This year, Folk Fest boasts 1,600 volunteers.
Gauntlet file photo

Folk Fest turns 31 sans midlife crisis

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For about a week each year, the Calgary Folk Music Festival transforms the idyllic Prince's Island Park in the heart of downtown into its own little village. With an expected turnout of 53,000 attendees, artists, support staff and the festivals 1,600 volunteers, the atmosphere in the park is unforgettable.

"It kind of takes care of itself, we are lucky that way," explains the festival's artistic director Kerry Clarke. "The site is beautiful, the river, the trees, being downtown -- it's got its own atmosphere,. Then we add music in there and some of the other things we do that animate the site, like making it in to a small village with the port-a-potties and the beer gardens and the craft and food vendors."

That's not to say that the whole festival plans itself. The organizers have to provide interesting programming that is both fresh for returning festival-goers, while simultaneously guarding the sense of atmosphere that makes the Folk Festival so special.

"We mostly hire artists that haven't played at the festival before. I mean we have a few artists that have performed before, but that's one way to keep it fresh," Clarke says. "We are always exploring new artists and new styles, but we also always have a core. We're going to have some bluegrass and some blues and some country and some world music too. The combinations of how you put artists together helps change it up every year."

Festival organizers have found success again with their approach -- this year's lineup boasts performances by The Avett Brothers, St. Vincent, Swell Season, Dan Mangan and Roberta Flack. The shows sold out last year and are on pace to sell out again.

But Clarke believes that it's important to ensure that the Festival doesn't become a victim of this success.

"People think because it's a park, that festival space is unlimited," she says. "We want it to look good and for the artists to have lots of audiences members there, but at the same time we want people to be comfortable too. Some people are coming for the first time, and some people are very loyal and come year after year, and it's only fair to these people that it is comfortable."

It's this thoughtful approach that has made the Folk Fest internationally renowned, and a stalwart in the Calgary summer festival line-up. The festival is in its 31st year and shows no signs of slowing down.