Calgary Folk Fest 101: A guide to enjoying the 2019 music festival

The tents are going up, stages are being set and lights and sound systems are being tested as the Calgary Folk Music Festival gets ready to celebrate 40 years of bringing a unique arts experience to Prince’s Island Park.

Six stages will host dozens of performances throughout the four days of the festival and according to artistic director Kerry Clarke, there’s something for everyone.

“We can expect six stages during the day with a combination of concerts and collaborations. As well, we have the family area — the Talk Tent — a very large and inviting beer garden, and we have crafts and food, international foods, so they can expect all that and a really super good vibe,” Clarke said Tuesday.

Free stage

New to this year’s festival is a free stage just outside of the festival grounds, meaning anyone passing by can enjoy some of the more than 70 bands performing throughout the weekend.

“Our Stage 1 we’ve moved to a different area that’s kind of got a little bit more space,” Clarke said. “It’s right over the Eau Claire Bridge on the south side of the park and so the audience members who don’t have a ticket can still enjoy that stage.”

Festival-goers enjoy a performance at the 2018 Calgary Folk Music Festival.


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On both Saturday and Sunday, artists will be taking to the free stage from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

40th anniversary specials

Clarke said there will be some special things happening for the 40th anniversary of the festival, including a secret surprise pop-up on Sunday. Clarke said festival-goers will have to find more about that pop-up through social media over the course of the fest.

Attendees can also get a limited number of the 40th anniversary LP, called Cover Art, which features 21 songs by artists who have played over the festival’s history covered by Calgary musicians. If they’re sold out, you can buy a voucher for when more of the records are available in the fall.

“They can expect… a family vibe. Very chill and a lot of fun,” Clarke said. “Some of your favourite artists playing but also really a lot of discovery.”

Music for any taste

Clarke said there’s a good mix of big headliner bands — including Belle and Sebastian, Sheila E. and the Strumbellas — along with others they call “undercard” musicians who are “very interesting and cool that come from all kinds of far-flung places in the universe.”

“We also really like to have people who are both emerging artists and the icons because that’s really what we’re all about too, is people coming to see some of their favourite artists and also people discovering some artists who, in the next five years, might become headliners,” Clarke said. 

Clarke said the Calgary Folk Festival is also often a place for artists to come together, meet and collaborate with each other, often leading to big opportunities for them as their careers grow.

Attractions outside the main stages

In addition to the music, the family-friendly festival offers a number of other activities for people to take in as part of their visit to Prince’s Island Park.

The Talk Tent is a family attraction that has music in the morning as well as interactive things for children to do throughout the day.

The Calgary Folk Music Festival has events and music for people of all ages.

Elsewhere on festival grounds, people can take in spoken word performances from artists like Zoey Roy and Ali Hassan.

“Then we have something called War Stories; it’s stories about touring on the road,” Clarke said, adding that the discussion often brings out some funny stories from artists.

“Once they’re on the island, some people go in a quiet corner and read a book for a while and get a break or some people throw a frisbee or hula hoop. There [are] a lot of different ways to experience the festival.”

Do some research and come prepared

Before heading to the festival, Clarke recommends checking out artist bios on the Calgary Folk Music Festival website so they don’t miss out on bands they might enjoy.

“I get people saying, ‘Oh you should hire so-and-so,’ and I say, ‘Well, actually, you know they played five years ago,’ and they say, ‘I hadn’t heard of them then,” Clarke said.

“So try not to be that person.”

Clarke also recommends that festival-goers come prepared for any kind of weather and bring something to sit on, water bottles, raincoats, bug spray, sunscreen and hats.

The 2019 Calgary Folk Music Festival takes place from Thursday, July 25 to Sunday, July 28 at Prince’s Island Park. Tickets and more festival information can be found on the festival website.

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