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Calgary Folk Fest: The Editors’ Picks

Our handy guide to the can’t-miss acts of the folk fest

With the plethora of options and a noggin fried by sunstroke and pale ale it may not be easy making sense of that ratty festival guide’s schedule. So we’ve done the work for you ahead of time. Here are our selections for the fest’s must-see acts. Actually we wrote these down so we won’t forget what we need to see too.

THURSDAY JULY 21: JOEL PLASKETT

When 30-something Maritime songwriter Joel Plaskett wrote about drunk teenagers starting fights — from the first-person perspective at that — we thought he’d gone off the deep end. But that track from the opening act of 2007’s Ashtray Rock wasn’t Plaskett putting his Greig Nori hat on; that LP one of the ballsiest concept albums in recent memory sought to capture the life cycle of a band with each track being an evolutionary step towards its finale.

“Drunk Teenagers” was Plaskett method acting — in lyric song and tone — and that it was labelled vapid only cements its efficacy. Then Plaskett got ballsier releasing a triple album (2009’s Three duh) that somehow wasn’t a chore to listen to. As Canadiana goes Plaskett’s one of a generation’s finest pop minds.

When: Mainstage 7:30 p.m.

Required listening: Thrush Hermit’s Sweet Homewrecker The Emergency’s Truthfully Truthfully and Ashtray Rock

FRIDAY JULY 22: MINOTAURS

You should be just as distrustful of supergroups as you should be of old-guard Can-rock stars. Unless of course you’re talking about Minotaurs. The project of Nathan Lawr of the Constantines Gentleman Reg Jim Guthrie and more this surprisingly doesn’t sound like indie rock: Expect to hear jazz-inflected Afrobeat jams funk-infused pysch and whispery dollops of inner-sanctum goodness.

But then if you’re the type to be impressed by supergroups we’ll just leave these names here: Ohbijou Holy Fuck Ron Sexsmith’s band the Wooden Sky the Hylozoists and many many more. Band’s CV looks like the last fucking 10 years of Exclaim’s CD reviews section. Jesus.

When: Stage 5 4 p.m.

Required listening: The soon-to-be-released Eat Yr Hate The Thing

SATURDAY JULY 23: LIGHTNING DUST

Amber Webber’s long been Black Mountain’s not-so-secret weapon but where her main gig outsmokes its competition Lightning Dust outspooks the rest. Sparse hollow and built around Webber’s haunting timbre — and as on 2009’s Infinite Light sometimes a Steinway grand piano — this side project strips the heft of Black Mountain leaving only the residual experimental tendencies.

Accordingly Lightning Dust garners eye-of-the-beholder comparisons from those who’ve spent time with the band: Some point to blues burners. Others still hear fractured piano-and-organ-based folk. Reviews have name-dropped rockabilly and Krautrock (seriously). All are reaching but one thing’s consistent: Webber’s vibrato grips and doesn’t let go making Lightning Dust’s arrangements feel almost secondary.

When: Stage 5 10:30 a.m.; Stage 4 4:20 p.m. (how fitting); and Stage 4 6 p.m.

Required listening: Infinite Light Lightning Dust

SUNDAY JULY 24: NEW COUNTRY REHAB

With a title like New Country Rehab — and a Myspace wallpaper featuring the Dakota the Toronto country bar that helped launch the city’s best including Elliott Brood the Beauties and Rattlesnake Choir — it’s not hard to imagine this trio’s sound.

This is new outlaw music: Pundits will make the easy references to Waylon and Willie Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt. All fair comparisons but this sound comes preternaturally to NCR — bandleader John Showman was born to fiddle while guitarist Kevin Breit brings broader sensibilities to its music adding flourishes that look beyond old-school country. (Its one-sheet compares him to Tom Morello though he’d fit in fine with a Bellwoods campfire jam.) Whatever you call it however this isn’t open mic night — it’s as inventive as Canadian alt-country gets in 2011.

When: Stage 5 10:30 a.m.; Stage 6 1:50 p.m.; and Stage 6 3:15 p.m.

Required listening: New Country Rehab

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