Calgary folk fest’s Block Heater back for another midwinter, musical thaw

Heat? Bring it.

After Snowmageddon 2017 followed by four days in the deep freeze, this weekend there will be a thaw.

Physically, psychologically and musically.

On Friday, the second Calgary Folk Music Festival’s Block Heater event kicks off and provides three days of soul-warming, ear-muffing goodness in Inglewood.

Just in time. And once again.

Heartened by the success of the inaugural event in 2016, which sold out and benefitted from a stacked roster of local, national and international folk-friendly acts — including Alejandro Escovedo, Tom Phillips, Frazey Ford, Art Bergmann, Corey Harris, Elliott Brood and Copperhead — as well as some unseasonably, hopefully recurring warm weather, organizers were ready to bring the heat once more. 

“I do think Block Heater was a success last year — enough to do it again this year,” says folk fest/Block Heater artistic director Kerry Clarke.

And this year once again adds a little sizzle to the midwinter bummers with another sensational lineup of acts to get you to the summer sessions, including: Calgary-bred, roots brooder Reuben and the Dark; Texas alt country artist Hayes Carll; local soul-country crooner-on-the-rise JJ Shiplett, who just released his major-label debut; Aussie showman Henry Wagons; Afro-folk artist Taj Weekes with collaborator Adowa; Toronto’s country fellers NQ Arbuckle; funny, funky bluesman C.R. Avery; DJ Shub, a former member of hip-hop act A Tribe Called Red; and some phenomenal homegrowners including Evan Freeman, Mariel Buckley, The Torchettes, Sargeant and Comrade, Sykamore and van Kampen brother projects The Northwest Passage and SAVK.

There are also, helping to make the event more diverse than its predecessor in Clarke’s ears, a pair of special showcases including a world music one and an Indigenous evening, featuring an eclectic array of acts in both areas — from the more traditional to electronic performers.

Many of those artists will also participate in workshops throughout the weekend, this year with six opportunities to see some once-in-a-lifetime collaborations as opposed to last year’s four.

It’s but one tweak they’ve made to an already pretty, perfect formula.

“We learned some things,” she says, noting that the ideas of purchasing festival wristbands — as opposed to tickets for single events — and that entry into shows was still dependent on capacity was something that regular folk fest folks needed to be trained on.

They added an extra, larger venue — the Alexandra Dance Hall — to the roster that also includes Festival Hall, Ironwood and Lantern Church, which should help alleviate that, and they also think just by the fact that it’s the second year people will plan ahead and realize that nothing in life is guaranteed.

They’ll also be doing some other things surrounding Block Heater to help make it a site- and season-specific event that’s different from its summer sister, including doing “field recordings” with some of the artistic participants outside and in the cold, and maybe some more ice statues around the area. 

“I think it had a similar but different feel to the summer festival,” Clarke says of the general idea around the offering.

“We were able to have some fun with winter. It being in the block with people walking around, you’d be on your way to a show and you’d see someone walking to another show, so it created that kind of festival, ‘We’re all together in this’ vibe.”

That goes for the community, itself. Part of the push of Block Heater is to celebrate and showcase the neighbourhood that the folk fest has made its permanent residence the past four years. That’s why all of the venues are within walking distance of each other and why organizers have gone out of their way to encourage Heater-goers to patronize the businesses — be it having dinner before a show or a pint or two after.

“We love being in Inglewood,” Clarke says. “It’s got a great feel, it’s got really good businesses and we want to support them.”

And, that said, the Calgary Folk Music Festival also hopes that Block Heater is a great reminder that this city’s music-lovers should get ready to support the folk fest’s big show, which this year will take place July 27-30 in its summer home on Prince’s Island Park.

The February thaw is just a warmup for the main event, just an indication of what’s to come, which Clarke says will be something pretty special.

“We’re going to sell out this year,” she says with a confident, radiant smile. “I’m not kidding you, we’re going to sell out, every single night.

“It’s going to be sold out. Mark my words.”

Calgary Folk Music Festival’s Block Heater takes place Friday through Sunday at several locations in Inglewood. For tickets and a full schedule of events please click here.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on at Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.