Calgary Folk Music Festival 2018

Story by Jesse Shire
Photo by Will Geier

For most people, myself included, attending a music festival is an opportunity to remove yourself from everyday routine while being surrounded by friends and colleagues in a setting that allows for formality and pretense to erode, especially considering the presence of beer gardens, warm weather, and tens of thousands of other music lovers. It’s a freeing – and often boozy – experience, and, in all the years I’ve attended the Calgary Folk Music Festival, it seems everyone, from newcomers to decades-long veterans, swear that it’s one worth having year in and year out.

So what makes it so appealing?

When one thinks folk music, they often conjure images of banjos and bearded dudes with acoustic guitars and swelling three-part harmonies. Well, they aren’t wrong; this festival features those in spades, but I’d wager they wouldn’t include rowdy indigenous electronic-dance DJs (complete with over 20,000 people partying their faces off), female-driven vocal jazz from the heart of Mexico, dream-like looped violin soundscapes that make you question your lucidity, 70’s inspired roots-rock that wouldn’t be out of place at in your dad’s record collection, or even California MCs who got rolling in the heyday of hip-hop and haven’t stopped since. I’d have to think that this year’s iteration continuing the ongoing trend of the CFMF booking acts that fall outside of, or rather, broaden the definition of what constitutes folk music is a huge reason why so many people highlight this weekend on their calendars.

Kerry Clarke and Co., if you’re reading this, seriously good work. Le sel de la vie.

That aforementioned variety is a testament to the power of how one can find an artistic identity, and, by extension, a conduit for authentic expression, through all kinds of mediums. In fact, as an occasional performer myself, I can say that if I’m not playing something that I like – something I believe in – then chances are the audience won’t like it either. To get to the level of being able to travel the country or the globe to play at festivals such as ours to engage and entertain thousands upon thousands of people, year after year, means that these artists are probably giving us more than just a piece of themselves.

It’s not easy committing to being a musician, and the largest validation one can get is knowing that your art positively affected someone’s life. I got the chance to sit down with nine different artists over the weekend (Hannah Epperson, Altameda, Reuben & the Dark, Scenic Route to Alaska,  Leeroy Stagger, Ahi, Mipso, Mariel Buckley, and The Barr Brothers – seriously, check all of these amazing folks out) and, through our conversations, they all seemed to agree that, in order to make something sustainable, it has to be done authentically, and to make something authentic you have to draw on your experiences and influences, and many of those, in one way or another, have probably been shared by countless other people. It doesn’t matter if you’re one person with a guitar singing for a room of people, or a seven-piece band playing for several thousand, there has to be a connection.

I’d like to think that the 50,000+ who attended this year would agree with me when I say that it’s the artists, and their willingness to share a part of themselves, which keep us coming back.