community amongst the trees at the Calgary Folk Festival
In the course of a single day at last year’s Calgary Folk Festival, I kissed Carolyn Mark, poisoned Chad VanGaalen, and got all spiritual with The Sojourners. And with the exception of the musician-poisoning part, that’s actually a rather typical day at the folk fest.
There is something about spending four languorous days on a forested island in the Bow River in the heart of downtown Calgary that erases the boundaries of convention. Life amongst the shady groves moves to a slower, more sultry rhythm. Although you are merely steps away from the glass and steel towers of industry, the realities of the city are transformed into a slightly surreal backdrop by the gentle curtain of forest, and you are transported to a place where the boundaries between performer and audience become blurred.
In the past, I have flagged down a passing golf cart transporting a band from Mexico, who were more than happy to whip out their wire-cutters to snip the dangling wire from my daughter’s broken braces. I’ve been invited into the inner sanctum of the artists’ lounge, a deliciously shady retreat with little round tables bedecked with tablecloths and flowers, to chat with Carolyn Mark, and was delighted to find that the throaty rebel cowgirl still had her razor sharp wit intact, despite two shifts of emceeing the mainstage and one night of dancing till dawn at the volunteer after-party. I’ve approached one of my favourite local heroes, Chad VanGaalen, for an autograph, only have him draw me an incredible impromptu sketch instead, with an almost apologetic “I don’t really do autographs”. Naturally I felt really guilty when he became ill the next day, because I immediately suspected the slightly sketchy cookie I had given him in exchange.
One morning I found myself sitting in the dappled shade by the river, chatting with The Sojourners. When you are talking to a gospel trio, the conversation does tend to veer toward the spiritual and I found myself sharing one of my fondest moments from a previous folk festival, of listening to a Sunday morning workshop of sin and redemption set in a shady stand of trees. Despite the oppressive heat that morning, the mix of old gospel songs, new tales of debauchery, and Robert Johnson classics had given me the chills. In a good way. The Sojourners listened graciously to my ramblings and nodded and agreed that there is something about hearing music in a natural setting like Prince’s Island Park that brings about true spirituality. It doesn’t matter whether you find that spirituality in a deity, or that poplar tree you’ve been leaning against, or the dancing feet of the festivaller next to you, it’s all pretty glorious. And it’s one of the reasons that around New Year’s, I start counting the sleeps till the next Calgary Folk Festival.