by Spencer Brown
Every July, Prince’s Island Park hosts one of Calgary’s ultimate summer activities: The Calgary Folk Music Festival (CFMF). The CFMF is as necessary as ice cream, suntan lotion and mowing the lawn, more fun than yard chores and with better music then your neighbour’s back yard.
The festival has existed for over 30 years and relies on more than 1600 volunteers, some who have been around for much of the festival’s history. And if the volunteer numbers seem impressive, that’s nothing compared to the audience. Around 50,000 people get their folk on each year. Folk Fest deserves being called an “Urban Oasis” for putting the population of a small city (not including volunteers, vendors and bands) onto Prince’s Island Park and, thanks to the festival’s green policies, leaving it untouched.
On the green note: bottled water is not available at Folk Fest. Bring your own or purchase a drink on the grounds. Carpooling is encouraged, although the scenery along the river while walking or biking beats being stuck in a car. Waste is recycled or composted when possible. Finally, to offset your carbon footprint, you can pick up a tree on Saturday to plant where you like. If you want to hug it, well, that’s your choice.
Vendor-wise, if you’ve ever thought “This farmer’s market would be so much more awesome on an island!” you’ve been granted your wish. Just like the musical lineup, the foods and crafts available are multicultural and come from many corners of the globe. It’s possible to fill yourself full of many kinds of delightfully unique food. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to the food almost as much as the music. The crafts vendors also feature handmade goods that, like many of the aspects of Folk Fest, you can only find here. Of course, there’s also the beer garden. I’m positive that for every hour lost here during Folk Fest, a friend has been made.
Now that I’ve covered all that, let’s talk about what we came here for: the music. Never heard of some of the artists on the lineup? Don’t worry – most people haven’t. Thanks to Folk Fest’s stellar programming, you can be sure that you’ll walk away with some new favourite bands as well as some bands you can cross off your bucket list.
The main stage features the festival’s most well-known acts, who, thanks to the PA system and video screens, are easily heard and seen even from the beer garden. The hidden gems of the Folk Fest, though, are the “workshops” where artists collaborate. Absolutely, positively worth abandoning your tarp for, because seeing these bands play with one another will likely never, ever happen again. These are the kinds of experiences that festival-goers talk about for many years, and rightly so. You’ll only get one chance to experience the wonders of these bands playing off each other.
I’ve covered a myriad of reasons to love the Calgary Folk Music Festival. The bands, workshops, vendors, food, green footprint and atmosphere are why I’ve kept going back year after year, and why I’ll keep going. Just like all of the folks before me, and all of the folks after me.
The Calgary Folk Music Festival runs July 26 - 29 at Prince's Island Park. Tickets are sold out, but you can try your luck on the festival's ticket swap board. For more information, visit CalgaryFolkFest.com.
Spencer Brown is a Calgary 2012 Cultural Ambassador. You can find him on Twitter at @MyLeatherJacket.