Picking the lineup and the adventure

Choose Yer Own Festival is an eclectic mix of submissions all around Calgary

This is how a little festival began with the submissions call for the second annual Choose Yer Own Festival:

1. Focus on what is local and awesome .

2. Don’t be offensive discriminatory or mean.

3. Respect venues local bylaws and local residents.

4. Keep it all ages.

5. Do it for fun not for money.

The Choose Yer Own Festival is a strange little creature that ekes out a niche on the farthest edge of Calgary’s festival season. An early e-mail calling for submissions exhorted “the crazier and less logistically viable the better” and the resulting mix of events (the vast majority of them free) includes among others a synthesizer-building workshop at the Cantos Music Foundation and a leisurely float down the Bow River. It’s a grassroots collection of local artists and scenesters the kind of folks who are up for a game of Capture the Flag in the dark and it’s as appropriately low-key a conclusion to the summer as festivals come.

Helming the website venues and sparkling enthusiasm that together form the festival is Laura Lief a multidisciplinary artist whose dabblings include the Imaginary Ordinary “social networking site” on Centre Street N.E. and formerly the local indie music group The Consonant C. As festival co-coordinator she sees Choose Yer Own as a place for Calgarians to enjoy their city while showcasing the esthetic sensibilities of The Summerwood Warren the community-based arts collective responsible for the festival.

“A lot of what drives me is showing the potential of things” she says. “It’s so appealing to me because it’s [planning a festival] in a way that other people can mimic. If you have an idea you can just do it and there’s so many resources you can use.”

For Lief the festival is a way of promoting a local network a group of artists and anyone else interested in creating a self-sustaining community that is meaningfully connected to the city. Appropriately then Choose Yer Own has venues scattered across Calgary that include The Plaza Theatre (or at least the pavement immediately in front of it) the Central United Church Imaginary Ordinary and several Calgary parks and other outdoor public sites. Transportation between venues is of course entirely up to festival audiences but with a “Choose Yer Own” bike adventure and picnic there’s a clear emphasis on cycling.

This year’s events include covers of Daniel Johnston songs played under a bridge a “live audiobook” presented by Ryan Fitzpatrick and a game of Capture the Flag that begins at 11 p.m. But while there’s a welcome exuberance that seems to permeate every event one might wonder just who are the kind of people who would willingly put on robot costumes and battle as participants did in last year’s “robot battles!”?

“We’re not pretending to [represent everyone] just because we’re open to any submissions. It still appeals to a really specific kind of person” says Lief. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing it’s like any festival.”

Reluctant to pigeonhole the festival’s audience Lief instead believes that it’s more a question of the festival being led by its participants rather than attracting a particular group.

“I don’t feel like we’re shaping it” she says. “[The festival] depends on who gets involved and how they want to be involved. But it is very much like curiously minded. It’s an interesting fusion of arts community and the music scene.”

Last year’s festival was able to include every submission the Warren received. This year the lineup has been trimmed to remove duplicated events and to encourage duplicate presenters to collaborate. That kind of collaboration lies at the heart of the festival combined with its emphasis on actively exploring and playing with the spaces we live in. Where most of the season’s festivals draw artists from the national or international scenes into specific venues Choose Yer Own aims to position Calgarians within the macro-venue of their own city. As submission deadlines go “local” and “awesome” aren’t bad places to start.

“[The festival] is super focused on the local in terms of using the city as a landscape” says Lief “finding venues that are kind of all over the place and [focusing] on biking and activities that focus on exploring the city. It’s all organized by local people — a reflection of what all these Calgarians find exciting and want to see and built out of local artists’ brains.”

For scheduling and more information go to chooseyerown.wordpress.com