Music community rallied in flood’s wake
No, it wasn’t the day the music died in this city.
But when the flood waters hit a year ago, it certainly quieted a number of local musical events and festivals while also having an affect on others.
Perhaps what most Calgarians were aware of were the cancellations, or rather postponements, of all the big-name summer shows slated for the Scotiabank Saddledome, which was filled with flood water and unusable for a three-month period. That included the Calgary Stampede’s Virgin Mobile concert series, and shows by Carly Rae Jepsen (July 10), Tim McGraw (July 11), the Dixie Chicks (July 12) and Kiss (July 13). All but the show by Canadian pop star Jepsen would eventually be rescheduled for the fall, after the building was repaired, and reopened for a double-date with the Eagles Sept. 11 and 12.
Not so lucky were the organizers of local alternative music and arts festival Sled Island, who saw the event washed out when the flood hit on the Thursday evening. Many of the Beltline, downtown and Inglewood venues were closed, including Olympic Plaza, where there were outdoor concerts set for the Friday and Saturday nights featuring headliners the Jesus and Mary Chain, Explosions in the Sky and Akron/Family.
After having to shuffle shows on the Thursday night to keep things going, Sled organizers were informed early Friday that the City of Calgary had pulled their permit for the plaza. Soon after that, they made the decision to cancel the remainder of Sled Island.
“It was bigger than us,” says Maud Salvi, who had only begun as executive director in February last year. “No Olympic Plaza meant no nothing. And right after that, calling everyone, we learned that more venues on 17th Avenue were shut down, there was no power here and there. At that time it shifted from, ‘OK, we’re really trying to do whatever we can to (save the festival),’ to, ‘Now, it’s another beast we have to deal with. How do we announce the cancellation and contact all of the bands?’ ”
Unlike the Stampede which could reschedule dates and minimize a financial hit, Sled organizers were also forced into putting the seven-year festival in jeopardy by offering refunds for pass-holders. They were heartened, though, when almost 70 per cent of their audience either refused the refund or re-invested it back into Sled, receiving a tax credit. Other arts groups in the city also rallied around it, with the Calgary International Film Festival, Theatre Junction, Calgary Underground Film Festival and others offering passes and tickets as incentive to those declining to take their money back.
As a result, Sled is back this year, June 18 to 22, as if it hasn’t missed a beat.
But if that’s a surprise, the fact that the 2013 Calgary Folk Music Festival took place at all is nothing short of astounding.
The event’s summer home of Prince’s Island Park was completely submerged at the height of the flood and, when the water receded, the damage was extensive, with a large quantity of silt covering much of it, making it unusable. The folk fest’s hope to kick off just over a month later, on July 25, seemed somewhat naive, yet proved not only manageable but necessary.
An accelerated cleanup initiated by City of Calgary officials and the Parks and Recreation Department, and helped, in part, by the festival’s core of incredible volunteers, ensured that the location was ready. Only a couple of minor adjustments were needed, including one stage being moved off the island to a free area in the adjacent Eau Claire area.
Ultimately, the Calgary Folk Music Festival went off as planned, and, as anyone who was there can attest, it quite possibly was one of the best and most memorable in its 35-year history.
“We could never have pulled that off without the City. I know they diverted resources to fix that park first and left some of the others. They could have spread that out,” says Les Siemieniuk, the recently retired general manager of the fest. “But it was important. It was the first weekend the mayor had off — and he actually came and sat on a tarp for four days.... People who’d been cleaning out their houses, cleaning out their neighbours’ houses, it was the first weekend they took off. And I think that’s what it was. It was, ‘You know what, is that all you’ve got?’ ”
He laughs. “Like the Steve Earle song to the river, ‘That All You Got?’ ”