Have some folk and a smile, Lisa Wilton, Calgary Sun, July 22, 2009

Posted by on 23 July 2009

When Ruth Lund and her husband John volunteered for the Traveling Folk Festival and Goodtime Medicine Show in 1980, they thought it would be a great way to hear some music and meet new people.

When Ruth Lund and her husband John volunteered for the Traveling Folk Festival and Goodtime Medicine Show in 1980, they thought it would be a great way to hear some music and meet new people.

"We were already a part of the local folk scene and it was just a logical extension to support this new festival that was going to happen," she says.

"It was only supposed to be a one-time thing."

Thirty years on, the Goodtime Medicine Show has become the annual Calgary Folk Music Festival, and the Lunds its longest-serving volunteers.

"It's really important to us," says Lund, who has been selling programs and giving out smiles at the front gate for the past decade. "We plan our summers around the festival. The volunteers have become like family. You see people on the street and you're like, 'Where do I know you from? Oh right! The festival.'"

The Calgary Folk Fest has 400 volunteer positions from backstage jobs and transportation to security and ticket sales.

"We're very lucky that we have a waiting list of people who want to help out at the festival," says volunteer co-ordinator Talia Potter.

Potter says she was overwhelmed with the number of applications this year. More than 700 new applicants joined the already long list of previous volunteers vying for the 400 spots.

"The most obvious payback is the free access to the festival site," says Potter. "There is a vibe down at the Folk Festival that you don't get anywhere else in the city. There's a sense of safety and community."

Lund has seen many changes at the festival over the years, the biggest of which is the increase in size and professionalism.

"It was pretty free that first year," she says with a laugh.

"It's also gone from being more local to international acts, which is a good thing."

There are plenty of international acts at the 2009 Calgary Folk Music Festival, which kicks off tomorrow night with headliners Umalali, Iron & Wine and Michael Franti & Spearhead.

Although the festival boasts such world renowned acts as Gomez, The Decemberists, Alejandro Escovedo and Glen Campbell, artistic director Kerry Clarke says she is committed to promoting Canadian and Albertan acts at the Folk Fest.

"At least 50% of the acts we book are from Canada," she says. "And about eight or 10 of those are from Alberta, the majority from Calgary."

This year's local lineup includes The Ramblin' Ambassadors, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, hip hop duo Dragon Fli Empire and Polaris Music Prize nominee Chad VanGaalen.

In addition to mainstage performances, the festival site at Prince's Island Park features six smaller side stages where musicians jam together on Saturday and Sunday starting at 10:30 a.m.

These sessions are very popular as it is a rare chance to see artists collaborate in a spontaneous setting.

Session highlights this year are Global Mashup featuring Tarhana, Labess, Pacifika and Lu Edmonds of the Mekons; Will the Circuit Be Unbroken with VanGaalen; Emily Wells, Kid Koala and Esthero; Leap of Faith featuring Sojourners, The Persuasions, Dry Branch Fire Squad and Kat Danser and Freshly Picked with Steve Dawson; and Ebony Hillbillies, Danny Barnes and Sarah Harmer.

Folk music purists may balk at the inclusion of hip hop acts Arrested Development, Dragon Fli Empire, electronica artist Esthero and turntablist Kid Koala, but Clarke says most Calgary Folk Music Festival fans expect and enjoy the diversity the festival offers.

"Each folk festival has its own flavour depending on the city and the artistic director," she says. "I think our festival, maybe because of my background in campus radio, has been a bit more cutting edge, a bit more indie. We do try to make sure that we keep the diversity and breadth of it because people expect that from us.

"We like to say we have the tradition and the evolution of the tradition."

The Calgary Folk Music Festival runs Thursday through Sunday. For ticket and schedule information visit www.calgaryfolkfest.com or call 403-233-0904.