By Jodi Brak, Willow Grier, Michael Grondin, Arielle Lessard, Ian Tennant
For outsiders, the general consensus with folk music is kind of a singer-songwriter vibe. A sole musician with an acoustic guitar or banjo playing pleasing but not altogether challenging music. Calgary Folk Music Festival has returned for another year of turning that preconceived notion on its head, really getting to the heart of what the term “folk” encompasses, with all its rich cultural and community building undertones.
Once again one of the main attractions tends to be the collaborative elements. Bands jamming with other bands in workshop settings during the day, seeing mashups like Basia Bulat, Holy Fuck, John Paul White, and Leif Vollebekk that seem preposterous on paper but in a live setting elevate each musician into a greater part of a genre bending transient creation, seen for one time only. And with the evening’s headliners showcasing the depth of blues, country, folk, roots, and even electronic genres, it’s easy to see why people from every walk of life flock to the heart of Calgary to pass their fair summer evenings. (WG)
July 27, 2017
Dawes, Main Stage, 5:30 p.m.
Kicking off the Calgary Folk Fest Main Stage lineup, Dawes put the rock back into folk rock and knocked out a set of electric-guitar awesomeness for all in attendance. Their solos could be heard clear across the park, along with the cheers from the eager crowd gathered to take in the first night of folk fest. It was a high energy start to what is sure to be another amazing weekend at the festival.
Leif Vollebekk, National Stage, 5:45 p.m.
Leif Vollebekk received a sweaty standing ovation after his serene performance. The synesthete worked a steady hand on ballads and songs for a tranquil crowd to reflect on. Humble lyrics explored personal tales as he demonstrated a zigzagging control of both keys and guitar. Accompanied by bass and drums, the set produced speckles of contrast and created a space that seemed just right at National Stage for the first evening of a long weekend. He thinks he did alright, modestly commenting that “there were a lot of chords in that song, I think we got most of them.” he finished modestly. (AL)
Son Little, National Stage, 6:50 p.m.
Low-key acoustic jams in the park are always a welcome treat at Folk Fest. With so many stages packed with full lineups and big bands, sometimes a lone acoustic guitar and a shady little spot to sit while listening to it is exactly what you need. Son Little took the National Stage on Thursday and treated the crowd to a set of softly-plucked guitar and gentle, crooning vocals that mellowed out the crowd in an instant. His music truly could be described as soulful without simply using that as a buzzword. There was an emotion and expression to his playing that made it obvious he really felt the weight of every word and every note, definitely a folk / blues artist worth checking out. (JB)
Coeur de Pirate, Main Stage, 7:05pm
Montreal act Coeur de Pirate playfully took the Folk Fest stage in a charming storm of lovely melodies and honest vulnerability. Beatrice Martin, the French-Canadian songwriter, enraptured the crowd with her petite yet powerful voice and masterful piano playing, taking full advantage of the spotlight she was under and switching fluidly between French and English while backed by a five-piece band. Coeur de Pirate’s playful yet emotional songs maintained a balanced arrangement of poppy folk, complete with hooks and and choruses, as well as a passionate performance that will stick out in Folk Festers’ minds for the weekend to come. (MG)
John Paul White, National Stage, 7:55 p.m.
Hailing from Alabama, John Paul White and his four-piece crew of country-folk players brought their downtrodden lyricism and cynical humor to the Folk Fest stage on Thursday. White is very up front about the fact that his music may cause an existential crisis in listeners. His lyrics are honest, to the point where you can feel the sting of his sentiments even if you don’t know the story behind them. He fully embraces the morose end of the folk spectrum, and it works for him. For all his talk about sadness, though, there is something uplifting about owning that feeling and turning it into something positive. (JB)
Billy Bragg + Joe Henry, Main Stage, 8:40 p.m.
Witty Billy Bragg elicited a laugh from the Main Stage on Thursday when he cracked that it is always a good thing to play the first night of the Calgary Folk Music Festival. “The toilets are so clean,” he joked. That might have been the only bit of levity during an evening that saw Bragg and Joe Henry burrow into a trove of American songs forged on the road, along railway tracks and in old train stations. The earnest duo shared acoustic guitar duties, and Henry tickled a piano at one point, as their strong voices painted images of hard workin’ folks just trying to get ahead. It was a concert light on musical bombast but big on rhetorical flourish. Perhaps Henry set the stage for the weekend when he noted, “the folk tradition is not a dead language.” (IT)
Jason Collett, National Stage, 9:00 p.m.
Jason Collett and his band accomplished a rarity at the National Stage on Thursday, the first night of the Calgary Folk Music Festival: they had scores of people dancing in front of the stage, usually the prime property of music lovers who prefer to sit and do not like their sightlines marred by shaking butts. But Collett and his four-piece band had folkies grooving with an eclectic mix of pop, rock, a tinge of funk and even some blues. Collett and his gang were clearly having fun and that seemed to infect a good part of the crowd. It was a good times, happy vibe that fans eagerly lapped up. (IT)
July 28, 2017
Cris Dirksen, Rigstar Stage, 3:00 p.m.
Cris Derksen is singular, belonging somewhere in the cosmological. Acts like her mark the advance of music, tech and culture in unity. Sprawling through tradition and bringing her heritage with her, she was happily cheered on by her mom in the crowd. Her rumbling, emotive, and layered work explored deeply personal and politicized issues.
In particular, she noted her song “War Cry” was written to find strength in her ancestors in the face of feeling powerless against government leaders. Her act stands tall, and showed marked support for “stepping out of line” when necessary. In combination with Nimkii Osawamick, who brought the space alive with hoop dance, Derksen’s powerful technical performance worked through the matinee to an explosive finish with pronounced vocals, percussing her bow onto her instrument to lend true weight to her statement: “I can be loud, too.” (AL)
The Cactus Blossoms, Rigstar Stage, 5:00 p.m.
“My Mom would like this band.”
So said a friend about The Cactus Blossoms as we departed the Rigstar Stage around happy hour on Friday. Not that Moms don’t have good taste, she was just continuing a discussion: While the harmonies of Bros. Jack Torrey and Page Burkum were delicious and the five-piece band was on point, the overall tempo lacked a little, well, caliente. They perfectly executed a country shuffle, a loping folk blues ride and dark tones echoing their Twin Peaks fame. Yet a cover of one of their fave “brother bands” — likely a cheeky reference to always being compared to the Everly Brothers — was The Kinks’ “Who’ll Be The Last In Line,” an inspiring choice but the execution lacked bite. Then again, another friend, also musically inclined, absolutely loved The Cactus Blossoms. (IT)
Birds of Chicago, Main Stage, 5:45 p.m.
This might be a bold statement, but seeing this band perform was a life affirming experience. Even amidst their occasionally grief stricken lyrics, Birds of Chicago manages to create a sense of positivity in their music that seems fitting for a festival stage. Whether through the sonic fury of a well-played guitar solo or the emotional hook of a well-written verse, this group creates music that uplifts the spirit. Their sound ranges from full-on rock and roll to deeply folk, with one song being performed exclusively to the beat of a kick drum and the claps of the audience. They were humble performers and talented musicians, a chance to see them play should not be missed. (JB)
Michael Kiwanuka, Main Stage, 7:00 p.m.
Rhythmic beats, soulful blues guitar, subtle hints of keys and a voice to rival the best blues singers out there: Michael Kiwanuka and his band packed the Folk Fest Main Stage with a crowd of eager dancers swaying along to the melodies ringing out across Prince’s Island. Their tunes ranged from huge, big-band style tracks with twin drummers pounding away to far more subtle, slow paced melodies leading along soft vocals. Definitely one for the dancers, as the band features two drummers and they make full use of both of them. (JB)
Holy Fuck, National Stage, 8:55 p.m.
The sign, normally announcing how much time a band has left, just read, “PLAY AS LONG AS YOU WANT” in bold lettering. Holy Fuck prevented a riot by extending their show by a half hour, and shepherded the audience through power outages, an impromptu workshop and hot frenzied dancing, breaking only for fear of killing us all. The inexhaustible Brian Borcherdt at one point stuck a whole microphone in his mouth to hit some synths with both hands, building up walls of sound and mincing up everyone’s energy stores. (AL)
City and Colour, Main Stage, 10:10 p.m.
Friday night Main Stage headliner Dallas Green (City and Colour) bathed the audience with honeyed vocals and sweetly morose songs, winding the evening down to a hushed whisper amongst the trees. It was perhaps a touch surprising to see the artist without his usual full band set up, instead opting for a lone wolf, more serene performance. His set felt a bit like a flashback to his first tour as a solo artist, even playing “Like Knives” off of 2005’s Sometimes, though it still showcased his marked vocal development of the past decade. After the raucous eclectic energy of Holy Fuck, it soothed and settled the audience for the 11:00 p.m. curfew.
Find more shots in our handy Facebook album! The Calgary Folk Music Festival continues to run Saturday, July 29 and Sunday, July 30 at Prince’s Island Park.Billy Bragg, Birds Of Chicago, Calgary Folk Music Festival, City and Colour, Cœur de Pirate, Cris Derksen, Dawes, Holy Fuck, Jason Collett, Joe Henry, John Paul White, Leif Vollebekk, Michael Kiwanuka, Son Little, The Cactus Blossoms