I had the brilliant luck of attending Calgary Folk Fest on the Saturday/Sunday this year as a stand-in for my dad who couldn’t go. I’m sure this will be seen as a sign of treason with the #yegmusicclub crowd (and much of Edmonton), but I’ve never been to Edmonton’s Folk Fest… and have eschewed it the last two years in favour of CFMF.
Last year it was the siren call of a Library Voices / Stars / Avett Brothers Thursday night lineup. This year my highlights were the Head and the Heart, Blind Pilot, Imaginary Cities (who I talked about when they opened for the Rural Alberta Advantage this past fall) and Coeur de Pirate (who actually made me kind of like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”- no small feat!).
So, why do I choose the event 3 hours away instead of my city’s fest? Number one it’s the music. CFMF has done an amazing job of bringing in acts I am excited to see and wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to otherwise. And yes, my bias shows here- the acts I want to see are more indie-rock (or hipster) than true folk or blues (something Edmonton does pretty well, I hear). But as Torq (of Stars) put it last year, when their inclusion seemed a little bit of a stretch, “Folk music is music for the people, right?” - and I think the definition of folk music should be evolving to encourage a wider (and younger) audience to show up.
But it’s about the experience, right? And finding new artists? Yes, I get that and I’ve heard the argument that I just don’t KNOW until I’ve gone. But for me, my barrier to entry (given that the weekend is a fairly high time and financial commitment) is a main stage act that I’m excited to see and wouldn’t normally get to. Or, I suppose, a whole hell of a lot of artists in the workshops that I want to see (we’re talking 6-8 over the weekend).
Another thing CFMF does extremely well (and is years ahead of EFMF) is using the internet to engage with their audience. They have a great website, a prominent twitter presence and a very helpful mobile site to plan out your schedule while you’re at Prince’s Island Park. I found out through their twitter account that there was a phone charging station (powered by bicycles- obviously)- awesome.
I realize it sounds like I’m vehemently anti-EFMF and that’s not the case… I’m usually the most vocal in a conversation of Edmonton > Calgary. Obviously EFMF sells out consistently within days every year so clearly they’re doing something right for most people, and I know so many people that really love this weekend. But I demand more and these are the reasons I’m going to continue heading south on the QEII. You know, until EFMF brings me Paul Simon.
I leave you with the song that’s been on repeat in my house, courtesy of the 2011 Calgary Folk Fest.