Calgary Folk Music Festival is Celebrating 40 Years of Pure Music Bliss

Thursday 18th, July 2019 / 09:27
by Sofia Montebello

Photo: Michael Grondin

The Calgary Folk Music Festival (CFMF) has marked the height of summer for 40 years, blazing along under clear skies and scorching bands that deliver folk music in its truest sense: music of the people and for the people. Delicate singer-songwriters are paired with energetic, 10-piece world music bands and mainstage performers anchor a handful of other discovery stages nestled in every nook on Prince’s Island Park.

Whether you’re a long-running tarpie at CFMF, readying your gear for a prime spot on the lawns, or biking down to the island for a first-time hang at the beer gardens, here’s BeatRoute’s best-of four-day schedule.


Ease into the festival experience on Thursday with only two stages are active, but it’s a great day to get the lay of the land.


At 5:45 pm, head to Stage 4 for Halifax-based whisper-folk quartet, Mauno. Between gorgeous arrangements that seem to float on the breeze, they keep things interesting with guitar freak-outs, experimental electronic beats and bright, jangling melodies.


Duck out a song early from Mauno and wander across the island to the mainstage, where late-festival addition, Tune-Yards, will fill the afternoon skies at 6:30 pm with imaginative polyrhythms, global art-pop and riotous punk attitude.


There’s a half-hour break, then head back to Stage 4 for iskwē at 8 pm and her blend of bombastic pop and soulful rock will bring the politics of unceded land (CFMF takes place on Treaty 7 land) and how to undo the ravages of colonization.


The final two acts of the night go in radically different directions. Hunker down at Stage 4 (pro tip: the grassy knoll stage right under the trees is a perfect place to lay down a blanket and relax while still enjoying sightlines), The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer will bring their bluesy rock and roll to close the night at 9:15 pm. Otherwise, head back to the mainstage at 9:10 pm for the dulcet vibes of Belle & Sebastian, whose twee ‘90s indie rock still feels as vibrant in 2019 as ever.


Stages begin to open up on Friday and the festival hits its stride. See Thursday night faves, iskwē, Mauno and La Force, collab at Stage 3 at 3 pm, swapping songs and improvising parts.

At 6:40 pm, check out Ndidi O on the mainstage. From northern BC to LA, to Toronto and now Calgary for CFMF, Ndidi O’s musical path travels well-worn grooves that at once feel comforting and forceful. Bask in her powerful pop jazz as her voice rings out over the treetops, perhaps with a beer in hand from the gardens at the top of the mainstage lawns.


Photo by Barry Russe

Cap your evening at Stage 4 with DJ Champion at 9 pm. The Montreal native grew up playing in punk bands, but has since immersed himself in enormous, anthemic beats that make sweaty work of the dance floor.



Photo by Sebastian Buzzalino

The first full, 10-am-to-midnight, day at CFMF. Start the day with Calgary’s T. Buckley at 10:30 am at Stage 2, whose endearing folk is as well-sculpted as his beard. Continue the local streak after that with The Torchettes at 11:15 am at Stage 3 — their soul rock is reminiscent of the Motown glory days and Deicha Carter’s powerhouse vocals are undeniable.


Photo by Cody Oliver

At 1:25 pm, explore the indie side of Calgary’s scene with an on-point collab between Lab Coast, Mauno, Samantha Savage Smith and Bedouine on Stage 4. Quirky melodies and jangly harmonies collide as these standout local bands work their pop magic.

The afternoon and evening are wide open for you to explore, depending on your tastes and desires. The beauty of CFMF is in following your nose around, hearing on-the-ground tips and seeing where the day takes you as you wander from stage to stage.

Wherever Saturday leads, end up at Stage 4 for Toronto’s Weaves at 9:05 pm. An art-pop tour de force, the foursome led by Jasmyn Burke turn a hook inside out and subvert expectations of what a pop song can be.


Ease into a Folk Fest Sunday with Samantha Savage Smith at 11 am on Stage 1. The Calgary singer-songwriter’s ethereal voice and her low-key vibes and the music she crafts will find a permanent place in new fans’ hearts.


Lethbridge’s, Shaela Miller takes over Stage 2 at 12:50 pm with a set that’s pure country for 2019. She’s as comfortable two-steppin’ as she is wearing all black and getting angsty.

Travel back to a simpler moment in time and find a home on the range with Boots & the Hoots, Willie Watson, We Banjo 3 and Joan Shelley at 1:50 pm on Stage 4. Boozy country meets home-stylin’ twang with these trad country powerhouses.


Head over to Stage 3 at 4:45 pm for one of the weekend’s most anticipated sets by Mdou Moctar. The guitar legend is as known for his African and British blends of guitar music as he is for his activism. Noise, jazz, funk, metal and Britpop all swirl together at the hands of Moctar and his band, who have reshaped Niger’s music scene for a global audience.


The festival closes Sunday night with The Strumbellas, mainstage at 9:05 pm. The Toronto band’s festival-ready folk pop is anthemic and uplifting, a perfect way to draw out the last dance moves.

Want more? Weasel into the after-party at the Westin Hotel, where off-the-cuff sets from weekend faves will have lucky door crashers dancing deliriously into Monday morning.