Matt Mays, Basia Bulat, Saint Sister among headliners for the Calgary folk festival’s 2019 Block Heater

It’s here.

You can suffer through it or merely endure, or you can embrace it and all of the phenomenal things it brings.

In this part of the world, at this time of the year, that used to mean close the door, crank the heat and grumble, or layer up, grab the skis or skates and flip-off frostbite.

Winter, now, means options. For all. Outdoors and indoors.

The preponderance of options for arts lovers of late has become a welcome addition to the cold-weather, eight-month calendar, especially for music lovers.

Well, you can once again slot in the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s February event Block Heater as a reason to leave the house, brave the roads and have an incredible communal musical experience.

Four years in, the event is growing in size and stature, and has become something people pen into their New Year to-do list, for good reason.

“It can be pretty bleak in the winter, so I think anything that gets people outdoors and out of the house is really welcome,” says folk fest’s longtime artistic director Kerry Clarke.

“In the winter we’re not competing as much with people going camping — obviously people go skiing and do things, but maybe there’s something to be said for people wanting a bit of a respite from being indoors and something cool outside.

“There’s more and more things happening. There’s the BIG Winter Classic, there’s us, there the (One Yellow Rabbit) High Performance Rodeo — to me it was always, ‘Thank god there’s the Performance Rodeo, January’s unpleasant.’

“So I think we’re really trying to do some of that in the context of Block Heater, where people can go, ‘Wow, here’s an awesome thing to do for a weekend in February.’ ”

And “awesome” is a pretty accurate way to describe the recently unveiled lineup, which will grace the stages of Festival Hall, Studio Bell, the King Eddy and the new Central Library from Feb. 21-23.

Headliners for the three-day event include: Canadian faves Matt Mays and Basia Bulat, who will perform two shows each “to accommodate the number of people who might want to see them”; Irish duo Saint Sister, an act that Clarke describes as “a little ethereal … and poppy, cool harmonies and there’s a harp in there”; 2018 Polaris Music Prize shortlisters Pierre Kwenders and Snotty Nose Rez Kids; sassy and saucy Edmonton pop-rock(marching) band The Wet Secrets; and Portland singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx (“I love, love, love Haley Heynderickx,” says Clarke. “I’m super excited to introduce her”).

The rest of the lineup is a predictably eclectic and enticing crew that includes the international (The Handsome Family, Pokey LaFarge), national (Ashley MacIsaac, Paper Beat Scissors) and, of course, local (Samantha Savage Smith, Lucky Sonne, Cartel Madras, Shaye Zadravec) — to name but a few.

For Clarke, the opportunity to program a mini, frostier version of the folk fest’s crown jewel — which next year will be celebrating 40 years — is something that she enjoys for a number of reasons, including the fact she can showcase artists whose schedules wouldn’t allow for them to head here any other time, namely that July event, as well as that it’s just another way for the organization to cement its place and reputation in the city’s entertainment eyes and ears.

As to how, exactly, she approaches the programming or looks at Block Heater in general, that, like the event itself has changed over its history.

“I don’t know how I look at it,” she says frankly. “I don’t know how to say it — it’s a cool addition, it’s a cool add on, it’s a supplement to what we do and it’s evolving. So I guess my thoughts about it are evolving …

“I see it as a pretty significant part of our annual offerings and a way to remind people that we’re here all year.”

And, as she alluded, the festival is still evolving, with some notable changes from year one to 2019, including the fact that it’s less an Inglewood event and has, excluding Festival Hall on the Thursday night, now turned into an East Village-centric fest.

All of the sessions and programming for the remaining two nights are in Studio Bell, Eddy and the new Central Library. And they’re also hoping to add outdoor elements in the area — Clarke says they’re looking to block off the street in front of the St. Louis and the library, and have some family-friendly events and activities, such as a fire pit, marshmallow roasting and other things.

“To really celebrate winter,” she says, “like we celebrate summer in the summer.”

Not endure. But embrace.

(Matt Mays photo courtesy Elizabeth Wiltshire.)

Block Heater runs Feb. 21-23. For tickets, festival passes and the complete schedule, please go to https://www.calgaryfolkfest.com/blockheater.

Here is the full list of 2019 Block Heater artists:

Andrew Combs

Ashley MacIsaac

Basia Bulat

Beatrice Deer

Cartel Madras

Carter Felker

DJ Logic

Eamon McGrath Devastation Trio


Haley Heynderickx

The Handsome Family

Jeff Lang

Kacy & Clayton

Kay Berkel

Lucky Sonne

The Mariachi Ghost

Matt Mays

Paper Beat Scissors

Pierre Kwenders

Pokey LaFarge


Saint Sister

Samantha Savage Smith

Shaela Miller

Shaye Zadravec


Snotty Nose Rez Kids

The Wet Secrets