AUX does Calgary Folk Music Festival: Van Etten, My Brightest Diamond stun on day three

Posted by Mark Teo on 28 July 2013













For our third, and final, day of the Calgary Folk Music festival, we opted for a different approach: We went mellow. Instead of running around frantically between sets and negotiating shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of revelers, we decided to go discovery-first—and largely stuck by the Local 510 stage, hosting much of the festival’s up-and-comers. And did it ever pay off: the music we saw today was among our favourites of the festival. Why, you ask? Well, read on.

My Brightest Diamond provided one of the fest’s most energized performances. It’s hard to put a finger on My Brightest Diamond’s music—her songs shapeshift, and live, her chamber pop songs lose much of their subtlety. That’s a good thing, largely—much of the crowd didn’t appear familiar with All Things Will Unwind (or Shara Worden’s collaborations with indie-rock royalty), but she had plenty standing and clapping along by the end of her set. The best joke of her set? “This song’s a bikram yoga remix.”

Sharon Van Etten’s first trip to Calgary ruled. Brooklyn-based Sharon Van Etten’s known largely for the anguish that tinge her songs—the Aaron Desser-produced Tramp was her breakthrough which, amid her lush guitar work, helped bear a soul that was tortured at the best of times. But Van Etten was jovial, clearly enamoured with the experience of playing in Canada—she mentioned multiple times that it was her first time in the city (and hopefully, not her last). The highlight of her set? When she stepped to the front of the stage with an omnichord to perform a wonderful slice of bizarre pop on “Magic Chords.”

The volunteers did an exceptional job. For their time, folk fest volunteers—and they number in the triple digits—receive a few things: Access to all days of the festival, with one day off. A t-shirt. A program. Snacks. After parties, held at a hotel, with special performances (like the one last night, which featured inimitable Dakota throat shredder Samantha Martin). That might seem like a lot (or a little, depending on who you ask), but the fest can’t run without its army of volunteers, who provide everything from security to driving artists around the ground. Kudos to them.

Cat Empire might be one of the folk fest’s best. While the raspy, rebellious Steve Earle would headline the day’s festivities—and, thanks to his numerous years playing the fest, received plenty of Calgarian love—the most energetic set of the day indisputably went to Australia’s Cat Empire. Their so-eclectic-it-just-might-work blend of Latin rhythms, jazz, and hip hop barely stopped to take a breath, and their set was met with columns of dancers enveloping the stage. Heck, a beach ball was even busted out. It was an exercise in diversity, as across the park, Sandro Perri took the stage, blending ambient, jazz, and electronics.

The extra-fest programming was excellent. Our fave act? A workshop with Sarah Neufeld, Wool on Wolves, and Elliott Brood. While the fellas in the Brood would headline Saturday evening’s festivities, they offered up a collaborative—session at Eau Claire Market, which sits directly across from the folk fest’s grounds. We loved the concept—it’s high-quality musical programming for everyone, not only fest-goers. Mellowing out paid off. The fest took on a distinctly different view when taken in from afar, and the beauty of CFMF dawned on us: It’s what you make of it. There’s drinking with pals at the beer gardens, as we mentioned yesterday. There’s the musical divesions (obviously). But we also discovered that it’s completely permissible to show up with a book, as several festgoers did, and let the music fall into the background—which was a fine way to cap off the fest. And there’s more today. The breezy, rich guitars of Kurt Vile will be prominently on display, and, at the time of writing this, we’re already hearing that his workshop with Van Etten wowed. We’re bummed we’re leaving.