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Forty years of Calgary Folk Music Festival memories in focus with new photo exhibit at Studio Bell

The relationship between the Calgary Folk Music Festival and the National Music Centre has always been a close one.

Last year, for example, the fest moved part of its colder cousin Block Heater into NMC’s Studio Bell and for the upcoming event, Feb. 21-23, they will once again put the bulk of the Friday and Saturday programming into the East Village hub and home.

It’s a home, it should also be noted, that NMC’s president and CEO Andrew Mosker says was architecturally inspired by the summer experience on Prince’s Island Park.

And now Studio Bell is where the festival’s 40th anniversary celebrations have kicked off.

On the walls of the fifth floor National Bank Special Exhibitions Gallery is where you’ll find Forty Years of Forward Thinking — a photography and poster exhibit spanning the life of the fest.

The 40-piece photo collection, which is also running in conjunction with Exposure, Alberta’s Photography Festival, will be on display until March 4, 2019, features some remarkable shots from over the years as the fest grew into what it now is.

“We’re super excited to take a look back on all of the things we’ve done over the past four decades,” CFMF’s executive director Sara Leishman said during the unveiling.

“We started out as this (summer) event and now we’re this year-round thing. Sometimes we even have to remind ourselves of that.”

For the rest of us, the exhibit conjures some pretty wonderful ghosts of folk fest’s past, with images of such stars as kd lang, Kris Kristofferson, Kathleen Edwards, Feist, Chris Isaak, Charles Bradley, Neko Case, David Byrne and Father John Misty.

Visitors check out some of the photos in the new exhibit Forty Years of Forward Thinking. (Photo courtesy Brenna Pladsen.)

Leishman, who’s been the ED since 2017, has worked at the fest since 2010 and who grew up as a patron, points to the lang one as conjuring significant memories as well as another one that’s less about the people on the stage than the stage itself.

“The picture of the old Mainstage that was oriented in a different way, I remember seeing the Violent Femmes play that stage and dancing in the mud because it was really rainy that year,” she said.

One of the most striking thing about the exhibit is that the audience and beloved volunteers are given as much play as the big-name acts in the photo selections. For that Leishman credits curators, Elyse Bouvier and David Kenney, who have both been longtime volunteer photographers for the festival.

“I think that was a really intentional choice in so far as showcasing the three elements that are important,” she said. “And again, that’s the artists are as important as the audience as are important as the volunteers, so it creates this really strong structure. 

“We’ve got this three-legged stool that really keeps the organization sustainable and vibrant.”

You might be able to add another leg to make it a chair, considering that both Leishman and Mosker promise that the bond between the two organizations will only expand, Leishman acknowledging that there are more aspects to the anniversary celebration that are brewing between the two, but are being kept under wraps for now.

“As they’ve gotten bigger and we’ve become year round there’s just that much more alignment,” she said. “We’ve got some really cool things that are coming down the chute that are still top secret for now …

“However, we’re, both organizations, are just constantly looking to grow our relationship, and it’s my firm belief that rising tides lift all ships. We do have a lot of crossover audience, but there are some people that are supporters and patrons of Studio Bell and the National Music Centre that maybe aren’t as familiar with the Calgary folk fest and likewise. 

“So it’s a great opportunity for us to be able to showcase each other.” 

She smiles. “And they’re like family.”

(Photo courtesy Brenna Pladsen.)

Forty Years of Forward Thinking is on display at Studio Bell until March 4, free with paid admission into the building.