Friendly folksters abound at this yearís Folk Fest

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Audience members at the 29th installment of the Calgary Folk Music Festival got a taste of everything the city has to offer this past weekend, including some top-notch cuisine and unpredictable weather. The festival kicked off Thursday with a performance by the Master Musicians of Jajouka, a 1000-year-old group from Morocco specializing in traditional Sufi music. The audience didn’t seem entirely sure what to make of their set, but were appreciative and respectful nonetheless. The Weakerthans followed up with an upbeat set that had the audience singing along. The warm weather also helped subsequent sets by Aimee Mann and Sam Roberts go off without a hitch. The Twilight Stage made its 2008 debut Friday, adding an element of choice for the first part of the evening. While the Great Lake Swimmers and Bill Callahan showed off some new-school stylings, main stage acts the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Charlie Musselwhite brought a distinctly old-school flavour—a smart move by festival organizers to program entirely different genres at the same time. The main stage then featured the Be Good Tanyas and a heavily-praised performance by Andrew Bird before capping off the night with Calexico and Bedouin Soundclash. Compared to the sit-down-and-stare feel of Thursday and the small choices given to festivalgoers on Friday, Saturday was a cavalcade of things to choose from with no fewer than seven stages featuring music throughout the day. Amongst the highlights were a morning workshop featuring Sonny Landreth, James Blood Ulmer, Musselwhite, Tao Ravao and Vincent Bucher, CBC-taped sets by Calgary’s the Consonant C and Beija Flor and an inventive, albeit wet, performance by Montreal-based prog-rock threesome Torngat. The day began with sunny skies, but the rain began to fall in the early evening, forcing tarp-dwellers to find shelter under anything nearby. The weather put a bit of a damper on the main stage acts, but the night’s performers—which included Josh Ritter, The Duhks and Blue Rodeo—still put on a good show. The unexpected shining light of Saturday was a Twilight Stage performance by Los Straitjackets that featured the group rocking out so hard that their amp began to smoke and had to be replaced. Sunday was also plagued by wacky weather—Socalled’s afternoon set was cut short by a brief thunderstorm that prompted him to thank God for adding percussion. Nevertheless, the day featured a bevy of excellent performances. The now-traditional Sunday morning gospel set by Outlaw Social, Woodpigeon, Martyn Joseph, and the Be Good Tanyas’ Frazey Ford and Trish Klein provided a stellar backdrop for watching baby ducks and Kobo Town’s energetic reggae concert had audience members dancing along. Recent Polaris Prize nominee Basia Bulat—pronounced “Bash-a”—was undoubtedly the media darling of the festival and her much-hyped Sunday performance did not disappoint. The festival ended with some wet weather and less-than-ideal cool temperatures, but the delightfully mellow performances on the main stage, especially those by Sonny Landreth and Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet, were a great incentive to keep damp music fans firmly rooted on Prince’s Island. Unlike past events, the 2008 Calgary Folk Music Festival found a great balance between burgeoning and big name acts in the spotlight and split the star-power between the main and side stages during workshops. The result was a lot of acts, both local and from throughout Canada, getting a much-needed boost in exposure. Calgary music scene staples Woodpigeon, Beija Flor and the Consonant C proved up to the challenge of playing with other acts from Canada and abroad, adding an extra element to the city’s summer folkstravaganza.