AUX does Calgary Folk Music Festival: M. Ward, Alabama Shakes, and flood recovery lead day one

Posted by Mark Teo on 26 July 2013












If you’ve never experienced the Calgary Folk Music Festival, it’s difficult to explain its appeal: The fest has a certain idyll that most other summer bashes don’t. It’s thanks to its diverse programming, sure, but it’s also all about location—it all goes down on an island adjecent to downtown, situated directly on the now-tame Bow River. There’s a lot to do, whether you’re a fan of catching rootsy up-and-comers, going to a riverside splash, or soaking up sun in the beer garden. (And for those who tire or the outdoors, it’s only a bridge’s leap away from downtown.) We’re just getting re-acquainted with the fest, which launched its 2013 edition yesterday—and here are seven standouts from day one.

M. Ward displayed his remarkable flexibility. Thanks to She & Him, M. Ward now can’t be separated from Zooey Deschanel. But when given the chance to flex his solo muscles, he didn’t disappoint, with tracks like the spindly “Sad Sad Song,” the heartfelt “Lullaby in Exile” and the charming “Transistor Radio” bolstering a set that, thanks to his diverse song selection, never faltered. A big plus: unlike his appearance at TURF, cameras were permitted during his set. Apparently, Calgary is far less sensitive to cell-phone photography than Toronto.

The venue cleaned up damn well—and in time. Though the fest had tossed around the idea of changing location—Prince’s Island Park was submerged during the flood and required plenty of cleanup—folk fest volunteers came together to clean up the venue in time for the fest. Though wood chips were laid over contaminated areas and certain parts of the grounds were closed off, the venue cleaned up exceptionally well. Kudos to the fest, we say.

Danny Michel showed his worldly side. The Calgary Folk Fest typically has a strong world-music contingent—which, last night, came from Belize. The Garafuno Collective (above), paired with Danny Michel, played tropical songs from the Blackbirds Are Dancing All Over Me which, surprisingly, had the Ontario singer largely playing a backup role.

The crowd loved Alabama Shakes. As a ominous thunderstorm rolled in—which provided thunder and lightning, but thankfully, didn’t pour—Alabama Shakes delighted the night’s biggest crowd, who stomped along to the band’s organ-driven, R&B-infused Americana. Though admittedly I’m not their hugest supporter, I’ll say this: Brittany Howard’s vocals are a genuine force, and it’s even more evident when witnessed in person.

Calgary’s food trucks are unrivalled. Calgary might have the best food truck culture in Canada—partially because of their inventive offering, but partially because they’re, y’know, legal here. They were in full effect at the folk fest, too, offering up surprisingly affordable plates of Indian, Mexican and perogies to a steady stream of tarpies.

The side stages provided a wonderful diversion to the main stage. Though we spent much of our time glued to the main stage, the fest showed its remarkable depth with its side-stage offerins, even if they were sparsely attended: the whiskey-soaked vocals of Samantha Martin, country mainstay Hayes Carll, and folkie Dan Bern were all on hand, providing a more traditionally roots-based element to the festival.

It prepped us for the rest of the fest—and we can’t wait for the workshops to begin. One of the best parts about the Calgary Folk Fest is that when an artist stalls—or hits a lull in their set—you can veer off to catch a workshop, where the fest pairs configurations of diverse musicians in a jam-out. The workshop we’re looking forward to most today? Evening Hymns with Sandro Perri, with locals songwriter Clinton St. John, formerly of the Cape May, in tow.