Jason Markusoff, Metro Calgary: ex-alderman Joe Ceci now mayor of Folk Island
Tonight, thousands of sandal-wearing types don wristbands and lay out tarps on Prince’s Island for the Calgary Folk Music Festival. Great music, good vibes, beer in compostable cups and bison chili on reusable plates — it’s a special jurisdiction in Calgary for four days where the key bylaw is no loud cellphone ringers at side stages and secondary tarp-suites are permitted as long as the chairs meet permitted heights.
Here, Mayor Naheed Nenshi cedes power to the mighty folkfest board, whose first-term chair is Joe Ceci, who retired as Ward 9 alderman in 2010. This volunteer role involves monthly meetings, and, as I learned in this interview, no preferential parking.
Hall Monitor: What’s the difference between being Ward 9 alderman and being Mayor of Folk Fest Island?
Joe Ceci: As the Mayor of Festivalville? I think the difference is people are united in their love of the festival and by extension, hopefully me. It’s not a lot of hassle. This (weekend) is a culmination of all the work that the administration, staff and the board have been doing for the year leading up to it. So it’s a time for us to enjoy and kind of reap, hopefully, the rewards of all the hard work.
HM: Who are you most looking forward to seeing this weekend?
JC: Ooh, I like them all, but you know…. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, I love. I love their music. I like that sort of sound. So there’s lots of people who are doing that. Whitehorse is really good. Randy Newman, I’ve never heard or seen. Anyone where there’s roots or Americana, jangly guitar music, that’s where I’ll be.
HM: Do you feel like you’re in a political role?
JC: Yes, in a way – representing the festival to other orders of government, if needed; trying to strategize around ways to present the festival to those same orders of government and people there. So yeah, it feels political – the advice I’ve been able to share, I think, is around that and how to present ourselves and things to do and I get called on to help the festival, so yeah.
HM: I understand the folk festival is better catered than City Hall.
JC: Well, I would never run down on the beautiful sandwiches and meals at City Hall. Of course we have the food mall, or runway where all the food’s at. And the volunteers, they are all treated really well with nourishing, wholesome, organic food. Not that that’s for me, but just for the 1,600-plus volunteers that are going to be there for their shifts.
HM: Do you have to stand in line? Do you have to run with the tarps or does the mayor of Festivalville get the good treatment?
JC: Nope. It’s egalitarian-ville. So if I do get there a little early, they make you stand on the sidelines and about three-quarters of the field will fill up before they let the running of the volunteers happen on the side.
HM: So are there any perks? At least at City Hall you got a parking spot.
JC: No parking spot. I’m bringing my bike each day, and I’m going to do that. There’s no mayor’s parking spot for the bike, I can tell you. I just have to grab a spot in the (racks) there. There’s perks. Maybe the perks are standing backstage in the green room and talking to people.
HM: Don’t you get to do that as an alderman?
JC: Yeah, I guess. If you had a certain pass, you could.
HM: What’s the biggest challenge? You don’t have to worry about potholes – rain puddles, but not potholes.
JC: I don’t know if there is a biggest headache. I have to take some shifts with the rest of the board to be around when artists want to get paid out. So you have to be a little bit on call, I guess, and tend to the requests when they come in from administration. But they’ve done such a great job it’s not onerous, I don’t think.
What’s the biggest challenge? Coming up with answers to, ‘Who you lookin’ forward to?’ That’s the biggest challenge.
HM: That’s a hard life.
JC: Like a father, I have no favourites. They’re all my children.