Five by five - Calgary folk fest's silver anniversary blends new sounds with old favourites

Posted by on 30 July 2004

FFWD Weekly May 13, 2004 - Preview Article by Jason Lewis

For some, The Calgary Folk Music Festival has become the height of summer entertainment – a sort of musical lynchpin anticipated the whole year. This year’s festival promises to be no exception. With a lineup peppered with many familiar favourites, the artists offer a fitting retrospective for the festival that celebrates its 25th anniversary this July on Prince’s Island. <>

"We made more of an effort to bring back some people who had been here in previous years, but it wasn’t necessarily a methodical way of going about it," says Kerry Clarke, festival program director. "We didn’t say, ‘One from each year,’ but we brought back a few more people than we normally bring back."

The festival’s greatest hits collection includes the rump-shaking inspiration of Michael Franti and Spearhead who wowed crowds with their politically minded funk in 2002, the high-energy reels of Great Big Sea and Spirit of the West, the passion of legendary Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan, the gospel-blues of Ruthie Foster and the Celtic cross over of Shooglenifty.

True to form, this year’s new additions cross the globe and break down musical boundaries. The North Mississippi All-Stars bring with them their modern take on electrified blues and legendary Senegal-born vocalist Youssou N’Dour comes complete with a catalog of almost two decades worth of music. The hockey-lovin’ Canadian troubador Stompin’ Tom Connors makes his festival debut and Steve Earle returns to Calgary with his shit-disturbing brand of roots-rock. Closer to home, the festival turns the local spotlight on the funky groove of Urban Divide and the hardworking singer-songwriter Wil.

"We always want to have some headliners, but the beauty of how we program is that we’re privileged to bring in a lot of exciting, interesting people that a lot of people haven’t heard of, because of the format," says Clarke.

While The Weakerthans are known for punk rock, frontman John K. Sampson’s introspective lyrical bent and the band’s use of acoustic and slide guitar will no doubt continue the festival trend of mixing up young punks and old hippies in the audiences. Thea Gilmore, a singer-songwriter from the U.K. who sold 20,000 copies of her CD overseas, but is relatively unknown in Canada has made her Calgary date her only performance in Canada.

The festival’s silver anniversary also marks the launch of the Writer’s Flock series in conjuction with WordFest: Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival. In the works for years, this series will see poets and musicians creating together onstage.

"We looked at people who are really good writers. We looked at having some diversity so there is some humour and some dub poetry and there is some more intellectual poetry. They (aren’t) necessarily performance poets, but they were people… that could be more improvisational and work in collaboration with the music."

In addition to WordFest, the folk fest is also teaming up with the Glenbow Museum, Shakespeare in the Park and the Cantos Music Foundation to expand the festival’s scope.

"We have a fairly large festival, probably the biggest of the summer, besides the Stampede, we have a great site and some of the other arts events are shut down… or not as prominent during the summer," says Clarke. "So this is a way of saying, ‘we have a big space and there’s other groups that can enhance our programming and take advantage of our large crowds and great site.’"

For the complete festival line up visit


The Top Five things about turning 25, according to Calgary Folk Music Festival program director Kerry Clarke:

1. Being able to drink anywhere in the world

2. Having more allowance to spend

3. Increased respect and all the things that come with it

4. You can thumb your nose at all the people who are younger than you

5. You’re mature, but you are still considered a youth