By Jarrett Edmund, February 17 2016 —
On Family Day weekend, the first annual Block Heater Festival brought sold out crowds to the historic community of Inglewood. The Calgary Folk Music Festival off-shoot featured over 20 artists of national and international fame at three venues, including the Ironwood Stage and Grill. With each act falling under the ever-expanding umbrella of folk music, attendees were treated to a variety of soulful singers.
Ben Rogers set the tone on Friday night. His impassioned stories shed light on several controversial issues facing Canadians, from inquiries into missing and murdered indigenous women to environmental protection. Rogers seemed to annoy the show’s older crowd, but the audience remained quiet and attentive. Similar messages would be recanted by many other artists over the weekend, infusing the festival with a deeply political undertone.
With tributes to recent fallen rock icons David Bowie and Lou Reed, Alejandro Escovedo provided similar commentary, focusing on the changing landscape of his own hometown — Austin, Texas. Escovedo enraptured the audience with stories about his dinner with Bowie and the intimidating experience of singing alongside Bruce Springsteen. For his encore, Escovedo took to the church runway for an intimate unplugged performance.
Sheepish and quiet, Andy Shauf stole the festival with an emotional set at Lantern Church on Saturday. Shauf is a master of contemporary storytelling, weaving delicate tales of alienation and heartbreak. With intricately crafted characters, Shauf’s strength lies in his ability to create relatable and intimate stories through his music. “Does anybody have any questions?” Shauf nervously asked the audience between songs. Undeniably charming, Shauf is quickly becoming a Canadian treasure.
Elliot Brood took to Festival Hall on Saturday night to an enthusiastic crowd. “This isn’t sit down music!” they said at the end of their first song. Lively and energetic, the frenetic pace gave the audience a reason to stand up and dance. The foot-stomping multi-instrumentalists had a rambunctious energy that set the tone for the rest of the evening.
On the soul spectrum, Frazey Ford made her return to Calgary after a gutsy set at Calgary Folk Fest this past July. She was backed by an incredibly talented band, with each musician fully invested in the groove. Lantern Church provided the perfect acoustics for Ford’s powerful voice.
Local punk legend Art Bergmann’s set had a number of prickly moments. Performing for a largely middle-aged audience on Saturday night, Bergmann decreed that anyone who had voted for the Wildrose party in 2015’s provincial election should “suck his dick.” Vulgarities aside, Bergmann has been a strong anti-conservative voice for over 40 years. In one of Block Heater’s collaborative sessions, Bergmann was joined by Lorrie Matheson as well as Calgary’s The Northern Beauties.
The inaugural Block Heater Festival was a great success. With a talented line-up blending elements of folk, soul and blues, Block Heater warmed up Calgary’s newly christened “Music Mile” for an unforgettable weekend. With expansion on the horizon for next February, Block Heater could become a winter mainstay for many years to come.