The 5 least folky acts at Calgary Folk Music Festival

Posted by Eric Volmers, The Calgary Herald on 18 July 2014

The 5 least folky acts at Calgary Folk Music Festival.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Photograph by: David McClister

Yes, the Calgary Folk Music Festival showcases folk music. The word is right there in the title. But, like many modern musical events, the four-day celebration of adventurous music has changed with the times.

So if your definition of folk starts and stops with aging, bearded white dudes braying about shipwrecks and the Canadian Shield, some of the acts featured in the lineup for the festival’s 35th year may seem a little puzzling. Granted, it’s not as if it’s a free-for-all.

When it comes to booking, there are some firm boundaries, says artistic director Kerry Clarke. No cover bands, please. “Super mainstream” acts “don’t really make sense” for the festival, either, she says.

You’re unlikely to find pure classical or pure jazz or pure heavy metal acts on any of the stages, although you will often find those who incorporate certain elements of those genres into their sound.

“Our festival has evolved with the evolution of folk music and the evolution of festivals, particularly in the West,” Clarke says. “You can find festivals that are a bit more purist in Ontario. But I think in general we are finding we are evolving with the times. There was a time in our history where we were more folky, but those definitions have amended as we go along. For us, folk is about the vibe and about the atmosphere and the way we treat artists and the way we treat people.”

It’s not as if the genre won’t be present. Mary Gauthier, Bruce Cockburn, Patty Griffin will be on hand to represent the older guard; acts like Andrew Bird, Basia Bulat and Trampled by Turtles will represent the younger, indie-folk side of things.

But there are also acts that seem to owe very little to even the most liberal definition of folk music. Here are the five least folky acts of the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

1. Yamantaka//Sonic Titan

This Toronto-based “performance art collective” dabbles in many a genre, but straight-ahead folk isn’t one of them. The act mixes a heady stew of Asian pop, opera, punk, heavy metal, classical and prog-rock into something that is entirely its own. It’s exciting stuff, sure to both engage and confuse on Prince’s Island this year. The act’s brilliant sophomore disc, UZU, is a good place to start for prep work. PERFORMANCE: Friday, 8:55 p.m. on Stage 4.

2. A Tribe Called Red

The folk fest has always had an admirable mandate to broaden our horizons with music from other cultures, so it’s hardly surprising that this “electric Pow Wow” group from Ottawa is making an appearance. As with Yamantaka, it’s not easy to pigeonhole the band, which fuses hip-hop, reggae, and electronic dance music with traditional First Nations sounds. PERFORMANCE: Friday, 7:35 p.m., Stage 4.

3. Fishbone

It’s fun to imagine what those howling folkies at the Newport Folk Festival who rejected Bob Dylan’s amped-up electric performance would make of these furious, funky and punky veterans on a folk fest stage. The L.A. act, which stirs reggae, funk, metal, punk, ska and political commentary into an alluring mix, does fit nicely into what seems to have become one of the festival’s side mandates: They will make you both dance and think. PERFORMANCE: Friday, 10:30 p.m., Mainstage.

4. Hello Moth

On his website, this Calgary performer intriguingly describes himself as both “soulful and soulless,” creating “alien soundscapes” from a “haunting orchestra of one.” In other words, Valdy he ain’t. Hello Moth’s main instrument of choice, apparently, is the primitive Casio VL-1, a decidedly lo-fi synthesizer from the early 1980s that sounds exactly like a lo-fi synthesizer from the early 1980s. Sure, the one-man-on-stage dynamic may seem folky to a degree, but a quick listen to Hello Moth suggests he is operating in a different universe. PERFORMANCE: Saturday, 10:30 a.m., Stage 2.

5. St. Paul and the Broken Bones

The festival has long been offered space to some of America’s most exciting new soul bands — think Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings in 2007 or Alabama Shakes last year. So it’s no surprise that Clarke and Co. caught this seven-piece soul act from Alabama on an upward trajectory. Geeky-looking singer Paul Janeway has studied at the school of Otis Redding, James Brown and Al Green and his band has earned kudos from Rolling Stone, NPR and Paste Magazine. PERFORMANCE: Thursday, 8:05, Stage 4.