Calgary sucks; Edmonton rules

Another Calgary summer has come to a close. A summer chock-full of mediocre festivals that no one outside of Calgary cared about. A jazz festival, a folk festival, a Latin festival, an African festival, a Caribbean festival and probably a few more went virtually unnoticed. Let us not forget the fringe festival that almost happened. The folk festival is the only one of the above that truly generates any media excitement. The jazz festival used to, but it ran out of money a couple of years ago and its new incarnation isn’t really that special. The more ethnically-oriented festivals certainly have their merits, but are so numerous that by the end of the season, they’ve all run smack into each other.

As far as folk and fringe festivals go, Edmonton has the market cornered in this province. Calgary comes off looking foolish and uninventive when we attempt to imitate Edmonton’s successful ventures. As far as resources and population go, Calgary and Edmonton are virtual equals, so we should be able to come up with something on our own, shouldn’t we? It’s okay to borrow other people’s ideas, but must we always follow Edmonton?

At the end of every summer, Seattle puts on a festival called Bumbershoot. It’s billed as an arts festival, but revolves primarily around music–rock, jazz, folk, world, country, blues, punk. Bands as diverse as RE.M., Rocket from the Crypt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum played this year’s Bumbershoot. There’s some spoken word thrown in, along with fringe theatre, performance art, and a lot of stuff for the kiddies.

This is what Calgary could achieve if all the small festival-organizing groups put their heads together. There’s already a lot of overlap, the best example being that the Cowboy Junkies played our jazz festival while Colin James and the Little Big Band played the folk festival.

It doesn’t have to stop with music. How many small theatre groups do we have in Calgary? How many of them would benefit from being showcased at a festival of that sort? And the fringe festival, which didn’t quite get off the ground? Throw that into the mix, and we’re already ahead of Seattle.

The venue for such an event might be a bit of a problem. Prince’s Island is the obvious choice, but there might not be quite enough room, although the rest of downtown, especially Stephen Avenue and Olympic Plaza, could be included. Other locales are easily eliminated. The Stampede Grounds has plenty of buildings and locations for stages, but the Stampede Board is made up of selfish children who aren’t likely to share the playground. Spruce Meadows is big enough, and a beautiful area, but not central enough.

I’m no festival organizer myself, but I’m sure the minds behind Calgary’s many currently existent festivals could come up with something if they determined to work together. If we’re really lucky, such a festival could even push the Stampede to the background and get Calgary recognition as something other than a cow town.

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