Folk Fest: No Guff untraditionally traditional

By Peter Hemminger

One of the first things most people notice when they walk in the gates of Calgary’s folk fest is the scale of the event. Six side stages, restaurants, markets, thousands of people. It sometimes seems more like a small city than a concert. When local favorites No Guff took the stage this year, the field in front of them underwent another transformation–into the world’s largest back porch blues jam. The duo’s mix of acoustic blues, ragtime, old-time jazz and any other roots flavour is an infectious one and has won them fans and accolades across the country. Despite their constant presence on Canada’s festival circuit and a strong fan base in their home town, 2005 marked their Calgary Folk Fest premiere.

“This is our first performance at the Calgary Folk Music Festival for this group,” explains John Rutherford, No Guff’s vocalist. “I’ve played the Calgary Folk Festival and I think Dan [Tapanila, acoustic guitar] has too with other groups in the past, in the course of the last 15 years. I think the last time I officially played it was 1989, and we didn’t even play on Prince’s Island that time because the folk festival had different kinds of strategies, they did a lot of shows at clubs, and at Olympic Plaza and different venues around the city. So this is my first time ever playing the Calgary Folk Festival on Prince’s Island.”

The performance couldn’t have come at a better time for the duo. Constant touring and some exposure on CBC Radio have created a buzz around them, but it’s also made it harder to find the time to play for their hometown crowd. Rutherford couldn’t be happier about the opportunity folk fest provides.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve looked forward to it,” he says, as excitedly as his laid-back persona will allow. “I can, without any hesitation, tell you that I’ve come to this festival in the audience 15 times at least, and I’ve watched the magic unfold on these stages and I’ve watched the artists do their thing, and sit there and think ‘I want to go up there, I want to be part of this.’ I just really really look forward to playing here.”

Things are looking good for No Guff. They’re in the process of recording a new album after “milking” their debut, They’re Red Hot, for three years. Appearances nationwide have built a strong fan base. And now, people at home have a chance to discover a group they’ve probably been aware of but haven’t had the opportunity to see. It’s been a long time fitting, but everything is coming together for Calgary’s back porch heroes, and Rutherford’s enthusiasm is clear.

“It’s magical,” he beams. “It’s very satisfying.”

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