Calgary Folk Fest Day One in Review

 Thursday at the folk fest started as all good folk fests do — with my friends asking me where the hell I was going when I left the beer gardens to actually watch a band. Such was the decision that led me to the main stage to watch Danny Michel with the Garifunda Collective . The Ontario singer-songwriter brought the Belize-based collective with him after recording his latest album with them which is chock-full of their traditional instrumentation and rhythms. It translates great live and led to some spectacularly awkward dancing which is always a treat. Michel seemed genuinely humbled to have the band with him trading off with them so they could play some of their time-honoured songs.

The next step was choosing between M. Ward and Hayes Carll two guys who couldn’t be more different and yet infuse the folk fest with equal levels of cool. M. Ward got the nod and did not disappoint. He played a quieter set than he could have but served as a terrific warm-up for headliners Alabama Shakes. I assume.

I made the somewhat controversial decision — okay not really controversial I am just trying to generate some conflict here — to head to the twilight stage to take in the American marvel Dan Bern . Comparisons to Dylan and Springsteen abound but Bern is funnier than either of them and often just as poignant. He played a short set that included some fan favourites some new songs and some of those folk tunes that have been played by just about every folk and country singer you can name. He also sprinkled in some banter poking fun at himself for the meager turnout for his set as the din from Alabama Shakes loomed in the background.

I did manage to catch the end of the Shakes set and there’s no doubt that Brittany Howard is a force of nature. The crowd got a kick out of the thunder and lightning that rolled in as the band closed out their set and the ground started to get spongy. Any more rain and the next three days could get interesting.


Today was the day of the folk fest that I usually expect to be the most relaxing evening. It’s usually a little bit more mellow because (I assume) people still have to get up early the next morning. This was not the case as the festival quickly became packed and the beer gardens were overflowing with people. The main drag which contained the food trucks and various food tents was difficult to make my way through which just shows the major success of the festival so early on.

The first act I saw wasn’t a full set as she had already started when I arrived but Amelia Curran played over at the Local 510 stage. It was singer/songwriter fare with a minimal band backing her. Mandolin and accordion were present but did not add a lot to the show. It was pleasant enough but nothing that was particularly exciting. It may have been the outdoor setting for this classic folk feeling but I think an indoor set would have suited her.

On the main stage Fanfare Cioc?rlia played to the majority and it was a positive start to the evening. The band is a large brass orchestra set to keep gypsy music going. It was a pretty loud spectacle which kept the people on the tarps happy enough to not fall asleep into their home-made sangria.

Samantha Martin and the Haggard played a great set after on the small stage. It should have been a larger crowd. She sang the most soulful emotional song about drinking whiskey I have heard even if she made it sound completely disgusting. Martin had two incredible back-up singers with her as well as an incredible guitarist to keep things rolling.

After this I checked out M. Ward . He has been a pretty big name in the whole indie rock scene since the year 2000 and has been the most popular recently with his work with Zooey Deschanel in the band She & Him. Unfortunately his solo music was more of a nostalgic trip down memory lane than it was a good time. He even did a cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” which may be one of the stupidest songs in the world.

Unfortunately I missed the rest of the evening but the first night was very busy trying to fit in a plethora of genres of music. It was a bit overwhelming but the variety can always be interesting.