Bruce Cockburn, Jayhawks, Fishbone among Calgary Folk Festival highlights
Interesting. Eclectic. Brave. Challenging.
There really are only so many words to describe the annual announcement of the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s lineup, so many terms to encapsulate what the weekend will undoubtedly bring.
Perhaps, as always, it’s best to let the person responsible for the hot, wonderful mess explain herself.
“I think some festivals program in the middle and I sometimes like to program on the edges,” says longtime fest artistic director Kerry Clarke.
On the edges. That’s about right. A fairly apt way of sorting out this year’s slate of artists, which was announced in full Wednesday afternoon at the festival’s new home and hall in Inglewood.
That even includes this year’s headliners, which features little by way of star-power but a great deal in the way of bright lights and true, respected artists such as: Folk legend Bruce Cockburn; American alt country pioneers The Jayhawks; national singer-songwriter treasure Rufus Wainwright; veteran funk-punkers Fishbone; indie songbirds Jill Barber and Basia Bulat; Grammy-winning folk artist Patty Griffin; Minneapolis nu folkers Trampled By Turtles; mulit-instrumentalist Andrew Bird and his latest project the Hands of Glory; blues maniac Matt Andersen; and Canuck supergroup Hydra, featuring local lady made good Leslie Feist.
“We’re not going for the lowest-commo- denominator, everyone’s-heard-of-them kind of artists,” Clarke says of the crew. “But we do have ones that certainly would, even if you haven’t heard of them, they would appeal to you and they probably won’t scare you. Like Yamantaka//Sonic Titan.”
Ah, yes. The Yamantaka//Sonic Titan situation — one that represents perhaps the most adventurous booking Clarke and the fest have brought us. A fave at Sled Island a couple of years ago, the Polaris Prize shortlisted Canadian art-noise, metal-pop collective push the idea of folk music, and some might say music itself, to the outer limits.
But Clarke is confident that the Island faithful will welcome them with open ears, or at the very least, appreciate the intention behind their inclusion.
“We’ve got a really diverse audience with open minds,” she says. “I’m really privileged that I’m able to do that with our programming.”
Other highlights of the 35th anniversary edition of the fest include: Deep Dark Woods, Old Man Luedecke, Great Lake Swimmers, Amos Lee, Mary Gauthier, Sam Carter, Seun Kuti, Doug Paisley, Mo Kenney and Little Miss Higgins and the Winnipeg Five.
As always, there’s also an impressive collection and cross-section of local acts including Chad VanGaalen, Astral Swans, Kenna Burima, Hello Moth and, famous transplant, Art Bergmann.
And, in one of the more notable and noticeable themes in this year’s lineup, there’s a huge Aboriginal component, something Clarke is rather proud of.
“It should be a regular thing anyway with a folk festival,” she says. “Because if you’re looking into the history and you cover the musical and cultural realities of Canada, obviously Aboriginal people are a big part of that and a founding part of that.
“So I think it makes sense, period.”
The focus, though, was spurred on visits she took to Australia over the last couple of years and saw first-hand some of that country’s talent. It’s well represented on the schedule by acts including Thelma Plum, Glenn Skuthorpe, Frank Yamma, and musician Roger Knox who will joined by fest friend Jon Langford and his band the Waco Brothers.
Turning things back to the North American indigenous peoples, there are an impressive and also diverse collection of artists, including Eya-Hey Nakoda, A Tribe Called Red, Leonard Sumner, Nick Sherman and Martha Redbone.
Again, Clarke says it’s all programming par for the course and what makes the folk festival the unmissable event it is.
“I think what it does is show that our festival is different from the other festivals in town, we really have a depth,” she says. “We’re bringing in hip-hop, we’re bringing Aboriginal artist, we’ve got two artists from South Korea this year. So I think that’s what differentiates us from other fine festivals in this city. I love that we’re able to do that.”
And do it at all. Especially in light of last year’s flooding which damaged Prince’s Island to the extent that the festival was considered in danger.
But, perhaps because of the importance that many, including our mayor, place on the yearly musical celebration, the entire community — the City, volunteers and even the musicians — rallied around it, helped get it up and running, putting on what may actually have been one of the most successful events of its 35-year history.
“It was quite a positive thing, in the end,” says Clarke of the outpouring of support.
“But we’re always planning to go ahead one way or another. And that’s what we’ll do this year, too.”
Calgary Folk Music Festival
Runs July 24-27 on Prince’s Island Park. Early bird tickets go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. from calgaryfolkfest.com.