Calgary Folk Festival :: 07.21 - 7.24 :: Calgary, AB

If I could survive the winter, I would consider a move to Calgary. It is North America's cleanest city, hands down. Garbage is Calgary's liberal republican. You know it exists, but for some reason you never come across it. Tack on enough green space to get permanently lost within and close proximity to the Canadian Rockies, and Calgary appears to be paradise. Unfortunately, the mid-sized Albertan city is not at the top of most touring schedules, and highly prized acts often skip Calgary in order to develop a market in Vancouver, nearly 600 miles west. Even though Alberta is Canada's richest province, basking in the financial security of living close to oil sands, as immaculate as it is, the city lacks excitement.

Calgary Folk Fest
By Frank Gasparik
From July 21st through July 24th, that all changed. The Calgary Folk Festival, a four-day party on the banks of the Bow River, gave the city all the excitement it needs for the year. This is no ordinary folk festival. From post-rock to Celtic and hip-hop, any amalgamation of music loosely linked to folk was represented, and over 10,000 fans armed with lawn chairs and tarps buoyantly lapped up the hoopla. In addition, local organic food and homemade crafts dotted the festival fairway, and local brewery Big Rock supplied the much-needed booze. In addition, bio-friendliness was strictly enforced, including the use of wind turbines to supply power and reusable plates and cups.

Let us put aside the ambience and focus on the most important element of the event. Not only were there five headliners each night on the main stage for four straight evenings, but also, both Saturday and Sunday were dotted with workshops. Six small stages spread across the festival grounds were home to various collaborations, where scores of artists collaborated for an hour, from early in the morning till the main event began at 5:30 p.m. While the Del McCoury Band, along with Bill Frisell's multi-instrumentalist Danny Barnes and bluegrass quintet Hungry Hill played an hour's worth of brilliant standards, Buck 65 and Tortoise fiddled through their new record Secret House against the World with the help of Hawksley Workman. The workshop stages also hosted complete concerts by bands that were not scheduled on the main stage including Tortoise, The Wailin' Jennys, and The Weakerthans.

So here begins the best day-by-day description of the insanity, including both the main stage and the workshops. No trash here, it is Calgary.


No workshops today. Those are reserved for the weekend. Still, folk conventions were being demolished, reconfigured, and rebuilt on the main stage all evening by a slew of artists that are anything but traditional.

A Buck Sixty-Five to get the Tweedy Workman.

Buck 65 :: Calgary Folk Fest by Shain Shapiro
Richard Terfry has been experimenting in the far-reaching limits of hip-hop since 1996, and Thursday evening on the main stage was no different. Armed with a set of turntables, one microphone, and his Parisian girlfriend Clare on back-up vocals, Buck 65 proved that uppers are still being injected into mature, highly inventive hip-hop. Essentially an experiment in garrulous poetry with beats attached, Buck 65's raspy vocals were enthralling, mixing older tunes like the ode-to-small-town dirge "Highway 101" and the talking blues pastiche "Wicked and Weird" with more recent work from his latest Tortoise-backed release. A true new-folk ambassador, Buck 65 exemplified the belief that he embodies the same forward-thinking aesthetic as the festival.

Jeff Tweedy :: Calgary Folk Fest
By Frank Gasparik
Following Buck 65 was Hawksley Workman, arguably one of Canada's finest singer/songwriters. Combining simple folk, Northern soul, and the power of a fantastic, luscious voice, Workman ran through a portion of his back catalogue including "Anger is Beauty" and the stunning "Jealous of your Cigarette." With high-pitched vocals drenched in the soul of Francois Hardy doing the tango with Rufus Wainwright, Workman's eccentric, festive blend of folk-rich classical cabaret cleansed the palate after Buck 65's upbeat twang. Imaginative, accomplished, and oh so sweet, Workman exhibited how beautiful a confident voice and a backdrop of folk sensibilities can complement a simple love song.

To cap off the evening in fine form, Jeff Tweedy treated the sold-out crowd to an hour's worth of bare-bones, acoustic Americana. In a rare solo appearance, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot era Wilco and new material took centre stage, blinding the sold out crowd with an hour's worth of mellow, honest songs. Tweedy's own frailty, strewn across a dozen fragile, tender ballads, revealed a unique side of the songwriter that is hidden behind Wilco's collective virtuosity. Incorporating just as much silence as strumming, Tweedy's calm, restrictive demeanor exhibited a fragile soul, focused on releasing its demons through gorgeous songwriting. Both "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "I'm The Man Who Loves You" appeared in their embryonic states, contradictory messages and all, showcasing a songwriter trying to expel demons from both angles. What a sight it was.

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