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Posted by on 28 April 2011

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From country to funk: Calgary Folk Festival announces lineup for 2011

By Mike Bell, Calgary Herald, April 28, 2011

Always, as the lineup for the Calgary Folk Music Festival begins to take shape, patterns emerge.

Be it singer-songwriters, experimental artists, world music from one particular area or with one particular bent, some sort of theme usually announces itself through careful scrutiny of the dozens of acts and artists who will make their way to Prince’s Island Park in late July.

And for 2011? Well, for some weird reason, the complete list, which was announced Wednesday with a press conference at the Ship & Anchor, has a hint of the infamous honky-tonk scene from 48 Hrs. 

“This year, funnily enough, we seem to be heavy on country and funk,” says the fest’s artistic director Kerry Clarke. “Two very different ends of the spectrum”

Two very different ends with everything in between. The cornucopia of sonic offerings that will be hitting the stages of this year’s event, running July 21-24, will twang down the island with names such as Alberta-born singer k.d. lang and her new band Siss Boom Bang, vocalist Nancy Griffith, and The Flatlanders featuring Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock. Then thing are funked right back up with Parliament Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell and his new outfit SociaLybrium, as well as the Yohimbe Brothers featuring Worrell, former Living Colour founder Vernon Reid and DJ Logic.

That’s merely scratching the surface, though. Other headliners include: Canadian country rock mainstays Blue Rodeo; East Coast pop hero Joel Plaskett; alterna roots star Will Oldham’s Bonnie (Prince) Billy project; emo stars City and Colour; folk icon Buffy Sainte-Marie; famed ska pioneer Ernest Ranglin: and hip-hop jazz biggies The Herbaliser.

“It’s all about variety,” Clarke says. “And I know it sounds cliche but it really is. It’s like Calgary’s weather, if you don’t like it, wait five minutes because there’s some Celtic going on or roots stuff or blues or something completely different, if that isn’t your vibe.”

Some of the lesser-known fare from all across the globe to discover are: Experimental guitarist Joseph Arthur; chamber folk artists Dark Dark Dark; Winnipeg pop act Imaginary Cities; Yiddish hip-hop performer SoCalled; English songwriter Jez Lowe; Polaris Prize-winning Patrick Watson; country blues powerhouse Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band; Americana group The Head and the Heart; Quebec chanteuse Coeur de Pirate; Edmonton rapper Cadence Weapon; and local indie darlings Braids.

Clarke thinks the lineup caters perfectly to those who make the fest an annual summer plan. “I think that music fans are adventurous and I think they’re learning that this is the place where they can have those tastes satisfied.”

She also knows that booking the fest is walking a fine line between that quest for adventure and those who know what they like and want to hear it. That was underscored by last year’s minor dip in attendance as well as the first loss incurred in the past decade — something that can also be explained by the new Inglewood home they’re building as well as other diverse factors, but which is also telling about the fickle nature of a minority of festival-goers.

“I think what it tells us is what we’ve known for a long time that a huge percentage of people are coming for the event itself and really love the event and love the element of discovery. But there will always be the people looking for some of those marquee names and sometimes if the days aren’t quite as strong for (those) it may impact us by 500 or 800 tickets,” she says.

Last year’s closing day featured Peatbog Faeries and Roberta Flack as headliners.

“Sunday last year, I knew, wasn’t as strong, so it is telling, I know that we need to have a couple of marquee artists each day, but also that we’re really lucky that we have the strength of the vibe of the festival, and the diversity is a draw in itself.”

Besides, she says, programming big-name artists poses a problem in itself, namely keeping the festival accessible

“We have a finite number of tickets we can sell, so the sky’s not really the limit. Sometimes people will look at (the lineup) and say, ‘Why don’t you have so-and-so’ — probably someone who plays the Saddledome. And I always say it’s kind of like killing a fly with a sledgehammer. It doesn’t make sense to have somebody that costs us $500,000 to $750,000 and have . . . 67 opening acts on seven stages over four days of programming. It makes more sense to spread it out.

“And we also want to please our loyal people. If we ever got someone so big — say, a Bruce Springsteen or someone — we’d actually probably not announce it, we’d probably have a surprise artist, because we wouldn’t want to . . . not have tickets available for loyal people who love the festival.

So. Wait. The Boss is coming to the Calgary Folk Festival this year?

She laughs. “No, not this time.”

The Calgary Folk Music Festival runs July 21-24 at Prince’s Island Park. Early-bird tickets are available today at
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