By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — Picture yourself on an island in a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile — a guy in a Budos Band shirt limbering up his thighs. Yes, it’s time once again for city’s annual sunrise skip-run, as the gates of the 36th annual Calgary Folk Music Festival are thrown open to the “tarpies” who flock to Prince’s Island each year to claim their own little square of heaven. Keeping one foot on the ground at all times is harder than it looks, especially when you’re breaking in a brand new pair of Birkenstocks. But, that’s the exactly the kind of challenge that fires the imagination of the 2015 festival’s incoming executive director, Debbi Salmonsen.
“I think the Calgary Folk Music Festival is amongst the most unique events of its kind that I’ve observed,” says Salmonsen, a Vancouver-transplant with abundant experience in project management and non-profit groups. “Without a doubt, the number one thing that sets us apart is the amazing natural environment of Prince’s Island. It’s like this whole pop-up village magically appears overnight in the middle of the inner city. The second aspect of the festival that I’m really keen about is the Folk Boot Camp we offer in cooperation with the National Music Centre. The public can enroll and do things like singing and songwriting, or ukulele and guitar classes with their favourite performers over the course of three days leading up to the Festival.”
Good things are in store when grooves and worlds collide, especially when it comes to the festival’s improvisational workshops. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness collaborations between artists who may share a back-fence, or find themselves drawn together from as far away as Mauritania, Ethiopia, and Korea. Sharing a reverence for musical traditions whilst striving to plant fresh roots, Salmonsen credits the impeccable tastes of the festival’s artistic director Kerry Clarke in curating this year’s exceptional showcase of 76 performers hailing from some 16 countries.
“I’m very lucky to have come into an organization that has such an excellent staff. Everyone is so good at their roles it made the transition an easy one. Kerry has gone above and beyond in putting together a program that offers traditional folk acts like Buffy Saint-Marie and Richard Thompson, and fabulous headliners including The Mavericks and The Steep Canyon Rangers, alongside cutting edge acts such as Thao & the Get Down and Stay Down, Milk Carton Kids, Black Joe Lewis, Kid Koala, and Hawksley Workman. I’m really looking forward to seeing the audience’s reaction to Reuben and the Dark and Shakey Graves.”
Stacking the deck with a powerhouse list of players is only one of the ways in which ways in which the Festival’s dedicated coordinators and 1,700 volunteers are honouring the legacy of the festival’s beloved former general manager Les Siemieniuk, who retired last September after 15 years at the helm. The Festival has also responded to concert-goers’ feedback in order to streamline operations (wider footpaths), expand capacity (beer gardens) and accommodate the ever-shifting crowd demographics (dancers vs. loungers). Although, currently focused on the task at hand, Salmonsen is determined to fulfill her newly minted-position by ensuring the perennial Calgary festival, its society and its scene flourish in the future.
“We are blessed by the outpouring of enthusiasm we have received since opening our year-round venue, Festival Hall, in 2012. It has allowed us to provided invaluable access to our space to community members while presenting a wonderful variety of events. We hope to continue to work closely with the City of Calgary, Music Calgary, and NMC in fostering the Music Mile concept in order to promote all of the unique venues that run along Ninth Avenue and the surrounding area.” she confirms. “I believe that with teamwork the Folk Music Festival has the potential to make this vision of a year-round musical partnership a reality.”
Catch this year’s Calgary Folk Music Festival from July 23-26 at Prince’s Island Park.AB, Alberta, Calgary Folk Music Festival, Calgary Folk Music Festival 2015, Prince's Island Park