The Calgary Folk Festival Site
Prince’s Island Park has been the site of the Calgary Folk Festival ever since its inception. For the most part, it’s an ideal location: in the Festival’s early days, it could occupy a small corner of the park that is surrounded by the Bow River’s rapids rushing through downtown Calgary. As it grew, the Festival expanded to encompass the majority of the park, which was big enough to allow the addition of six side stages, a beer garden, the mainstage, and a wide array of vendors, concessions, and family-oriented activities.
I’ve had many moments when the combination of great music, the bright sun, and rustling trees overhead made the Festival grounds seem like some kind of impossible utopia. It’s a nice reminder of how green Calgary is compared to some of its urban counterparts. When the weather cooperates and I’m lying back on the grass in the shade while seemingly incompatible musicians jam it out on a sidestage, I can’t imagine a nicer site for such an experience. Vic Bell, who has been involved with the CFF for years and is now head programmer for the Nickelodeon Folk Club in Calgary, agrees:
“Prince’s Island is a very, very attractive natural venue for the folk festival. When I think of other outdoor venues, McMahon Stadium, the Stampede Grounds, Shaw Millennium Park, Olympic Plaza, Canada Olympic Park, none can really compare even though some can hold a much larger audience. There was a significant political struggle for the folk festival and other events, to secure the use of Prince’s Island in the 90s. Some factions felt that music events had no place in a ‘natural’ park. For us, the park was the ‘natural’ place to present music.”
This political struggle was not something to be ignored. Despite Calgary’s love affair with suburbia (Calgary is the ultimate urban doughnut, with ever-new subdivisions that are rapidly encroaching on the surrounding prairie-scape, and “downtown” is basically a ghost town post-6 pm), there are actually a few residents living in high-rises near the park. And these residents (or at least a vocal few) do not like live music invading their living space after the sun goes down.
A very tense period after the 1997 Festival in particular had many worrying that the site was forever lost. Following some terse negotiations with residents and the city over noise levels and curfew times, Festival staff were relieved when they found out Prince’s Island was still theirs. But they are always cautious: acts rarely perform encores, and if they do, they are kept short. The final act of the evening stops at 10:00 on the dot on weeknights and 11 on weeknights.
Well, it’s usually too cold to be outside that time of night in Calgary anyway. Unless I’m on the late Green Room shift cleaning up beer pitchers and emptying ashtrays, I usually put on three more shirts and a pair of socks and make my way to the volunteer parties. It’s a nice time to leave—the darkened concessions and slow shuffling down the narrow dirt path seem to force people to speak in hushed voices. Or maybe they’re scared that the condo owners nearby will call the cops on them.