Wayne Petti Kris Ellestad and Geoff Berner get collaborative at folk fest workshops

WAYNE PETTI CUFF THE DUKE // Words by Christine Leonard

Aiming to slap Cowtown’s passing fascination with the monarch upside the head this summer guitar-picking vocalist Wayne Petti of Toronto’s alt-rock darlings Cuff the Duke is eager to trade his electric guitar for an acoustic model when he performs at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. And thanks to his work with CTD he’s had the chance to run with the likes of Sloan The Weakerthans The Sadies Hayden Calexico and Nick Cave.

“When I reflect on the last decade I’m surprised how quickly 10 years has passed” Petti says. “I think that’s because we still go about doing everything the same way we always have. The formula hasn’t changed — we remain dedicated to performing to the best of our abilities and being ourselves in all things. We’ve worked hard to make a better life through music and it’s nice to see that paying off. We have loyal fans and we truly appreciate that as a great way to determine our success. Cuff the Duke never worried about writing hit singles as a priority but once you get to one level you automatically want to move to the next higher plain.”

Petti will show off his rock-bound roots and match his stomping and strumming skills against those of some hand-picked talent at a special workshop dubbed Men of Constant Sorrow. Selected as much for similarities as differences the lineup will see Petti who has been singled out as one-to-watch by Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo mounting the stage alongside more “traditional” folk-country acts including Matt Masters and the Gentlemen of the Rodeo Morgan O’Kane and the appropriately named New Country Rehab. Eager to test his metal or wood and wire Petti ruminates on the borderless nature of the folk genre and its ever-expanding cultural footprint.

On Matt Masters

“I’ve heard of Matt Masters but this will be my first time performing with him” Petti says of the much-celebrated Calgarian. “Almost all of my family lives in Calgary and some of them feel as though Calgary gets looked down upon as not being Toronto and Montreal. I think Calgary is amazing and has a lot to be proud of and I’m glad that someone like Matt is celebrating the fact that Alberta produces so much great music. I’d like to see Toronto sell out a three- or four-day folk festival packed with solid acts!”

On New Country Rehab:

“I’m OK. I mean I can hold my own” he says. “I’ve seen New Country Rehab play twice and I’m excited to work with such a stacked band. They’re just great players with genuinely beautiful songs. A lot of alt-country bands borrow from heavy rock hair metal and Hank III. New Country Rehab doesn’t just amalgamate what’s already been done — they put a new spin on it and make it their own. It’s going to be a hell of a workshop! I predict many a solo.”

On Morgan O’Kane

“Morgan is an unusual folk festival artist in that he’s definitely punk rock” muses Petti. “It’s present in the attitude in which the music is brought forth. To me punk rock isn’t just about spiked hair and leather jackets it’s in your approach. ‘I don’t care who’s watching’ and ‘insert swear word here’ — Morgan embodies that in his words and his methods. It’s about being DIY enough to put whatever you’re doing first and still having something that’ll make people raise an eyebrow.”

KRIS ELLESTAD // Words by Lindsay Bowman

Kris Ellestad may be one of Calgary’s “best-kept secrets” but not for long. Having just returned from a tour that took him across Ontario Quebec and the Prairies combined with an impressive new album entitled No Man is Land and several sessions at this weekend’s Calgary Folk Music Festival Ellestad is poised to break through as one of the city’s star singer-songwriters.

Recorded over a year and a half with some songs written as many as four years ago No Man is Land is truly the culmination of years of work.

“I used to record spontaneously and keep adding layers until a song appeared but for this album I saved up songs for a few years and kept working on them until it felt right to sit down and record” Ellestad says. Though he has released other material (a home recording called Third Person in 2006 and the Hibernation EP in 2008) Ellestad considers No Man is Land his first full public offering.

The new album helped fuel Ellestad’s recent return to performance after almost three years of making rare live appearances. Having just come off his first-ever tour Ellestad is excited about playing to new audiences. “Playing live can be a lot of fun if the right elements come together. My first priority is to play well but a close second is making people laugh” he says. “Playing to strangers is my favourite thing because an unfamiliar audience tends to be pretty transparent about whether they enjoy what I’m doing or not.”

Ellestad will get several opportunities to connect with new audiences when he plays three workshops at the festival this weekend. The second of the workshops aptly titled Avant Bards will see him play with Cadence Weapon Elvis Bossa Nova and former Calgarians Braids on Saturday morning.


Formerly known as The Neighbourhood Council Braids regularly crossed paths with Ellestad before they relocated to Montreal in 2008. Calling them “skinny wizards” Ellestad says he expects the band will contribute “more style than I know what to do with” to his songs.


At the same workshop Edmonton poet laureate and rapper Cadence Weapon will lend a hip-hop sensibility to the mix. Cadence Weapon is no stranger to cross-genre collaboration: He has performed with folk artists as part of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra with Acres of Dreams at this year’s High Performance Rodeo and has recently collaborated with Laura Barrett and Woodpigeon’s Mark Hamilton as part of the National Parks Project. “I have at least one song in mind that could benefit from some freestyling” Ellestad says adding that he expects the collaboration will bring “something completely different” to his songs.


Finally the workshop includes Toronto “garage-jazz troupe” Elvis Bossa Nova. “Their name has me intrigued” Ellestad says. “I own a CD by a band called Dread Zeppelin. They cover Led Zeppelin songs in a reggae style and their singer sounds like Elvis. I am hoping this band might be an offshoot.” Offshoot they aren’t but the workshop promises a special blending of genres regardless (and maybe even some quirky Elvis covers to boot).

Ellestad will be featured in two other sessions both of which guarantee one-of-a-kind results. On Friday afternoon he’ll play with indie folk outfits City and Color and Raleigh as part of a workshop titled Fables of the Reconstruction. On late Saturday morning he’ll team up with friends Hollow Brethren a collaboration between The Cape May’s Clinton St. John and Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir’s Bob Keelaghan. “I’m hopeful that they will provide the marshmallow-and-chocolate counterparts to my otherwise graham wafer-y songs” Ellestad jokes of his festival collaborators. A treat for longtime followers and new fans alike.

GEOFF BERNER // Words by Mark Teo

Call Vancouver’s Geoff Berner the only klezmer artist who’s been compared to a legendary Hastings street punk institution. “I sent the new album to a French booking agent and he said ‘that first song reminded me of this band. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them but they’re called No Means No.’”

He stifles a laugh. “I was like ‘Yeah I’ve heard of them. I’ve been going to their shows since I was 14.’ That was a great thing to have a Frenchman say — this klezmer record reminds him of No Means No.”

Such an observation might seem random but it’s hardly untrue. Berner says he arrived at klezmer a genre he calls “a catch-all for various musics of Eastern European Jews including vaudeville sacred music wedding instrumentals and street songs” by way of DOA and co. And like so many snot-nosed punks he says he chose his weapon of choice the accordion by route of a boozy threat.

“I was drunk and threatening to play the accordion because I was annoyed that my friends would go and play guitar to make money in front of the liquor store” recalls Berner who has been playing accordion for 18 years. “My instrument was piano and it wasn’t portable. So it was like ‘I’ll show you all. I’ll take up the accordion and you’ll be sorry!’”

But he’s not the only artist at the Calgary Folk Music Festival playing Jewish music. First at the aptly titled Mazel Tov! workshop he’s paired with longtime pal Socalled (an emcee who helped produce his recent Mint Records-released LP Victory Party) and the Middle Eastern blues of Yemen Blues. Next he’ll pair with Cutest Kitten Ever C.R. Avery and Raghu Lokanathan while he ends the fest jamming out with The Swamp Ward Orchestra and Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk.

Confused? You should be.

“The workshops are unique” he says. “There’s an encouragement to collaborate on the fly — that’s the real beauty of it. There’s a creative risk: It could be really good or really bad. The great thing is if you get world-class players together you have a shot at creating a musical event that is completely unique perfect and will never exist again.”

Berner’s no stranger to Calgary either. He’s pleased with the randomness of the workshops — something he credits to the “chaotic presence of [artistic co-ordinator] Kerry Clarke — and as it turns out he also met his partner in Calgary at the folk fest. This year the two will celebrate their 10-year anniversary. And much like his curious decision to adopt the accordion alcohol was the catalyst to his decade-long romance.

“I saw her sitting by herself by the beer garden” he says. “And I just said ‘You should come drink with us.’” And in love as in accordion Berner never looked back.


“He makes a lot of sense — he produced my latest record played all the keyboards on it and even played drums on one track. He constructed my record — it’s going to be awesome to have him as a musical presence on my live performance! He’s a ball of electric fun.”


“It’s going to be exciting. We’re going to have a Jewish jamboree. He plays this Jewish blues style — that’ll be the wildcard. That’s going to be an opportunity to create something that never existed before and will never exist again.”


“This is on When the Levee Breaks on Saturday [July 23]. Cutest Kitten Ever is his frighteningly civilized vocal folk project with evil terrifying lyrics. It’s the most subversive stuff he’s ever done.