Calgary Folk Music Festival: Spotlight on Hannah Epperson

Story by Jesse Shire
Photo by Sara Kuefler

Music, as an artform, has been an integral part of the human experience for longer than our recorded history has allowed us to remember. We’ve seen storytellers, cultural leaders, creative pioneers, and community heroes help give definition to our lives and identities in ways we’ve otherwise been unable to. The musician has always been a conduit to the indefineable, and, in the past decade or so, the advent of the internet has allowed music to be more accessible than ever, both to the musician and the listener, so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing those who eschew the paradigm of popularity make waves and find an audience simply by speaking their truth.

Hannah Epperson is one of those people.

Meeting in a bustling, noisy beer garden at the Calgary Folk Music Festival might not seem like the most obvious way to really get to know someone, but there’s something to be said about embracing the anonymity it provides, especially when within a minute of introducing yourself you get a firm, honest hug and start talking about existentialism. Coming into the interview, I thought I had prepared by learning as much about Epperson as I could, but the internet can only provide so much. I was familiar with her Andrew Bird-meets-Joni Mitchell-meets-Tanya Tagaq-looped-violin paired with ethereal vocals and lyrics highlighting perspectives and struggles most might not be tuned into. I also knew she was a champion-level ultimate frisbee player. Because why wouldn’t she be?

The New York-via-Vancouver-via-Salt Lake City based violinist is quick to engage and dive into conversations about that which she finds important, mainly socially-progressive ways of being and how to make life better for people through art and community. We spoke at large about the value of folk festivals, and how their success and popularity are the embodiment of a larger communitarian ethos, and how we can learn from what they teach us about society’s motivations; about how living in a vacant, slightly dilapidated house north of Brooklyn and spending all your time reading political theory after coming back from a lengthy European tour makes being in busy public spaces (such as a large Canadian folk festival) a little jarring; how inspiration breeds inspiration, and supporting those who inspire you will lead to more people being inspired, which is her case meant canvassing for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (woo!), and about how people inherently love feeling alive, and we should do all we can to allow ourselves and others to be able to sink into that joy. (Also how ludicrously lucky we are to have beer and coffee so readily available).

Her beliefs are obvious when watching Epperson perform. I caught three of her shows during the festival, and her genuine demeanor and candor that defined our meeting was immediately recognizable in her stage presence and music. She often begins by playing a simple looped phrase on her violin, and within seconds has effortlessly transformed it into a swelling musical cacophony with layered vocals and jazz-inspired drums. Her lyrics are infused with the same social consciousness that defined our conversation; she speaks from her experience, as well as the experiences of people who might not have as visible a platform as she does. It’s an intoxicating and transporting experience.

I’m not certain when she’ll be out our way next, so in the meantime I highly recommend checking out her deput LP, Upsweep. Hopefully it’ll inspire a little more authenticity for you.