Calgary Folk Music Festival, Jessica deMello, National Post, August 1, 2009

Posted by on 6 August 2009

The quiet, urban, tree-lined oasis known as Prince's Island Park was transformed last weekend for the 30th Calgary Folk Music Festival.

 As dozens of happy sun-soakers floated by in rafts on the Bow River, thousands of people lined up for hours in the early morning heat to secure a spot for their tarp or camping chair on the island's largest field. Space secured, the tarps and blankets before the main stage were abandoned in a cheerful mosaic while their owners wandered around the island. Main stage shows began at 6:00 pm every night of the four-day festival, and there was a lot to see otherwise.

There was a large grassy area with picnic tables and picnickers. There was a row of small white kiosks manned by everyone from the Green Party to the Grey Cup, and another filled with vendors selling bamboo didgeridoos, handmade clay teapots, leather purses, clothing, and more. And as one strolled through the island, there was music.

Stage one - sponsored by Ship and Anchor Pub - was close to the arts market and one of the free water dispensers, behind which a row of food trucks were positioned. Meals - from pizza to oyster burgers to butter chicken - were served on heavy plastic plates from Enmax, which could be redeemed at various places around the island for two dollars. The forks and cups were biodegradable, and there was composting. Stage two, slightly further down the path, hosted 60 year old legendary Celtic folk signer Dick Gaughan among others.

On all six stages during the weekend afternoons, artists were thrown together for an hour of improv and jamming. Stage 3 - the Field Law stage - featured Ontarians Steven Page(former front man for the Barenaked Ladies), Sarah Harmer, Justin Rutledge and the Good Lovelies together in a set called "The Young and the Restless", while Stage 6 - the Broken City stage - featured an edgier, electro-acoustic group including Calgary's ownChad VanGaalen, Montreal's Kid Koala, Toronto's Esthero and American Emily Wells. The group met for the first time five minutes prior to stepping on stage. The result was a haunting and unpredictable set that kept a sweltering audience in their grassy seats.

Musical highlights came from both the main stage - Arrested Development and The Decemberists provided consecutive knock-out, jaw-dropping, and thoroughly original sets which brought a lounging crowd quickly to its feet; they were opened by another excellent performance from British rockers Gomez - and the more obscure.

Stage 4 - the Local 510 stage - gave its audience plenty of grass to sit on, even a little hill beside the stage, and a good view of the impressive collection of bicycles housed in a gated depot. Here, too, were some surprising and entertaining performances. The Tom Fun Orchestra Cape Breton, Nova Scotia riled the crowd with their aggressive punk folk songs, underscored with traditional fiddle, brassy trumpet, and teasing accordion, enveloped in lead signer Ian McDougall's whiskey-Waits-and-Springsteen voice and wildly beautiful back-up vocals from Carmen Townsend.

Published in National Post, August 1 2009