Vulcan Fest was the music festival that almost didn't happen. Electric energy was reverberating through the bodies of anxious fans on Saturday, July 23, after the beloved day-long local indie festival was cancelled less than 24 hours before it was set to begin.
However, the coming hours were to prove that there are some incredibly determined individuals living among us with a true passion for Calgary music.
Now celebrating its third year, Vulcan Fest started out as a sports day that typically takes place on the Pfeuti family farm just outside of Vulcan, Alberta. Father and son organizers Al and Chris Pfeuti, the latter of which played drums in the now-defunct local band Our Hearts Are Big, are very much the heart of the festival. Both drummer extraordinaires and music lovers alike, the Pfeutis decided to reach out to friends and fellow bands to give them a place to showcase their talent.
The Pfeutis formed an outdoor jam space that became a local band's dream festival, featuring diverse music ranging from alternative indie rock, folk, blues, classic rock and even punk and hip hop.
"When Chris was in Our Hearts are Big, there was nothing like Vulcan Fest. Unless you get invited to one of the bigger festivals, there's nothing. Here, we have smaller bands, but they still get a big stage; they get to camp and enjoy a big festival," Al Pfeuti says.
Eighty people, performers included, enjoyed Vulcan Fest in its first year. The next summer, in 2010, that number doubled, and this year 400 tickets were printed and 350 people were expected. However, less than 100 attended after the festival was initially cancelled.
Although the Pfeutis have their property inspected annually to prepare for the festival, this year they failed to obtain a permit for their steel stage. An anonymous phone call brought the RCMP as well as a bylaw officer, who pointed this out. Consequently, Vulcan Fest was shut down less than 24 hours before it was scheduled to begin. What's certain is that there definitely isn't a "how-to" guide for putting on an outdoor festival.
James "Enzo" Moreland, bassist of Calgary punk band Caught Off Guard, felt that the cancellation was "a big travesty for all the people who are actually in to support the scene."
"It needs all the support it can. If we're not going to support each other in the scene, how can we expect it to grow?" added drummer Nathan "Fitzy" Fitzsimmons.
When news of the cancellation broke via social networking, it was met by immediate concern from bands and fans alike. In response, bands collaborated and within a few hours had pulled every string possible to locate a new venue, The Area in Inglewood.
People continued to spill in and out throughout the day, but their energy didn’t ebb and flow with them. Festivalgoers caught the sense of victory spreading throughout The Area and made it their own until the end of the night. It was Calgary like you’ve never seen it, and The Area turned out to be the next-best place to a dreamy farm town for Vulcan Fest to nestle in on such short notice.
Calgary blues rockers The Electric Monk jump-started the day with a set later followed by blues solo artist Paige Woodbury. Other highlights included a forceful set by pop-punkers Deluge and an energetic Caught Off Guard show at which chaotic dancing ensued.
Shout-outs had to be given to hip hop duo Chief Navaho for their first Vulcan Fest appearance, and to dark-rock three-piece Mammoth Grove’s on-stage ode to the festival with the lyric “Vulcan Fest, you did not die.” Dusk brought many sleepy, sun-kissed faces inside for intimate yet electric performances by headliners the Nix Dicksons and Telly.
here were unmistakable differences between the Vulcan Fest that was and that which should have been, such as concertgoers heading home before 1 a.m. instead of camping out in tents for a night on the Pfeuti farm surrounded by canola fields and starry sky. But despite the drama, this year’s Vulcan Fest still happened and stayed true to its original vision.
Local music photographer Keith
Skrastins shared his experience of the first Vulcan Fest.
“Half of the Calgary music scene piles in all of these vehicles and we drive to something. There was no expectation; we had no clue what Vulcan Fest was. We just drove to the fields of Vulcan. So we get there and it’s such a family thing . . . our own hidden gem.”
Even though the open plain and star-lit skies would have to wait until next year, I was inspired by how passionately people spoke about the significance of the festival to them. Vulcan Fest is a place to which a lone reporter can go and leave with enough stories to fill a notebook.
So what’s in store for Vulcan Fest 2012? Bands look forward to raising money for the festival but with a big focus on giving back in any way possible to the Pfeuti family. Talks of The Area collaborating for an after-party were also thrown in the mix.
It’s clear that Vulcan Fest leaves an impression on people, and this caused attendees to look forward to the next year before the day was even over.
“Word of mouth keeps it going through the year. It’s on their minds,” Al notes.
Chris agrees. “Everyone loves it, so we just want to keep doing it.”
Vulcan Fest provides a soundtrack to a memorable summer day with new and old friends alike. Some things never change, and I hope Vulcan Fest is one of them. As Spock, the original Vulcan, once said:
“I have been, and ever shall be, your friend. Live long and prosper.”