Belle and Sebastian, The Strumbellas, Rheostatics among headliners announced for Calgary Folk Music Festival as it celebrates 40 years while moving forward

Looking back, while pushing things forward.

It’s always been a rather unspoken theme or motto of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, an organization that’s proud of its past and many accomplishments, particularly the memories they have made for Calgary music lovers over the years, the otherworldly experiences they’ve provided.

But it’s getting a somewhat more tangible display and acknowledgement as the fest gets set to celebrate its 40th anniversary this summer with the annual Prince’s Island event, which takes place July 25 to 28.

In myriad ways.

First and foremost, there’s the full lineup which was unveiled Thursday, April 11 with an event at their Inglewood home, Festival Hall.

It’s a predictably eclectic, typically intriguing, yawningly exceptional collection of artists from around the globe who will take the many stages on the island, including: Scottish indie vets Belle and Sebastian; breakout Canadian acts such as The Strumbellas and The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer; reunited ’80s T.O. literary art-rock crew Rheostatics; electro artist La Force, who is also currently a member of Broken Social Scene; Montreal melodic alt-folkers Half Moon Run; festival fave Jon Langford with a pair of projects, including his iconic punk act The Mekons, who’ve also been around for four decades; Boston bluegrass band Della Mae; prairie country gentleman Colter Wall; and endearing former local pop act Fast Romantics.

They join previously announced headliners Weaves, Sharon Van Etten, Asleep at the Wheel, Sheila E., Lucius, iskwē, and Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats.

Again, keeping things fresh and exotic while also giving a nod to the comforting and familiar.

“Exactly,” says artistic director Kerry Clarke. “That’s our game, that’s our game.”

In keeping with the always well represented world music scene, there is also, she notes, a “really strong Latin American contingent, especially Latin American women,” which includes Cuban drummer Yissy García with Bandancha (“She’s going to be famous — mark my words,” Clarke says) as well as Argentina artist and “powerhouse” Sofia Viola.

Closer to home, there’s also the usual generous serving of current Calgary acts including T. Buckley, Samantha Savage Smith, I Am the Mountain and Lab Coast.

Which brings us to another folk fest exercise in past and future, which is their 40th anniversary vinyl project.

It’s a pretty fabulous initiative, which features handpicked area artists performing songs from past notable festival attendees. The covers were recorded in the studios of Studio Bell for a fall vinyl release, with the CD to be available during this year’s summer fest.

Some of the truly inspired pairings include: Copperhead working their magic on David Byrne’s Heaven; Sargeant and Comrade giving an update to Gil Scott-Heron’s classic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised; local hip-hop heroes Dragon Fli Empire taking their turn at Arrested Development’s Mr. Wendal; dirt-rock wonders The Dudes givin’ ’er on Macy Gray’s Try; Michael Bernard Fitzgerald asking the perennial Elvis Costello/Nick Lowe question (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding; Reuben and the Dark letting loose on The Weakerthans’ Left and Leaving; and Corb Lund, naturally, paying tribute to his mentor Ian Tyson on Road to Las Cruces.

That, along with their photo exhibition currently on display at Studio Bell, are the two biggest projects to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the folk fest, Clarke says.

As for what else will be fresh this summer besides what’s on stage, well, one of them will be a stage location.

This year, there will be a one placed “just over the bridge from Eau Claire … and not far from the bike lockup” outside the gates just to the right as you walk over towards the festival. It is something of a nod to the recent past, when the 2013 floods necessitated a temporary stage put up on the concrete outside of Eau Claire Market for a couple of years, allowing the music to come to the people, albeit in a less inviting manner. 

“The Eau Claire stage was great in lots of ways, but it was psychologically far,” Clarke says, noting that the new one is much more workable because of its proximity to the site while rectifying the problem where Stage 1 and Stage 2 on the island were a little too close together with sound bleed between the two.

“This is perfect, it’s really exciting. And it’s free as well.”

The rest of the fest, however, isn’t, but as always is well worth it for the memories that will be made for years to come. Tickets and festival passes are available now from https://www.calgaryfolkfest.com.

Here is the complete list of acts performing at the 2019 Calgary Folk Music Festival:

Ali Hassan

Asleep At The Wheel


Belle & Sebastian

Beverly Glenn-Copeland


Boots & The Hoots

Cedric Burnside

Celeigh Cardinal

Charlotte Day Wilson

Colter Wall

Combo Chimbita

Danny Michel

Della Mae

The Devil Makes Three

DJ Champion

Eekwol & T-Rhyme

Emily Triggs

Emily Wurramara

Fast Romantics

Freak Motif

The Garifuna Collective

Half Moon Run

Hamsa Hamsa

The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer

I Am The Mountain


Joan Shelley

Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls

Kat Danser

La Force

Lab Coast

Logan Staats

Los Pachamama y Flor Amargo



Mdou Moctar


Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Ndidi O

Ramy Essam

Random Recipe

Ranky Tanky

Revel In Dimes


Safia Nolin

Sam Lewis

Samantha Savage Smith

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

Shaela Miller

Sharon Van Etten

Sheila E.

Shelley Bean & The Duckety Muds

Sofia Viola

Steve Poltz

The Strumbellas

T. Buckley

Tal National

Tami Neilson

This Is The Kit

The Torches

Twin Bandit

Valerie June

Wax Mannequin

We Banjo 3


Willie Thrasher

Willie Watson

Yissy García & Bandancha

The Young Novelists

Zoey Roy