Zoey Duncan, Open File: A side of comedy with your folk? Festival adds comedians to 2012 line up

Posted by on 26 July 2012


Think 'Calgary Folk Music Festival' and one typically conjures images of a sun-baked crowd swaying to acoustic sounds and choir-like harmonies, the always amusing Running of the Tarpies and the awkward office drone-turned-weekend-hippie dance moves. 

But this year, a new element will generate additional entertainment, and laughs, on Prince's Island Park: professional comedians.

The Apache Talk Tent will host a series of stand-up comedians, improv comics and storytellers in its solar-powered home near the playground on the island 

"It's an experiment for us," says festival spokesperson Johanna Schwartz. "It's the first year we're doing something like this. Judging on the amount of turnout that Sled [Island] had for the comedy shows that they did this year, I think it's something that's in Calgarians' minds."

Schwartz, a self-professed "comedy nerd," pushed the idea as a to complement other conversation-based, not-quite-music performances happening this year at the Apache Talk Tent.

The first is Walking Woody's Road, a conversational biography in celebration of the 100th anniversary of American folk singer Woody Guthrie's birth. Well-schooled folkies will know Guthrie's best-known song, the classic "This Land is Your Land."

Additionally, frequent festival performer Richard Flohil was asked to encourage some of this year's artists to share their tales of life on the road, "the hard-knock life of a working musician," Schwartz says. Nine different groups will join him for two instalments of Flohil's War Stories.

Unlike the typical Calgary folk fest stages, which are wide open to allow large crowds to enjoy the music, the Apache Talk Tent will have walls for a more intimate experience (and to block out the noise of any nearby bagpipers). And for comedians performing for a less-traditional comedy crowd, that will be important, says local comedy veteran Cory Mack.

"There are no barriers to the audience receiving the full entendre or meaning," she says of daytime comedy. "There's bigger impact because you're not fighting so many distractions that you would in a bar... It's not bar comedy. There's nothing wrong with bar comedy, because that's what you're doing when you're at the bar and the comedy should be written for that space as well."

And the comedy tent will be family-friendly, at least "for teenagers and up," says Shwartz—so no booze to fuel the laughs.

"The drunker people are, the funnier I get," jokes Donovan Workun of Edmonton's Atomic Improv. Workun and partner Mark Meer will be performing a Saturday afternoon show that is part "super fast-paced, really joke-oriented" improv and part performing sketches they've produced for CBC Radio's The Irrelevant Show.

Along with Mack and Atomic Improv, the tent will host performances from L.A. comic Chris Fairbanks, Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall fame, Quebecois comedian Derek Seguin and the hosts of the CJSW comedy show Am I Right??, all emceed by local comic Jeremy Furlong.

Evan Wilson of Am I Right??, which was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award for best radio show this year, says comedy is a great fit for the folk festival.

"It might seem strange, but I think it fits," he says, listing off other huge music festivals that feature comedians, including Bonaroo in Tennessee and Sasquatch in Washington. "[Considering] how eclectic the folk fest can be, I think this is a really cool thing for them to try to fit into that as well."

Wilson and his co-host Jesse Pruden will have a late-night talk show-style set Sunday afternoon at the festival. Their guests will include comedians McDonald and Fairbanks along with country-punk musician Jon Langford, and folk-pop songwriter Ellis Paul plus a handful of other, unlisted guests.

"The musicians that are on were chosen because they're, like, engaging, funny guys as well, they won't just be playing music," Wilson says. "We've got an hour to do what we want and let's see what sticks. We've found an audience for our show, we could say, so something must work about our spirit of improvisation."

The talk tent runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. See calgaryfolkfest.com for a schedule.