Blurring borders, melting lines at the Calgary Folk Festival
It’s not musicians high on a stage, audience at their feet. That’s not what the Calgary Folk Festival is all about. It’s the exchange that inevitably happens between those performing and those listening which makes the whole experience far greater than the sum of its parts. You find the synergy happening everywhere on Prince’s Island Park – at the myriad of workshops dotted across woods and clearings, at the impromptu singalongs that break out at the volunteer after-parties. There’s some sort of voodoo that takes over at the folk festival and makes a musician out of everybody.
One of my favourite experiences happened at last year’s folk festival, just after I had finished my shift at the Record Tent. I had been hearing some highly infectious sounds drifting into the Record Tent, and after I waved goodbye to the other volunteers, I followed my curiosity across the road to the Twilight stage from where the rhythms were emanating. There I found indie oddities Akron/Family holding the audience in a hypnotic rhythmic trance. If you aren’t familiar with Akron/Family, it’s a little hard to put your finger on the type of music you can expect to hear from them. Just as you think oh, they’re sort of electronic experimental, all of a sudden they will floor you with a lovely old country feeling song in three-part harmony.
I have never before experienced such a melting of the boundary between band and audience as I did at that Akron/Family set. The audience was completely engaged in the music, undulating as a single entity to the pounding drums and the droning rhythms. But it wasn’t simply a matter of the audience responding to the music, it was an actual synergy among all the elements at play. In a truly organic moment during a long extended drone, a complex clap arose from the audience and grew into an integral part of the song itself, such that the music from the stage ultimately morphed into an entirely new form to encompass the music that the audience was making. It was gobsmacking and completely magical.
The next day, back in the Record Tent, I had a chance encounter with Miles Seaton from Akron/Family and I was able to gush to him for a little while about the jawdropping experience of their Twilight stage concert the night before and to engage him in a little discussion about the nature of the audience/musician boundary and what a sublime experience it is for musician and listener alike when that boundary gets broken down. He was not only gracious about my effusiveness, but seemed genuinely grateful that I had also had felt the power of that moment. Somehow, just knowing that these rare and shining moments are just as precious to the people who make the music as they are to those who receive it, felt like it would be enough to sustain me through the upcoming winter until next year’s escape to the Island.