Calgary’s top fests plus a few from outside the city

You picked the best Calgary festivals and we’re certainly not going to argue with you — but why limit yourself to the city limits when there’s a world of festivals within day-trip distance? Here’s a rundown on your favourite local fests and a few out-of-town events that are worth the drive.

THE BEST OF CALGARY:

Calgary Folk Music Festival
July 22 to 25
Prince’s Island Park

Who’s playing: The Avett Brothers Michael Franti Corb Lund Roberta Flack Man Man The Burning Hell Konono No. 1 and more

Why to go: It may be an artist that draws you to the folk fest for the first time but it’s the atmosphere that keeps you coming back. Folk fest prides itself on attracting Calgarians of all stripes from hippies to yuppies to people who get offended if you call them hippies or yuppies. That kind of broad appeal can be tough to maintain but the fest has consistently pulled it off for long enough that it’s no surprise it’s the Best of Calgary winner.

Sled Island
June 30 to July 3
Various venues

Who’s playing: Built to Spill Girl Talk Hot Water Music Dinosaur Jr. The Black Lips Deerhoof Why? and more

Why to go: Calgary’s most ambitious festival is modelled after venue-spanning events like South by Southwest or Pop Montreal so it’s far more about the experience than any individual act. Sure the fest has consistently booked some amazing artists from Boredoms to the RZA but wandering from venue to venue receiving tips from strangers on bands you’ve never heard of poring over the schedule and tearing your hair out when three of your favourite acts are on at the exact same time — that’s what makes Sled Island the fest for serious music fans.

Lilac Festival
Sunday May 30
4th St. S.W.

Who played: Souls in Rhythm Cort Delano King Dylan Goodbye Beatdown and more

Why to go: Well you can’t. It already happened. But for next year’s event the reasons are simple: it’s free it’s fun and it’s in the heart of downtown. Lilac Fest isn’t really a music festival. It’s not even about the food vendors craft-sellers and disgusting amounts of kettle corn although that’s part of the appeal. Mostly it’s a chance to see our downtown streets used for community-building instead of traffic jams — no wonder it’s been voted Calgary’s best free festival 13 years in a row.

OUTSIDE THE CITY

Canmore Folk Festival
July 31 to August 2
Canmore Alberta

Who’s playing: The Sojourners Buffy Sainte-Marie Matt Andersen Ruthie Foster and more

Why to go: If Calgary’s folk fest isn’t folky enough for you just go west young man. The Canmore Folk Festival is more traditional than Calgary’s mostly sticking to folk blues and roots — though this year’s fest features some Polynesian rhythms courtesy of New Zealand’s Te Vaka and Latin jazz from Amanda Martinez. With 33 years of festival experience and a location right in the heart of the mountains it’s a folk experience that’s hard to top.

Motion Notion
July 15 to 19
Drayton Valley Alberta

Who’s playing: The Crystal Method Mimosa Phonotactic Small Town DJs and more

Why to go: Because sometimes you just need to dance and because Shambhala is too far away. Alberta’s electronic music festival takes a beautiful foothills setting and turns it into a blissfully chaotic mix between a dance party art installation and ’60’s-style happening. Festival founder James Katalyst sums up the event’s philosophy with the phrase “movement is existence” but even if you’re more into the motion than the notion you’re sure to fit right in.

Mukwah Jamboree
August 13 to 15
Mukwah Tours — near Sundre Alberta

Who’s playing: Dojo Workhorse Jay Crocker The Sheepdogs Cowpuncher The Psychic Alliance Free Nude Celebs and more

Why to go: Now entering its fourth year Mukwah isn’t so much a festival as a camping trip that just happens to have an excellent roster of (mostly Calgarian) talent. Spearheaded by Danny Vescarelli of Deadhorse and The Doer and the Doddler the fest began as a birthday party and has grown into a showcase for up-and-coming acts with a focus on fun and community spirit. Plus how many other festivals offer whitewater rafting?

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