Weathering the Calgary Folk Festival
After you have attended your share of Calgary folk festivals, you come to the realization that you can be suffering from sun stroke in the morning and hypothermia by mid-afternoon. Or vice versa. And if you are like me, you quickly learn that Campers’ Village will quickly sell out of tarps, rain gear, and anything fleece five minutes after that hail storm rages across the festival grounds. You also learn the hard way that the rain gear and extra tarp you brought from home do you absolutely no good when they are in the back of the urban assault vehicle parked several blocks away. It’s taken us a while to learn, but we have now accepted the fact that there is no such thing as over-preparing for the possibility of inclement weather on Prince’s Island, and so we schlep everything with us.
It rarely rains for long during the Calgary Folk Festival, but when it does it can actually make for a pretty sublime experience. When it’s just you and a handful of die-hards, all of you in your yellow slickers and boots, you can get as close to the stage as you like. I’ve found myself leaning up against a workshop stage on a wet Saturday morning, having the next best thing to a private concert with the Weakerthans, Christine Fellows and Jackie Leven. But by the time the Weakerthans played their afternoon concert, the sun had returned with a vengeance, rubber boots had been flung off, and every square inch of grass at that workshop had a butt sitting on it.
The weather changes can be disturbingly abrupt, and you learn to keep your wits about you, even as you are taking a quick detour into the beer garden for some shade and a Big Rock. Once when the Spousal Unit and I were seeking some relief from the heat with a frosty one, we had just found a table and had taken that first long refreshing quaff when the wind suddenly blew up, whirling sand about and then, just as suddenly, switched direction, which is never a good thing when you are talking about wind. Then the temperature plummeted 15 degrees in 2 minutes. We raced back to our tarps to put on sweaters and discovered that a thirty foot tree branch had come down a few feet from us. There had been nobody underneath at the time, but the bike helmet that had been left on the tarp was shattered. We found out later that the winds gusts had been clocked at 87 km/hr.
I’ve been volunteering in the Record Tent at the Calgary Folk Festival for a few years. I’ve seen it resemble a UN-sponsored refugee centre more than once after the weather had shifted. The Record Tent has always a lovely place to go to find some relief from the sun, while also finding that handful of CDs that you just cannot live without, but when Zeus or one of his cronies decides to mess with the mortals listening to the music amongst the trees below, the Record Tent becomes a veritable Noah’s ark.
One sultry afternoon, I was enjoying a workshop when suddenly there was a lightning bolt and a simultaneous crack of thunder that jolted musicians and audience alike into alert silence. To the north and the west, the thunderheads were rolling in rapidly, and we learned later that a tree had been struck by lightning and someone slightly hurt when they were hit by a charred branch.
I quickly remembered that I had some CD shopping to do, so decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to hit the record tent as a civilian. I left my family to fend for themselves in the coming storm and I got to the tent just as the heavens opened and the weather gods poured out all their wrath onto us with all the torrential rain and hail and furious lightning that they could muster. Power was shut down for a while, for obvious reasons, and the record tent became a sea of humanity, complete with hordes of rain cape clad refugees huddled over plates of chick pea curry.
And then almost instantaneously, the sun shone hotter than before, and everyone and everything started to steam. Including, of course, the music.