Get ready to folk out

By Andrew Ross

“Hello out there, we’re on the air, it’s hockey night tonight…”

While the coming hockey season may never happen, there is at least one place you can expect to hear the familiar refrain of The Hockey Song again this year: at the Folk Fest, headlined by none other than Stompin’ Tom Conners. The 25th anniversary edition of the annual Calgary Folk Music Festival kicks off tonight at Prince’s Island Park.

According to Festival Artistic Director Kerry Clarke, for those who have never been to Folk Fest, it is a “really big wonderful community event where you discover lots of music. It’s kind of like how the world should be for four days.”

After 25 years, one might think the festival has pretty much covered everything. “Every year people say, ‘what’s new this year,’” reassures Clarke, host of CJSW’s Alternative To What? “Well there’s 60 artists, and a lot of it is new, and the way they’re going to play together, and the sounds that will result, is new every year.”

Not to mention the day-to-day excitement of the seating arrangements. Fans are encouraged to bring a tarp or blanket to sit on, and you just try to show up early enough to stake out a good spot on the grass; but when the next day rolls around, the slate is wiped clean and everyone has to find a new spot. That shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the show, as the festival should delight.

“We’re doing quite a few special things,” gushes Clarke. “We have photos in our program book from our history, we’re doing fireworks on Thursday night, right after Stompin’ Tom ends, and we’ve got an archive tent on site. We’ve brought back some artists who have played over our history.”

Clarke has been the Artistic Director for the last 11 years, since she was brought in to replace Rick Bell. But things haven’t always been so consistent, as Clarke attests.

“It started out as the Good Time Traveling Medicine Show, started by a fellow who started a lot of the western festivals, Winnipeg and Vancouver and Edmonton, and it started in conjunction with our 75th anniversary of Alberta.”

The fledgling Calgary Folk Club quickly took over the festival and continued it as an annual event. The festival switched weekends frequently in the early years. “It rained quite a bit,” explains Clarke,”they tried to hide from the rain and the rain kept following them.”

In 1998, the festival was moved up to coincide with the Olympics, and was not held at Prince’s Island that year. The following year consistency was established when a new society, the Folk Festival Society of Calgary, was formed to run the event.

The festival has taken place on the fourth weekend of July ever since, and has been a four-day event for several years now. Winding down her whirlwind history lesson, Clarke notes, “[the festival has] continued to attract more artists of a greater diversity of artists and some headliners, and expanded our audience, and here we are.”

Here’s to another 25 years.

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