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the Gauntlet

Virgin Fest pops Calgary's cherry

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It seems Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson knows how to throw a party. Fans at the Fort Calgary venue got a taste of Richard's--as all the Virgin staff familiarly referred to him--hospitality at the inaugural Calgary Virgin Music Festival on June 21 and 22. The festival boasted a lineup of bands--apparently chosen by Calgarians themselves through email, snail mail and Facebook messages--with headliners the Stone Temple Pilots and the Tragically Hip touted as the main draw for the weekend's 35,000 patrons.

The Virgin Mobile-branded affair didn't disappoint in both extravagance and environmentally sustainable initiatives. "Virgin Angels" treated festival-goers to free Freezies, slotted Kanye glasses and free drink tickets for the beer gardens and provided purchasable water mugs to refill and avoid the buildup of empty water bottles.

But the festival left something to be desired in its focus when presenting acts. While there was a great push to provide something for everyone to enjoy, it was noticeably hard for many artists--namely the Flaming Lips, who had the daunting task of playing to a crowd mainly assembled for the Stone Temple Pilots--to entertain an audience that was interested in a different style or genre. Kilbourne's hardcore grrl crashing kicked off the main stage Saturday and segued into the Fratellis and Face to Face's punk perfectly, but noticeably clashed with X92.9 Xposure contest winners the Fast Romantics' pop-rock and Michael Bernard Fitzgerald's funk throwback tunes on the TD side stage.

The real highlight of day one was the aforementioned Lips who, despite the extremely unappreciative and, likely, confused crowd, did their best to deliver the signature elements of their live show to Calgary, Teletubby dancers and all. Though the show only had three naked people--less than their regular shows and only one of which was completely in the buff--it still was memorable and perked up the apathetic crowd.

Sunday featured an all-Canadian lineup with last minute add-ons Cadence Weapon and Ladyhawk to the side stage. Both were the highlights of the festival's music side while also embodying the affair's odd conglomeration of audio interests. The festival treated Ladyhawk to one of the biggest stages they've probably ever played on, amplifying Duffy Driediger's lamenting voice to a massive volume.

Cadence Weapon verified his famously crazy live shows with his go at the crowd. Walking on in cutoff jeans and a smart short-sleeved button-up shirt with DJ Weasel, the pair seemed unassuming until the dance-friendly track revved up and Cadence unleashed some endearingly dorky rhymes with marked charisma. His banter was hilarious and unwavering as he started to build his performance, putting himself as close to the audience as possible to get them in on the action.

Weasel added to the spectacle, crawling on top of monitors and cases to swim around in the air. Although he was rapping to a crowd of Calgary rock music lovers, Cadence had them wrapped around his fingers by the end of his set.

The weekend wrapped up on an odd, anti-climactic note, as festival-goers stood around, confused that it was over. Virgin Fest Calgary likely won't be happening again any time soon so it made sure to treat its patrons to the fullest festival experience. Unfortunately, it was unforgettable mostly due to the spectacle rather than the majority of the music.