The Squirrel Nut Zippers entertained at last year's festival.
Gauntlet file photo

Gearing up for some awesome folking

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Summertime can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To many Calgarians, the summer is nothing but sunny days, barbecues and wearing a cowboy hat and jeans to work for a week. For others, though, the best kept secret every summer is the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

Held in picturesque Prince's Island Park for 28 years, the festival has been an oasis of music nestled next to the downtown core, filled with fun regardless of the unpredictable Calgary weather. Artistic director Kerry Clarke has tackled programming four days and seven stages of the Folk Music Festival for the past decade. She says that the festival has a way of becoming rejuvenated with each installment.

"Every year, it's a new set of artists and a new set of artists that I love and that most of the audience members love," Clarke says. "That's what gets us excited every year because it's a fresh festival. I think that this festival has matured. There's more musical depth now than there used to be."

This year's Folk Festival boasts a lineup that includes a who's who of Calgary's indie music scene along with a cavalcade of musicians from around the globe. Clarke says that, besides this year's African focus (with acts like Kobo Town from Trinidad), the organizers didn't create the lineup with an intent to pander to the city's indie fanbase.

"This year, I think that it happened that some of these artists I felt were really ready to play the festival," says Clarke. "It happened that they're recognized in the indie scene. I find them all to be very folky. They play glockenspiels and banjos and auto-harps and things. It ended up that these were the artists that were really interesting Calgary artists that were ready to play the festival and ready to step up to the next level and play with the international artists that we have booked."

Over time, the Folk Music Festival has evolved into a four-day buffet of music that challenges even the most ardent music-lover with its sheer size. Clarke notes that the biggest challenge of planning and executing the festival's seven stages is a straightforward one.

"I think the biggest challenge is securing the artists," says Clarke. "There's more and more competition for the same artists and for their schedules and for time. For instance, we've tried to book Calexico for a lot of years and we were finally able to get them this year. They tend to be very, very popular in Europe so they're always busy."

The 2008 Calgary Folk Music Festival features artists from across Canada and the United States as well as the British Isles, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. In addition, there will be numerous vendors offering food, beverages and CDs from your favourite new folk artists. With so much to choose from, Clarke has advice for those attempting to see as much as possible.

"I think it's something where you come and people tend to stay the whole day, so people should be prepared for different kinds of weather," notes Clarke. "People should have something comfortable to sit on and close to the ground, like short chairs. And they should grab a program book and map out their day to figure out where they want to go at the different stages. Be prepared for a bit of a marathon."

Ryan's artist picks:

The Weakerthans

Thursday night, Mainstage

These folk-rockers boast a diverse set of songs about Winnipeg and a fanbase that includes former Calgary mayoral candidate Sandy Jenkins. They put on a show well worth sneaking in to (except Folk Fest attendees won't have to) and also appear in jam sessions and workshops Saturday.

Charlie Musselwhite

Friday night, Mainstage

This Mississippi-born bluesman is about as old-school as they come. Check him out as he brings his unique style to the mainstage Friday or in a session Saturday morning alongside James Blood Ulmer, Sonny Landreth, Tao Ravao and Vincent Bucher.

Blue Rodeo

Saturday night, Mainstage

These recent Juno Award winners may be getting on in years, but you won't know it from the energy in their live shows. Fans young and old shouldn't miss a rare chance to see them in the intimate Folk Fest setting. Jim Cuddy and Bob Egan also play sessions on Saturday afternoon.

Basia Bulat

Saturday and Sunday, various sessions throughout the day

London, Ontario's musical gift to the rest of Canada recently was named as a nominee for the Polaris Music Prize. Much like last year's appearance by fellow Canadian critical darling Final Fantasy, Bulat's sessions will be hotly anticipated. The best workshop could, potentially, be her alongside Great Lake Swimmers, Julie Doiron and Sam Parton (of the Be Good Tanyas) on Sunday morning.