We look past the headliners for the best of the fest
The Calgary Folk Music Festival the one weekend when the city’s hoola-hoopers hipsters and suburban soccer moms come together as equals has announced its 2010 lineup — and it’s a bit of an odd one. Soul legend Roberta Flack indie-pop darlings Stars and protest-rock mainstay Michael Franti are nothing to turn up your nose at but at first glance there’s no blow-you-out-of-the-water headliner to make the event a must-see (or more of a must-see than usual at least).
Anyone skeptical of the lineup’s strength though only needs to go through the undercard to see that it’s as strong as ever. Festival artistic director Kerry Clarke always strives to make the fest as eclectic as possible and once again she seems to have found a balance between the outré and the accessible.
Possibly the most exciting act on the bill is Man Man a Philadelphia act that last came to Calgary when it opened for Modest Mouse in 2008. The group has been described as “Viking vaudeville” an alliterative term that doesn’t mean much aside from “the band members probably have beards” — suffice it to say that their stage show blends frantic percussion gruff vocals and memorable melodies that recall a less-old-timey Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir.
Also in the top tier Congolese combo Konono N?1 blend traditional African instruments and vintage amplifiers into a one-of-a-kind hypnotic dance party. The group’s world music will sit well alongside other international acts like “urban flamenco” outfit El Puchero del Hortelaño and Nigerian nomad Etran Finatawa.
Soul fans will not want to miss Daptone recording artists Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens . The group shares more than just a label with previous folk fest highlight Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings — Shelton and company are just as committed to keeping the authentic spirit of ’60s soul and gospel alive which should translate into a phenomenal stage show. Add in the classic blues of Shakura S’Aida the jazz-laced hip hop of Israeli-American hybrid Coolooloosh and sets from DJs Dolores and Logic and you have a pretty irresistible soul selection.
Fans of indie-rock and pop will be pleased by the presence of Saskatchewan collective Library Voices whose swelling sound is hard to resist. Headliner St. Vincent is another coup; the singer has performed with the likes of the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens and her 2009 album Actor received near-universal acclaim. Then there’s Ontario’s Mathias Korn better known as The Burning Hell whose songs range from ditties about death to retellings of historical conferences all in a style that draws from The Magnetic Fields and Randy Newman among many others.
But as the name implies the Calgary Folk Music Festival is all about the folk and Clarke and company interpret that genre liberally enough to satisfy almost anyone. The lineup is packed with locals from Albertan institution Ian Tyson to folk-rocker Chris Gheran and the always-reliable J.R. Shore as well as occasional Calgarian Honeybear whose ukelele-based indie-folk seems to win over anyone in earshot. It’d be a bit more of a stretch to call Ghostkeeper folk but the eclectic Calgarians draw heavily enough from blues and roots that it’s a comfortable enough fit. As far as outsiders rising indie star Dan Mangan will likely be much harder to see in a year’s time and mainstagers The Swell Season (better known as the couple from the movie Once ) bring a gorgeously modern touch to a traditional genre. Then there’s the Ontarian Timber Timbre a project that sometimes conjures the saddened spectre of Howlin’ Wolf and other times conjures a more Canadian Bon Iver and we’ve still barely touched the surface of the lineup.
As has become the norm in the last couple of years it’s shaping up to be a brilliant summer. Between Folk Fest the Calgary Jazz Festival and Sled Island music fans have a ridiculous number of shows to choose from. Be sure to keep an eye on ffwdweekly.com (and especially the Fast Forward blogs ) for a more detailed look at the lineups and get ready for one hell of a summer.