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Calgary Folk Fest more than acoustic guitars

July 16, 2015 —

Grab your oversized tarps and put on your dancing shoes. The Calgary Folk Music Festival is back in town from July 25–28.

The four-day festival brings 74 local and international musicians and comedians to Prince’s Island Park, where they’ll play across seven stages. Though it’s called a folk festival, the artists performing encompass a variety of styles, including blues, electronic, celtic and indie rock.

Artistic director Kerry Clarke says people who don’t normally listen to folk music will be surprised by the variety at the festival.

“When people think of folk, sometimes they think it’s not for them. For us, folk becomes the atmosphere and the vibe,” Clarke says. “It’s hard to describe the vibe and experience at the festival and how much you’re going to discover new artists.”

When selecting artists to play Folk Fest, Clarke says she looks at artistic merit over hometown bias.

“We’re trying to pick artists where, if I was booking a festival elsewhere, I’d book these artists from Calgary,” she says. But Clarke has some advice for local artists hoping to break into the music scene.

“We’re looking for people who write their own songs and are original, who have at least 20 songs in their repertoire,” Clarke says. “I would say, play a lot around town and out of town and get some experience with the city.”

Clarke says it’s not unusual for people to attend the festival without knowing many of the artists.

“I encourage you to figure out who’s coming and read the bios, because your new favourite artist might be at the festival,” Clarke says. “Sometimes people spend thousands of dollars to go to Bonaroo or Coachella without realizing a lot of those artists are playing here or will be in the next few years.”

The festival offers student rates for tickets, with single-day admission available for under $40 and a festival pass for $129.

Want to go to Folk Fest, but are unfamiliar with the artists performing? Gauntlet staff have chosen four Folk Fest artists with must-see shows.

J.J. Shiplett:

Friday at 3:00 p.m. on Stage 4

Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on Stage 2

Saturday at 3:20 p.m. on Stage 1

Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on Stage 1

Calgary-born country singer J.J. Shiplett will bring his soulful lyrics to this year’s Folk Fest. Driven by passionate vocal performances and a willingness to get rowdy, Shiplett’s live shows have garnered a well-deserved buzz.

Shiplett released his EP, The Only One, in September 2014. The three tracks on the release showcase his detailed songwriting and sincere lyricism. Watching Shiplett combine these tracks with some old staples will be a highlight of this year’s festival.

Shiplett’s songs will strike the perfect middle ground at Folk Fest. His lyrics will touch the audience, but the music is upbeat enough for the crowd to get up and dance. With a number of shows throughout the festival, do yourself a favour and find out how good local country music can be.

Rachel Woodward

Reuben and the Dark:

Thursday at 7:45 p.m. on Stage 4

Friday at 4:30 p.m. on Stage 3

Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on Stage 5

Saturday at 1:50 p.m. on Stage 6

Calgary natives Reuben and the Dark headline Folk Fest this year. Fueled with energy from the deluxe release of their latest album, Funeral Sky, frontman Reuben Bullock and his bandmates will be performing four shows throughout the festival.

The band’s sound is a mix between the moody vocals of Bright Eyes and the harmonic melodies of Vancouver contemporaries Said the Whale. Reuben and the Dark’s full-bodied instrumental sound is backed by catchy melodies and heartfelt lyricism.

The combination of new songs and reworked versions of old favourites teases an interesting live set where Bullock and his band play old songs with new flourishes.

With this energy behind them, now is a great time to see the group live. They have four sets scattered throughout the weekend, including a marquee slot on Thursday night. You’d be sorry to miss them.

Emilie Medland-Marchen

Colin Stetson:

Saturday at 6:15 p.m. on Stage 4

Sunday at 1:50 p.m. on Stage 4

Canadian composer Colin Stetson may be the most prolific saxophonist in contemporary music. He’s contributed his distinct and hypnotic brass work to artists like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Tom Waits, while also building an impressive catalogue of solo albums. His latest work, Never Were the Way She Was, is a collaborative album with Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld that was recently named to the Polaris Prize shortlist.

Stetson shines in his live performances, where he has a commanding presence. His mastery over his craft is astonishing and Stetson manages to build immersive soundscapes even when playing solo. Having perfected the art of circular breathing, he never needs to stop playing to pause for a breath and is also able to seamlessly add vocalizations to his music.

These impressive techniques add mesmerizing touches to Stetson’s already stellar music. He’s sure to present one of the wildest sets of the festival.

Jason Herring

Kid Koala:

Friday at 8:55 p.m. on Stage 4

Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on Stage 1

Sunday at 1:50 p.m. on Stage 4

On the surface, Kid Koala seems like an odd choice for a folk festival. Claiming he makes folk music definitely stretches the definition of the genre. The award-winning Canadian turntablist, also known as Eric San, creates cheeky, energetic electronic music that incorporate samples from obscure old movie and manipulated ‘50s blues tracks.

San has always brought ambitious performances to the stage. His recent multi-disciplinary work, Nufonia Must Fall, consists of a graphic novel, soundtrack and stage show. San isn’t afraid to dabble in a variety of creative mediums to expand his artistic and musical repertoire.

This is especially apparent in Vinyl Vaudeville 3.0, the live version of San’s 2012 album, 12 Bit Blues. San is bringing this renowned show to Folk Fest in its only performance of the year. The show features robotic singing puppets, dancing robots and a live construction of a working cardboard gramophone on stage. Regardless of the genre of his music, Kid Koala’s set is sure to be a whimsi-cal spectacle you won’t want to miss.

Liv Ingram

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