Alberta’s music festival history on display in rich, deep new Studio Bell exhibition

This could quite possibly be the first weekend in recent memory where there hasn’t been a music festival of some sort in the city.

We just finished up with Wide Cut Weekend and the Calgary New Music Festival, and in a couple of weeks we’ll be in the middle of JazzYYC’s Canadian Jazz Festival. After the flip of the calendar there’ll be the Big Winter Classic, and right after that the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s Block Heater.

Look up the road, down the road, anywhere else in this province and it’s pretty much the same thing.

Music festivals — no longer a summer thing in these parts, it’s a perpetual thing.

So not surprisingly the latest temporary exhibition unveiled at the National Music Centre’s Studio Bell is an ATB Storytellers overview titled Festival Alberta.

“I don’t want to say it’s a no-brainer, but it’s kind of a no-brainer,” says Adam Fox, NMC’s director of programs. “Some things are so obvious that you have to do them.”

He laughs. “Maybe that’s not a glowing endorsement of our editorial team, but I think that what they’ve been able to pull together as far as the diversity and breadth and depth of the festivals and the festival scene and the legacy of festivals in Alberta, I think it’s tremendous.”

The exhibition, which is free to view in the lobby of Studio Bell, is compact but packed with memorabilia — posters, T-shirts, hats, photos, unused beer tickets (SAD!), etc. — and aural and video remembrances of notable, older established festivals such as the Calgary, Edmonton and Cochrane folk fests, Big Valley Jamboree and the various jazz festivals around Alberta, along with other multi-day musical events including Sled Island, Waynestock and more.

There’s also an area dedicated to the infamous travelling Festival Express, which brought such legendary artists as Janis Joplin, The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Buddy Guy and the Grateful Dead to Calgary via train in July of 1970.

The whole thing tells the history of festivals in this province while also giving context to why the current ones exist and why there seems to be an unquenchable thirst for more.

“I think this province has always had an appetite for supporting and sustaining music festivals. I think we realize the importance of it,” Fox says.

“Out here in the west we are a bit secluded, there is remoteness to Alberta and I think these grassroots festivals have sprung up from a desire for communities to have a larger, connected experience. I think that’s why festivals have always been successful in Alberta.”

He continues. “It’s such a great fit for NMC to be doing this because we believe in the power of music to connect people, we believe in the power of music as a community bonding piece and I think this exhibition really encapsulates that value and that philosophy.”

And while small in space taken up, Fox calls Festival Alberta a “rich” and “deep” exhibition that “rewards multiple visits.”

Visitors to Studio Bell will have that opportunity, as it will be on display until April, 2018.

For more information, please click here.

(Photo of Sled Island’s Shawn Petsche and Maud Salvi courtesy Brandon Wallis.)