Festival season arrives

By Garth Paulson

What’s the best thing about summer? It’s not the warm weather, it’s not the escape from the classroom and no, it isn’t even the mayhem of the Calgary Stampede. The best thing about summer time, according to me at least, is the live music.

You see, a funny phenomenon occurs with the onset of the hottest months of the year: great music comes to town. The reason for most of these artists appearing in our fair city happens to be the plethora of festivals conveniently springing up and giving Calgarians ample opportunity to roast outside under the summer sun to the sounds of great bands. 2004 is no different.

The festival lineup looks particularly strong this year. The TD Canada Trust Calgary Jazz Festival, running June 25 to July 4, boasts an impressive group of musicians including the David Sanborn Band, The Aaron Neville Quintet, Jesse Cook, ¬°Bomba!, Calexico, Manitoba and Jaga Jazzist to name a few. The Calgary Blues and Roots Festival is gearing up for its second run this Aug. 12-15, with acts including David Byrne, Jonny Lang, Rosanne Cash, Wilson Pickett and Cake (yes that Cake). The Vans Warped Tour returns to the Race City Speedway on July 15 once again with a solid, if not familiar lineup, with the likes of NOFX, Bad Religion, Anti-Flag and a whole bunch of other like-minded bands. And let’s not forget the Calgary International Reggae Festival on Aug. 15 with Donna Makeda and Sugar Prince.

Despite how promising all those festivals look, the Calgary Folk Music Festival not only attracts the biggest draw but also single-handedly decides the success of the festival season. Entering its 25TH year, the king of all Calgary festivals is looking stronger than ever before.

Like its slogan suggests, “Full Grown”, the Calgary Folk Fest is all grown up and hopes to continue in the tracks of its excellent 2003 incarnation. In fitting fashion this year’s festival could contain the finest lineup Calgary has ever seen in its quarter century marriage with the Folk Fest.

Over 60 acts from 12 countries will converge on Prince’s Island Park between July 22 and 25. The uninitiated must wonder how anyone can sit through four days of hippies plucking acoustic guitars but as anyone who has any experience with the Folk Fest knows, just about every type of music imaginable is represented–whether it’s electronica, flamenco or Vietnamese string music–the 2004 Calgary Folk Festival will have it all.

The evening of July 22 will see legendary blues man Taj Mahal take the stage as well as Stompin’ Tom Connors who will be delivering his usual slice of Canadiana. Great Big Sea headlines Friday night’s affairs with their fun Newfoundland version of Celtic folk-pop. Saturday afternoon will see 80 year-old banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs, followed by Spirit of the West then the pure awesomeness of Michael Franti & Spearhead. Things don’t diminish in the final day of the festival with roots-rock politico Steve Earle, who recently covered Elvis Costello’s angry-young-man era anthem “What’s so Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding?” headlining that afternoon. Sunday evening ends the festival with a bang as Youssou N’Dour as well as the princess of alt-country, and sexiest 50-something year old in the world, Lucinda Williams, wrapping things up.

There are countless other great acts besides these headliners such as The North Mississippi Allstars, Ruthie Foster, Los de Abajo, Po’Girl, Fiamma Fumma, Thea Gilmore and The Weakerthans. Albertan artists will be well presented in this year’s Folk Fest. Steve Coffey and the Lokels, John Wort Hannam, the House Doctors, Corb Lund, Ben Sures, Urban Divide and festival founders, the Wild Colonial Boys, will all entertain their provincial brethren.

Last year tickets sold out prior to the Festival, so get your tickets quick. Even if it doesn’t look particularly summery outside.

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