Calgary Folk Music Festival ends on high note

Posted by Lisa Wilton on 24 July 2016

Alberta favourite Corb Lund performs on the mainstage at the Calgary Folk Music Festival at Prince’s Island on Sunday, the final day of the annual event. Photo by Mike Drew/Postmedia.

“Careful now, this is a folk festival.”

It was an off-the-cuff comment directed at Bobby Bare Jr. by his chatty keyboardist, Kai Welch, after Bare expressed desire to rock out a bit harder during his fantastic Sunday afternoon set on Prince’s Island Park.

Though it was clearly meant as a joke, Welch’s remark also points to how folk festivals are still seen as a place where troubadours with beat-up acoustic guitars sing angry protest songs and hippies walk around barefoot with flowers painted on their faces.

Granted, that element still exists to some degree, but for many years, the Calgary folk fest has pushed traditional folk fest boundaries.

And with the fourth and final day of the 2016 Calgary Folk Music Festival, organizers continued to alter the definition of a what a modern-day folk festival looks (and sounds) like.

Bobby Bare Jr., for example, was dishevelled, loose and loud during his concert on the Field Law Stage in the beer garden.

At times, he channelled mid-career Rolling Stones and other moments he was impossible to categorize.

Bare Jr. last played Calgary in June when he performed with American indie vets Guided By Voices at Olympic Plaza as part of the Sled Island Music Festival.

So it was a thrill to hear him wrap up his set with that band’s melodic masterpiece, Glad Girls.

He was also a standout during the Idiom Savants session, which included collaborations with Robbie Fulks, Elizabeth Cook and Calgary’s excellent The Northern Beauties.

As is the case every year, some of the best moments of the festival are found on the six side stages spread across the island.

Sunday boasted some brilliant and magical collaborations, including a fun session featuring bilingual New Brunswicker Lisa Leblanc, Toronto roots rockers The Weber Brothers, Montreal-based blues guitarist Cecile Doo-Kingue and local heroes, The Dudes.

Over on the National Stage — the largest of the side stages — popular Alberta songwriters Ian Tyson, Kris Demeanor and Corb Lund joined ‘SoCal Country’ singer Sam Outlaw for an entertaining hour of whiskey-soaked stories and fine-soundin’ country/roots originals.

They were followed by England’s Oysterband, who gave the thinned-out crowd a lively set of Celtic folk-tinged pop-rock. To be fair, much of their audience was huddled underneath trees at the sides of the viewing area trying to escape heatstroke. The band managed, however, to get a little dance party going near the end of the set when they brought out the buoyant, When I’m Up (I Can’t Get Down), made famous in this country by Great Big Sea.

It remained sunny and warm throughout mainstage sets by Ethiopian group Krar Collective, who impressed with their hypnotic rhythms and mesmerizing stage presence.

They were certainly more engaging than Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) who, despite her gorgeous, ethereal vocals and spellbinding songs wasn’t compelling enough to keep the interest of the 12,000 or so people who attended Sunday’s event. As a huge Cat Power fan, it pains me to write that. But her lack of connection with the audience early on in the set made it difficult to care when she did finally did acknowledge the crowd. She sounded great but was tripped up by the wrong venue and setting for her haunting music.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Australia’s The Cat Empire had even the die-hard tarpies up on their feet dancing, blending Latin and ska rhythms with upbeat jazz and a dash of rock.

Lund appeared on stage once again to wrap up the night with his band The Hurtin’ Albertans and their authentic C&W and Waylon Jennings-esque outlaw country numbers.

His affable stage persona and amusing in-between banter charmed the crowd and ended the 2016 festival on a high note.