Gina Freeman/the Gauntlet

Choose Yer Own festival presents all possibilties to its patrons

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In the summer of glitzy, ginormous music festivals, the Summerwood Warren is bringing something completely different to the table. Instead of needless swag, sparkly wristbands or fancy laminated badges for people who drop thousands of dollars so they can get access into the VIP lounge, they deliver the goods with jubilant events like a bicycle obstacle course, vegan potlucks and even an opportunity to make your own robot costume--with a bit of light robot play fighting right afterward.

Laura Leif and Neil Moignard, two of the numerous co-organizers of the event, describe how the community collaboration aspect of the Choose Yer Own festival worked while sitting at the Weeds cafe in Capitol Hill. Leif explains the major difference between this event and numerous others that have run throughout the summer and how they avoided meticulously and rigidly planning out the events.

"It's not [the Summerwood Warren] programming it," she says. "The community is programming it. We just had an open call for submissions, so anyone who was interested was able to do whatever they wanted. We're really trying to make sure we don't have to say 'no' to anyone. We make sure that everything is legal and follows the guidelines we put up on our website, but that's the only level of intervention that we really had for the events."

Where Virgin Fest pushed buzz about their "greening" of the festival, the Summerwood crew--thanks to a partnership with the Good Life Bike Shop--have ensured that all their events are within an easy bike ride of the C-Train stations around town, making for a lack of carbon emissions that puts Richard Branson to shame. The greater artistic community is also attempting to experiment with some new and innovative ideas that couldn't find a home in a typical festival setting.

"We've got really creative performance and interactive events," explains Leif. "People are bringing out projects that they don't have a venue for that would be interesting to see. There's a breakfast at someone's house where they've invited their landlord and they'll answer questions to the public. It's called, 'Ask Our Landlord Ken Lee: Breakfast Cereal Edition,' where people can ask whatever questions they have about anything to a landlord. We've also got a drum circle for people with drum kits too."

While Summerwood is most often associated with the bevy of young local bands like Knots, the Consonant C and the Neighbourhood Council, the collective has also been involved in numerous multidisciplinary art shows and concerts throughout the city. These projects, like the festival, are often a creative and entertaining blend of youthful exuberance and inclusive interaction between the artists and the audience. Anyone who has been to a show can't help but leave with a smile and the warm fuzzies tingling up their spine.

The group's inclusionary attitude is a testament to the idea of establishing a creative community for new and emerging artists, where they can share ideas and their creative enterprises. Moignard explains the artistic community in the city is there and thriving, but needs to be fostered.

"We're a very large city with few centres," he says. "The artistic community is just a microcosm of the city. It's hard to bring everybody together and to make people aware of what kind of things are going on around the city. The community, in the way that I see it, is having people understand what is going on, being connected in a way that you talk to a neighbour. There is a sort of mutual awareness of other people that you live around, what they do and what they create."

In a place where most people seem to think--at least when it comes to the artistic identity of the city--that the grass is much greener all over the country, the Summerwood Warren's Choose Yer Own festival is filling an entirely different niche than what other Calgarian festivals provide. Nowhere else in Calgary will you see a bike parade, lemonade-fuelled dance party or watch the meteor shower underneath the stars with a live violin serenade by Woodpigeon's Foon Yap.

The festival runs from Aug. 7-10 all around town, with intro sessions at the Good Life Bike Shop near the south end of the Eau Claire Market. Check out their site for more info and a full schedule of events.