Sinzere on the Olympic Plaza Stage at Block Heater 2023. Photo: Courtesy Calgary Folk Music Festival

Shows That Will Thaw Your Cold Heart 

The Calgary Folk Fest’s Block Heater takes place February 15 to 17, featuring 12 events, seven venues, and 27 artists. And while Block Heater began with the goal of bringing some of that summer folk fest vibe to warm up the depths of winter, a few things differentiate it from its summer sister.

First, it takes place mostly inside, because no matter how much we love Prince’s Island, it’s tough to get a tarp to stay put when it’s sliding around on ice. 

There is an “outdoor tent” at Olympic Plaza for Saturday’s free events, but likely there will be too many dancing feet inside for a tarp anyway, and the bodies attached to those feet will provide lots of heat while they dance to the beats of Guyanese born Winnipegger Odario, among others.

Other venues include The Blues Can, Ironwood, The Palace, and more. Also, instead of buying a pass to the day or all three days, each event is generally ticketed separately, although a Friday/Saturday all-venue pass was added as of late January.

While the fest announced that roots twisters Dust Bowl Revival have cancelled — replaced by Toronto up-and-comers MOONRIIVR (at Festival Hall, Feb. 15) — there’s still plenty of dust gracing the festival in the form of Calgary delights The Dust Collectors (at The Blues Can, Feb. 15).

With so many shows to choose from in a short time, we thought we’d give you some ideas about where to start.

Thursday February 15

Ironwood Stage, 8:00 p.m.

Lethbridge’s Starpainter supplies an easygoing vibe that draws you in like a raft ride on a lazy river, moving you away from strife and into grace. And, indeed, their music does paint pictures — of small-town life, of big town longing, of heartache and laughter — if not on the stars, then on your heart.

Starpainter is followed at 9:30 by Métis songwriter Cat Clyde, who hailed from Ontario before her love for country music took her to Nashville, where her take on sweet vocals and slide guitar sashay her through swinging doors all her own.

Friday February 16

Central United Church, 8:00 p.m.

Though she be but young, her music is mighty. 

Calgary’s own Jolene Marie stealthily slipped into the Calgary scene with 2019’s debut released under the moniker Teal Amour, then unveiled more in last year’s must-hear five-song EP Honey, spinning dreamy cotton clouds of music that hold aloft her glorious voice and surround hidden lyrical barbs like “You think you’re so cool, tragedy suits you.”

And while Québecois Matt Holubowski’s songs also sound dream-spawned, his grounding work as a humanitarian volunteer lends them a realness that doesn’t glance away from injustice, calling it out in both official languages. His musical versatility means he also was able to close the Montreal Jazz Festival a few years back. No telling what he will bring to Central United Church, but it will no doubt move and delight you.

Now living in France but originally from the UK, Kate Stables, the anchor of This is the Kit, has been offering music under that name since 2003. Whether performing as a duo or quartet, This is the Kit’s cult following keeps emerging to hear loosely defined folk songs that offer both windows and reflections.

With Vancouver’s fun, raucous Empanadas Illegales also at the #1 Legion that night and Calgary’s belle of the ball Kue Varo and the Only Hopes playing at The Palace as well, this is where you’re going to thank your lucky stars that the all-venue pass was added, allowing you to drift venue to venue. 

Saturday, February 17

By Saturday, stuff’s getting real as Block Heater breaks wide open with a cornucopia of shows at all six venues starting in the afternoon and with a free outdoor concert at Olympic Plaza starting at 6:00 pm.

Festival Hall, 2:45 — 4:00 p.m.

At the Roots Touch Up songwriters’ circle you’ll get another chance to hear Jolene Marie, Matt Holubowski, and add on The Dust Collectors, who have earned over 50,000 plays on Spotify for good reason.

Royal Canadian Legion, 8:00 p.m.

From Calgary’s connector and scene-shaker K the Chosen, whose Zimbabwe roots inform his raps that run from humour to insight, often simultaneously, with bold candidness, to the spirited blender of Empanadas Illegales mixing up surf punk South American style and weird eerie touches, to the campfire soul of Greater Victoria’s Jesse Roper, this show offers a gamut of music with rhythm and passion laced through it.