minds at that event could have seen the folk fests of today, one can imagine that their heads would have exploded. These days it's not the electric guitar that pushes the boundaries at folk festivals, but rather, electronic artists who create much of their music on laptops.

"It would have been beyond their comprehension," says DJ Logic of those early audiences.

The artist, a turntablist from the Bronx who incorporates hip-hop and drum 'n' bass with jazz and Afro-Cuban beats, is one of a handful of performers appearing at Prince's Island Park this weekend who are bringing folk music into the 21st century -- whether the staunch traditionalists appreciate it or not.

Another artist shattering such barriers is DJ Dolores who merges electronic beats with the traditional folk music of his native Brazil. There's also the band Coolooloosh from Jerusalem, mashing up traditional Israeli music with the sounds of jazz and hip-hop, as well as Vancouver's Delhi 2 Dublin, who have married electronic dance music with folk melodies from both Ireland and India. And don't forget Konono No. 1, who have dubbed their music "congotronics," as it blends the traditional trance music of Africa with electronica.

Kerry Clarke, the longtime artistic director of the Calgary folk fest admits that the festival does get some negative feedback from dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists who feel that DJs, MCs and programmed dance beats have no place in the world of folk. But for the most part, she insists, those protests are few and far between.

"We get the odd e-mail," Clarke says. "I got one this year from someone saying 'DJs? Why do you have DJs?' But for every e-mail like that, we have 3,000 people voting with their feet. There was at least that many at the (DJ) Kid Koala stage last year. . . .

"Some people would tell you that means we're not a folk festival anymore. I think we still are."

As Clarke sees it, all of the electronic artists she books for the four-day event are valid choices, with legitimate ties to deep-rooted folk traditions from various corners of the globe.

"I've always said that we're exploring both the roots and the evolution of folk music," she says. "This is how roots music has evolved. You can't just be purist about it, because that isn't realistic. . . .

"If artists are expressing themselves in a way that maybe gets away from what people think of as traditional folk, I think we have to grow along with that, or we're not relevant."

For his part, DJ Logic considers the music he makes to be respectful of traditional folk styles.

As he puts it, "I'm just adding a little flavour, a bit of a remix vibe to things. . . . It's fun to incorporate the blues and that Arlo Guthrie stuff and keep it flowing. . . . Keep it unique and interesting. It's like in jazz when Miles Davis went to fusion. He was always trying to move forward."

Sanjay Seran, vocalist for Delhi 2 Dublin, believes that bands like his are healthy for folk festivals, introducing people to different cultures and musical styles.

"We have a song called Tommy which is drum 'n' bass. It has two verses in Punjabi and the rest is in English. So where does this song fit in? Is it electronica? Is it now world music because I sing in Punjabi? ...

"Back in the day, folk festivals would have been all English music. Now they're full of world music. But it's only considered world music because it comes from a different part of the world. . . . In those parts of the world this is their folk music."

And Delhi 2 Dublin, says Seran, is a band rooted in its folk heritage. "We use violins, guitars and a sitar. We use Punjabi folk instruments and Indian classical instruments."

The band also plays programmed beats from a laptop. But from Seran's perspective, that's "just the progression of music."

"Adding the electronic side, it just becomes new folk," he says. "Neo-folk."

Exposing the audience to such a variety of styles is a way of educating them, says Seran, and broadening their palettes. And that, says Kerry Clarke, has long been one of the Calgary folk fest's defining goals.

As one of countless examples, she cites Socalled, a Jewish hip-hop artist from Montreal who the festival brought in last year. Socalled incorporated 1920s Yiddish theatre music into his sound.

"Of course, no one knows anything about that music, but they were listening to Socalled and dancing and grooving away, and, maybe, somebody came away with an interest in the Yiddish music of the 1920s. I think that's really important," Clarke says. "Sometimes the best way to get people into something new is to introduce it to them through something they already understand. . . . We're looking for something that gives people a window into another way of thinking, be it another culture, or, another style of music."

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 Festival weekend not music to everyone's ears

By Steven Hunt, Calgary Herald, July 24, 2010

Edmonton clothing designer Sabrina Butterfly might have a hippie's last name, but her Calgary Folk Festival experience -- if the last six she's worked are any indication -- will be anything but a music-filled, blissed-out weekend.

That's because Butterfly is one of the more popular vendors in the folk festival's arts market, a vibrant crafts village on the festival site on Prince's Island Park.

For four days, Butterfly and a small squadron of staffers will be busy doing all the things a small business person might: folding clothes, schmoozing customers, working the till, and making sure everyone shows up for their shift on time.

While the location is pretty -- the Bow River rolls by just out the back door, and there's shade -- running a booth in the arts market is a lot more like running a business than hanging at a laid-back music festival.

The folks in the arts market aren't the only ones preoccupied by things other the music, either.

Besides arts market booths, there are food vendors, booths run by various non-profits, security personnel, festival volunteers, folk fest staff members, beer tent people and the police, all of whom spend a weekend trying to ensure that everyone who isn't working has a fun weekend at the event.

The one thing they all share is a folk festival experience that's largely music-free.

While Butterfly relishes the thought of kicking off her boots and kicking back to listen to a few sets of live music over the weekend, her festival reality is a little less idyllic than that.

"I tried last year, to go to a (folk festival) after party and it was like, robot dancing," she says. "All I was thinking about was what I've got to do the next day, so I don't even really enjoy it. I find it hard to walk away from the booth and go, 'OK, see you guys!' I just can't relax. I'll go and sit there and think, 'OK, I think I should go and lay by the booth.' "

Butterfly isn't alone there.

For more than a decade, the Nagpals, Saroj and husband Ashwani, who operate the India Palace food vendor, have been loading up their trailer and making the drive from Winnipeg to sell their popular butter chicken and other Indian dishes.

It's the first stop of an India Palace Alberta tour that also includes the Edmonton Folk Festival and that city's fringe fest.

While the Nagpals spend a large chunk of their summer at hip music festivals, that doesn't necessarily translate into seeing much of any of them.

For one thing, none of India Palace's food is prepared ahead of time.

"Everything we have to do (prepare) on the site, and it takes a little bit of time," says Ashwani.

For the Nagpals, a division of labour helps keep the epic lineups outside their trailer moving steadily. As Saroj supervises serving meals, Ashwani trains and supervises food preparation. "He trains all the chefs and cooks, and then he walks around," says Saroj.

While there isn't much opportunity for the Nagpals to hear much music, one year did produce a pleasant surprise: an Indian band.

"They were here from Rajistan, from India," says Ashwani. "They were playing right in front of our booth when it was the opening ceremony and we just know that because my wife studied in Rajistan.

"We look after them," he adds, "because when they're from the same country ... and you meet them in a country far away (from home), you feel so good."

For Big Rock beer community development manager Tom Stuart, Calgary's folk festival is just one stop in a summer series.

The week prior to Calgary's festival, Stuart was in Vancouver for their fest. The week before that, was Winnipeg. After Calgary, he's off to Edmonton, for the folk fest and fringe, as well.

Who buys the most beer?

"Out of the 12 folk festivals we do across the country, Calgary would be number two," Stuart says.

No. 1? "Edmonton," he says. "They like to consume up there. But," he adds, "Winnipeg and Vancouver are close behind."

It might sound like a dream job to some, but being a festival beer man doesn't sound anywhere near as much fun as sitting around in the Big Rock beer garden actually is for festival-goers.

"We help the (folk fest) volunteers set up the beer garden," Stuart says. "And helping them during the crazy busy times, because as you know it gets crazy down there.

"We have a ton of kegs on the island at any given time so we just have to make sure we don't run out and the beer just keeps flowing."

What doesn't tend to flow are the tunes. "We do have a stage right next to the beer garden, so you do get to hear (a bit of) it, but it's pretty tough to actually sit there (to listen) for a full set."

For Stuart, and hundreds of others, the real party starts once the folk festival ends on Sunday night.

"Monday, we take the day and clean up," he says. "Then we go have a few beers and go home."

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 Opposing world views find harmony at folk fest

By Steven Hunt, Calgary Herald, July 25, 2010

Imagine a world without singer-songwriters. Imagine no sensitive guys, bangs hanging in their eyes, singing songs about injustice and making eyes at the sweethearts down front.

Imagine no quirky gals trying to stretch too many adjectives and images into a single lyric because Joni Mitchell did, and she's the queen.

Today, the final day of the Calgary Folk Festival, it's a fair bet that our city has been invaded by more singer-songwriters than any other major metropolitan area in the country.

Just take a stroll through the grounds at Prince's Island Park. You'll find them everywhere.

There's Rastafarian White Guy, with the knit cap on his head, humming No Woman, No Cry as the sweat pours down his forehead because it's 28 degrees, which is really bad weather to wear a knit cap in.

There's the Feist-wannabe, singing something that sounds like a cross between a kid's jingle and a Sylvia Plath poem about the futility of everything, even if you do own a lovely cottage in the English countryside.

There's Stompin' Tom straight-shooting guy, the Handsome Guy With Good Hair Who has Mistaken his Good Looks for Actually Having Something to Say, and that 21st-century folk festival staple: the Angry Environmentalist (Who Hates Greedy, Polluting, Profiteering Corporations)

Sometimes, they're all three: Straight Shooting Handsome Guy With Good Hair Who Hates the Oilsands.

Some of these singersongwriters you will see today on Prince's Island are amazing. Others are at least attractive and charming. A few are funny.

And guess what? After sitting around on the grass for 14 or 15 hours in the sun, and drinking a few too many Big Rocks in the folk fest's lovely, idyllic beer garden, and chowing down on some India Palace butter chicken and naan bread, pretty soon it all becomes one big, pleasurable singer-songwriter blur.

Relax. It's a folk festival.

It's your one shot at a little old-time acoustic bliss in a 21st-century life engulfed by buttons.

For one weekend a year, our city gets to pull on its tri-coloured knit caps, lock arms with the oilsands exec sitting next to you, and river dance under the moonlight for a few hours.

Sure, it's mildly un-Calgarian. This year, we've barely had a moment to shove the cowboy boots and white hat back in the closet in time to drag out the Birkenstocks and cutoffs -- and where did I put that hacky sack again?

But that's the beautiful irony of a folk music festival that takes place on an urban island, within spitting distance of the very same corporate palaces many of these singer-songwriters are busy heaping scorn, or at least angry metaphors on.

Human beings are just contradictory creatures.

I'd like to see some 21st century folk classics written, too. It's never too late for some new man or woman of the people to rise up (on the Enmax Mainstage!) and capture the spirit of an age.

For example, where's the Springsteen acoustic tune about the grind of flying coach? (Tough for The Boss to write that from his private jet as he flies to daughter Jessica's latest horse-jumping competition.)

Where's that haunting, metaphor-laden, melancholic Joni ballad about the bittersweetness of seeing your ex update their Facebook relationship status to single?

The social humiliation of having almost no Twitter followers at all?

Would you believe a Jim Croce song about Bad, Bad Goldman-Sachs?

I still love Billy Bragg's songs about being a union man. I just don't really know anyone who is one anymore, because all the unions got smashed to bits by the time I got steady employment.

(And if any of you singersongwriters with good hair really wanted to win some love around here, you wouldn't sing songs about hating the oilsands. You'd sing songs about the day the glut of natural gas ends, so the price of the stuff goes back up to a respectable level.)

Whatever. Truth be told, I still look forward to the folk festival, no matter what the songs are about. It's just nice to sit in the shade, on some grass, while off in the distance, someone, somewhere, is making music. Maybe that's the best political statement of them all.

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 Folk fest a wonder of culture

By Kelly Doody, Calgary Herald, July 25, 2010

Photo gallery for this story at:

With more than $1.3 million of spending generated on-site, $3 million generated off-site and another $800,000 in tourist dollars flowing into the rest of Alberta as a result of the fabulous four-day event we call folk fest, the words "positive economic impact" seem appropriate. But more importantly, it seems, is what the Calgary Folk Music Festival gives back to those who attend.

Whether one of the thousands of families with babies in strollers and toddlers on piggyback, gangs of girlfriends stretched out on the lawn or elderly couples perched in the shade listening to Corb Lund and Annie Lou, from their hearts to their souls to the bottoms of their bare feet, it's no secret that tourists and locals alike love this folk fest.

Helping make the 31st annual event happen this year are the festival's 1,800 amazing volunteers. Among them, Breakfast Television's gregarious Glenn Stevenson, who summed up his nine seasons as a big-hearted volunteer by saying, "I live for this. This is absolutely the most exciting place in the city to be."

And like the army of volunteers who make staging such a spectacular music, art, food and culture festival possible, the ongoing support from a lengthy list of sponsors is what brings it all to life.

Take Meyers Norris Penny, for example, sponsoring the fest for more than 20 straight years, and a company whose past board of directors chairman Gregg Ferguson claims is both worshipped and revered among the folk fest folks.

Thursday night's opening reception paid homage to the many sponsors, volunteers, musicians and board members in the private artist's lounge on Prince's Island, but on behalf of the masses that get to take in the outdoor weekend of wonder year after year, a rousing standing ovation.

 Calgary Folk Fest balancing act brings success, criticism

By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald, July 26, 2010

The Calgary Folk Music Festival is not the most obvious target for the anti-corporate crowd.

But according to artistic director Kerry Clarke, there are some who feel the music love-in has made a few too many concessions in its 31st year. Apparently, it's become too uptight, too organized and has too many rules.

There was even something called Oopfest set up in a Bedouin tent outside the entrance, acting as a rather polite and unobtrusive illegitimate cousin to the folk fest; a self-styled "folk fest outside the folk fest,"

"We've come of age," says Clarke. "I see it as a sign of success."

Clarke doesn't have to be coaxed to bring up the criticism. She is refreshingly frank on a Sunday afternoon when gauging the success of the event.

Despite the Herculean efforts and organizational miracles required to launch such a festival -- 67 acts, 40 workshops, 120 unique performances -- Clarke says she is waiting for feedback from the audience before making a ruling herself.

Certainly, all signs point to a successful weekend. The weather co-operated. Friday and Saturday were sellouts.

At most, the festival might fall short of a sellout by up to 1,000 tickets for the entire weekend, Clarke said. While that is hardly a failure, she says the lack of "name" acts this year may have been why the festival didn't completely sell out.

"I think our audience gives us a lot of leeway," Clarke says. "Maybe if we had Blue Rodeo or Great Big Sea we would have sold out. But it's always a balance."

And the last night of the folk fest was indeed an interesting balancing act. Iconic R&B singer Roberta Flack, the headliner whom Clarke calls the only "household name" on the roster this year, was preceded by up-and-coming American indie buzz act, St. Vincent.

It's likely few people knew who Konono No. 1 were, but they managed to fill the dance area fairly early on, which isn't always easy for the main stage opener. This collective from the Democratic Republic of Congo is nothing if not a party band, engaging in rhythmic marathons with various percussion, police whistles, bursts of harmonious singing and some sort of thumb piano made of scrap metal, all piped through a curious amplification system that looked like it was cobbled together at a junk shop.

Scottish instrumental band Peatbog Faeries generated some respectable heat, and kept the dance floor lively, as another leftfi eld main stage choice. Bagpipes, fiddle and blasts of R&B horns made for celebratory noise. St. Vincent, the stage name of Annie Clark, countered with a sophisticated, layered sound that mixed flowing strings, distorted guitar and off -kilter pop sensibilities.

Which left Flack, who was in fine voice and good humour. Flack came with an elegant and impressive band and no small dose of star power. But, for better or worse, it brought the festival to a decidedly quiet finale. Offering one of her biggest hits, Tonight I Celebrate My Love, and a soaring version of Bob Marley's No Woman No Cry early on, Flack was classy and professional. After a weekend of dancing, maybe the audience could use a rest.

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