In stark contrast to the endless, grandiose glitz and gluttony of the Stampede, the free Spaghetti Western Festival is a much more modest, down-to-earth affair, primarily designed to showcase and celebrate country music in Calgary and beyond. For the past five years, the Spaghetti Western Festival has humbly called Olympic Plaza its home for a day in August, open and free to the public. This year, however, with the help of Calgary 2012, Matt Masters, curator and director of the festival, is pleased to report that they are able to expand their line-up across two days, making a weekend out of it.
“It seemed like something that the city needed,” confirms Masters, who started the festival with the help of a now-defunct group, the Olympic Plaza Cultural Development District, and has since headed it. “Calgary, of all places, needs a free downtown country music festival.”
In order to keep the fest as accessible and free for everyone, Masters has taken a large directorial and administrative role himself, ensuring that overhead is kept to a minimum, which enables him to direct what limited funds may come his way towards buying talent, rather than secretaries, as he puts it.
This year, however, he seems to have caught a break. Partly because of the festival’s relatively longevity, partly because of the added focus on Calgary as the Cultural Capital of Canada and partly due to an increase in attention from sponsors, Masters has been able to double the festival’s ambitions.
“This year, it grew predominately through the involvement of Calgary 2012,” he says while keeping an eye on his backyard smoker. “Also, this year, we’ve seen our sponsorship list grow from three or four last year to 15 this year.
“In the arts, the longer you stick it out, the better your chances of growing. In some respects, now that we’ve made it to five years, some people are taking notice when they perhaps wouldn’t in year two or three.”
Beyond anything, Masters seems proudest of the acts he books each year for the fest. His main curatorial mandate is to split the line-up between local talent and out-of-town draws in order to cover as much of the country spectrum as possible, focusing on perhaps more strongly on the alt-country and independent acts. But, as he repeats, diversity is the key for the festival.
“I want [the local and out-of-town] split to be as close to 50/50 as possible. For the most part, we draw our big headliners from out of town. That’s not a rule of thumb,” he says, “it’s just kind of how it is this year.” The line-up this year includes bigger names, like Justin Rutledge, Dustin Bentall Outfit, the Heartbroken, Scott Cook and Petunia, interspersed with local favourites, like Cowpuncher, No River and T. Buckley. “When it comes to local band, I look for bands that are really working. Not to take away from bands that aren’t able to tour, or aren’t geared to that, but when I see bands working towards getting a presence outside of Calgary, exporting themselves, that strikes me as positive.
“The sounds are as diverse as they can be,” he continues. “You get a guy like Petunia, who has a real sound based in another time, a wandering troubadour, minstrel type thing, and you compare that to Justin Rutledge, whose take on a guy with a guitar is going to be totally different, and it’s different sides of a same coin. Then you get a band like Cowpuncher, who is going to be right between them, and those guys have their country influences as much as they have punk rock influences. They sound much more contemporary.
“It all falls under the umbrella of country,” he confirms, “but I always try to think of it as music that’s been informed or inspired by country music, rather than music that fits a cookie cutter. That gives me a wide brush. I can bring a blues band or a soul band and say that they’re influenced by country.”
The Spaghetti Western Festival runs on August 18 and 19, from 2 – 9 p.m., at Olympic Plaza. The event is free and all ages.
By Sebastian Buzzalino
Poster retrieved from event’s official Facebook page