Virgin Fest Calgary goes on its maiden voyage

By Ryan Pike

Over the years, Calgary has grown from a fort at the junction of two rivers into a thriving metropolis. During the same period, it has also developed from a culturally-limited place to a city chock full of unique instalments and acts to discover. The latest feather in Calgary’s musical cap is the arrival of the Virgin Music Festival, quite fittingly located at Fort Calgary.

First held over two days and two venues in England in 1996, the Virgin Festival expanded to venues on this side of the Atlantic Ocean in 2006 with stops in Toronto and Baltimore. Following its expansion to western Canada last year, festival public relations manager Chris Baines notes that Calgary’s prominence made it a clear choice for the next festival location.

“We really wanted to bring the Virgin Festivals to other cities and areas within Canada,” reflects Baines. “We started to look at balancing where’s best to go and Calgary being such a great place and a fast-growing city with a young demographic, a very popular place to have festivals and a festival-loving city, it seems quite a natural place for us next to go on the Virgin Festival journey.”

After settling on holding the festival in Calgary, organizers tackled the unique challenge of finding a venue suitable to the festival’s size and scope. Baines says that Fort Calgary was chosen for many reasons.

“We looked at a potential site,” Baines says. “The one that instantly came up that was popular for us was the Fort Calgary site, mostly because it’s very accessible and also because it’s quite unique and a historical area. We always try to pick sites such as that for our Virgin festivals.”

Arguably, the most challenging aspect of planning the festival is rounding up an entertaining and diverse array of artists during the summer music season. The Calgary edition of Virgin Festival contains big-name acts such as the Tragically Hip, Stone Temple Pilots, Matthew Good and the Flaming Lips along with local acts like Secret Broadcast, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald and the Summerlad.

“Every time we do a Virgin Festival it’s all about getting a mix,” says Baines. “A mix of A-list artists and also dynamic, up-and-coming artists and Canadian or local talent.”

Festival-goers will have a challenge of their own: trying to cram in as many acts as can be fit into two days. To combat the scheduling problems that plagued earlier incarnations, this year’s Virgin Festival features a mostly staggered line-up that aims to maximize audience enjoyment.

“That’s the great [thing] about the festival, there’s so many bands playing,” remarks Baines. “Sometimes you’ve got two great bands playing on stages roughly at the same time and it’s difficult to run over to the other. Like with Virgin Festival Calgary, there are 30 bands playing over two days, plus there’s heaps of other things going on at the festival. We try as much as we can to give the best opportunity to experience nearly everybody.”

Summertime in Calgary is a veritable buffet of great music and the Virgin Festival is adding yet another plate to the feast. With the prospect of the festival moving to a different city next year, festival-goers could be enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience.

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