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Calgary Folk Fest 2014: Part II

I parked myself next to the tree I had sat beside the year prior and scarfed down three slices of pizza from the Avatara food truck. Clouds and frowns were both absent from the park on Saturday afternoon, and everyone was in high spirits. Children stumbled up the hill towards me, grinning madly and shouting incoherent gibberish. I sat and studied the parents, all well-dressed, well-spoken and seemingly well-educated. Every movement they made, from lazy stretches to simple gestures in conversation seemed so purposeful, so certain. I began to wonder what I was doing with my life, nearly 25 years old with few hopes and dreams outside of double-fisting booze and inhaling illegal substances. Then I realized these yuppies weren’t young and successful in spite of me, rather they were all in their mid-30’s. They had a decade on me, at least. There was a generational drift occurring, it seemed we were growing up later and later, and a small part of me yearned for the 30’s and real life responsibility. I felt like a 25 year old child. Might as well join the kids and go for a tumble down the hill.

Narcissism aside, it was a gorgeous day at the Calgary Folk Fest. The afternoon shows were always incredible entertainment, as three to four bands would pile on stage and take turns jamming out.

“This one’s mostly in C minor but it has a weird breakdown… Fuck.. I uh don’t know how to play music”

Matthew Swann was an absolute riot, and he had me in stitches with his off-colour commentary and self-depreciative humor. The music was fantastic as well, and the mixed audience of graham cracker crunching Canadians were a very gracious host. Playing with The Blue Warblers, Jaron Freeman-Fox, and Hello Moth, Swann was a standout, and a welcome bit of dry humor on a scorching afternoon. I decided to skip over to the Eau Claire Market Collective outside the grounds and catch a quick set by local favorites Raleigh.

It was a modest set as they swam through a handful of tracks from their latest release, “Sun Grenades & Grenadine Skies“, as well as a Syd Barrett cover and a brand new tune “Sunlight”. The vibrations were great. Geiger shot me a quick nod between verses while I snagged a few photos. It was a serene scene, independent vendors peddled vegan-conscious hemp products of all varieties while potential customers weaved in and out of one another slowly. It all seemed very Canadian, and the music certaintly helped.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Raleigh-Still-Light.mp3|titles=Raleigh – Still Light]
Raleigh – Still Light

“They’re based out of Brooklyn, but don’t hold that against them!”

The Lone Bellow was the first big mainstage act of the day, and admittedly it was the first time I had heard of the band. An aged volunteer couldn’t stop spouting off about how amazing they were, and I was skeptical at first as she didn’t strike me as a music savvy individual. Fortunately for everyone, The Lone Bellow was perhaps the best performance of the entire festival.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/The-Lone-Bellow-You-Can-Be-All-Kinds-of-Emotional.mp3|titles=The Lone Bellow – You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional]
The Lone Bellow – You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional

It was the perfect mix; they had enough old country roots to keep the older crowd entertained, and enough youthful charisma to absolutely blow me away. I scribbled the words “Infinitely awesome”, and sat in awe as they obliterated the stage.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/The-Lone-Bellow-You-Dont-Love-Me-Like-You-Used-To.mp3|titles=The Lone Bellow – You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To]
The Lone Bellow – You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To

Over at Stage 5, Portland act ‘Typhoons’ was working through one of the lengthiest soundchecks of the festival, and rightfully so, considering there were a near dozen band members and each one played at least three instruments. Two drummers and their kits sat facing one another, set to duel, and I was taken aback by the sheer volume of human beings crowded onto the stage. They must be band kids, I thought.

“C’mon people, this is not sitting down music” a young man gestured to the crowd of horizontals. I was curious to see which direction Typhoon would take their music, and I was pleasantly surprised when they managed to completely transition between different genres and tempos with relative ease. Their sound was incredibly versatile, morphing and blending between songs and traversing the landscape of indie alternative. With so many options and so many instruments, Typhoon couldn’t have been more aptly named, and their whirlwind style was at times emotional, and at other times completely understated. They were a tour-de-force, and the crowd wasn’t sitting for long.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Typhoon-The-Honest-Truth.mp3|titles=Typhoon – The Honest Truth]
Typhoon – The Honest Truth

“The music is just so darned loud!” she wore far more wrinkles than she should have, but this old gal seemed down to party. There was a weird subculture that emerged in the beer gardens fueled by alcoholism and the desire to be surrounded by people. Groups of individuals had literally paid $40 a ticket to stand in the gardens and pay $7 a drink. It was the strangest phenomenon. Undoubtedly, the party in Calgary was at the Folk Fest, and these individuals were far more infatuated by the idea of being in a beer gardens than being at a music festival. For others, the beer gardens was a mere pit stop, a quick re-fuel before the next show, and after a speedious red-wine double-fist I made my way to the main stage to catch Jason Isbell.

I’d been a casual fan of Isbell’s for a few years. To me, he was singing pure country music, a genre that had seemingly died out years ago. The American Country Music scene had transformed in the last twenty years in such a heinous way. Growing up in Alberta, I knew all the words to Roy, Hank and Willie, Merle and Patsy, and even the last hangers-on to an era of music that was murdered by the pop giant. Isbell was one of the originals, he made country music about real shit. But I doubt he’d even label himself as such; Jason Isbell was simply being himself. There was a rugged honesty to his tone and projection, and I wrote very few notes as I listened.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Jason-Isbell-Alabama-Pines.mp3|titles=Jason Isbell – Alabama Pines]
Jason Isbell – Alabama Pines

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Jason-Isbell-Different-Days.mp3|titles=Jason Isbell – Different Days]
Jason Isbell – Different Days

Local hero Chad VanGaalen was rather confusingly set to take to the smaller stage, and the crowd was buzzing. There were a lot of underagers experiencing their first high; anxious and uncertain, not sure how to dance, and Chad certaintly didn’t make things easier for the rattled youth as he blasted them with a massive five-minute wall of reverb and pedalwork. I stood backstage snapping photos outward, and the scene was quite breathtaking as the sun began to set. The poor kids had their breath taken regardless, as Chad mercilessly hammered away on his electric.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Chad-VanGaalen-Cut-Off-My-Hands.mp3|titles=Chad VanGaalen – Cut Off My Hands]
Chad VanGaalen – Cut Off My Hands

“I smell the doobies, thank you”

Chad played some music, to which I assumed was from his latest album “Shrink Dust”, but it was infinitely difficult to figure out which song was actually playing. I scribbled down “Yeahhaughh (sp?)” in my notepad to signify the title of the tune I was hearing. Naturally, when checking the track list later, Yeahhaughh was not present. Van Gaalen was a musical mad scientist, and his art isn’t limited only to his music, which is why the show seemed somewhat incomplete. Yet there was no denying his immense talent, even without the slapstick fucking weirdness that encompasses his visual artistry.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Chad-VanGaalen-Monster.mp3|titles=Chad VanGaalen – Monster]
Chad VanGaalen – Monster

For a complete change of pace, the biggest act of the evening was a Canadian legend of another variety, Bruce Cockburn. The man had literally been making music since before my parents were born, and I was quite excited to sit directly in front of a folk God.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Bruce-Cockburn-Lovers-In-A-Dangerous-Time.mp3|titles=Bruce Cockburn – Lovers In A Dangerous Time]
Bruce Cockburn – Lovers in a Dangerous Time

Even after the press got kicked out of the pit, I managed to sweet-talk my way back in thanks to the pushover-softy they put in charge of security. Cockburn was an absolute guitar wizard, whizzing between frets and chords effortlessly. It was an incredible sight to behold, and unlike the majority of aged legends still touring, Cockburn sounded just as crisp and as poignant as his studio recordings from decades past. The old drifter’s lyricism resonated quite well with the gluten-free generation, and although he rarely spoke, his music spoke volumes and volumes.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Bruce-Cockburn-Silver-Wheels.mp3|titles=Bruce Cockburn – Silver Wheels]
Bruce Cockburn – Silver Wheels

Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80 were the last performance of the night, and admittedly I spent the majority of my time oogling the onstage backup singers/dancers. He played music, busted out the sax, and boogied down. According to my roommate, Kuti was the son of the most famous Nigerian musician of all time, Fela Kuti. The music certainly wasn’t my flavor, but as a connoisseur of sound I could appreciate the complexity of the arrangements. Truthfully, I was hypnotized by the rhythm, and the first three songs blended into a flash of color and noise. It was an energetic performance, and a solid ending to the third day of the festival.

“May I take your plate?” I watched this little swindler for a solid half hour as a sea of Canadian artists jammed out on the small stage. The Calgary Folk Fest had pushed the envelope on a number of green intiatives, and one of the new programs instilled was a plate recycling refund. All food trucks took a $2 deposit on the reusable plates they handed out with each dish, and this deposit could be easily obtained at one of the two plate refund tents. Naturally, everyone returned their plates when they were financially motivated to do so, but with this new program came opportunity. He was adorable, no older than eleven and a smooth talker. He would approach people sitting down who couldn’t be arsed to take a three minute walk to the refund tent, and offer to take their plates. Not everyone fell for his charms, but he made a solid killing regardless. I eavesdropped on his conversation with a festival volunteer, how he had made over $400 during the weekend, and how he was the ring leader of a very lucrative child labor operation. “Never be afraid of rejection” he quipped. I had a solid chuckle, and then I realized I wasn’t making a fucking dime for all the hard work I was doing. Christ, this kid was bound for success.

Sunday was a day of relaxation, the afternoon was littered with collaborative sets, and the atmosphere was mellow and reserved. There were a few big names left on the list, but the final day of Folk Fest was always one of quiet reflection, quite befitting of a Sunday in the park.

The first big act of the day was some supergroup with a notable Calgarian at the helm. I can’t quite remember the name, and perhaps rightfully so. They had the lengthiest list of press requests I’d ever seen, and they were less than welcoming to those in the press pit. We were advised to stay out of the center, and naturally, we all obliged, but after three minutes or so we were warned by their security cartel that we were far too close. Already shoved off to the side of the stage, we shot eachother disparaging looks as we were forced to shoot from a solid thirty feet away. I shrugged my shoulders and continued to take photos from a lengthy distance, but apparently this wasn’t far enough, as the security shoved us back once more. The end result was that we were completely off to stage right, and the opportunity for photos had diminished entirely. Apparently, this was regular fare for the Calgarian in question. The majority of the photographers in the pit looked completely pissed, and by the end of the second song we all left in droves, cursing and shaking our heads.

They played music. It was good, I guess. I elected not to pay attention, and not to give them a second thought.

The Jayhawks, in stark contrast, were more than graceful and welcoming, and pieced together a fantastic set of old classics and material that spanned the their releases in the late 90’s.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/The-Jayhawks-Save-It-For-A-Rainy-Day.mp3|titles=The Jayhawks – Save It For A Rainy Day]
The Jayhawks – Save It For A Rainy Day

After the show, I was completely exhausted. Four days of frantic writing, socializing and public drunkenness had taken a toll on my system. I had invited a girl to join me at the festival, but it seemed wholly unlikely that we would be meeting up at any point. She was with her close friends, and although we worked together for two months we hadn’t built up the necessary rapport to spend any time together. After a quick stop by the river for some pre-rolled alone time, I elected to leave early.

My phone hummed in my pocket. It was her. I was already seven blocks away, but I picked up regardless.

“Where are you?”
“I’m just near the press exit” I lied.
“Come and dance with me.”

That was all it took. Completely buzzing from my riverside session, I was struck with all kinds of emotions. I had to go back. I booked it as fast as I could.

The grand finale of the Folk Fest is a true sight to behold. Colorful balloon characters of all varieties are stuck on tall poles and paraded above the crowd, glowing beautifully in the darkness while the audiences floods to the stage and dances. It’s a blur of colour and laughter, and a magnificent end to the festivities. We danced together for a half hour or so before the emotional end, but the fun doesn’t stop there for those lucky enough to have access to the afterparty. My night went from dud to stud as we made our way to the Westin for the mayhem that was about to ensue.

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Special thanks to the volunteers and the Calgary Folk Fest staff who work tirelessly each year to keep our Festival as groovy as possible! See you soon!