The Music Festivals are Coming: Adventures of a Calgary Wanderer

Close-up of henna tattoos on woman's fingers
If you celebrate Afrikadey! you don’t HAVE to get a henna tattoo, but you can if you want! Photo by Zarif Alibhai.
Woman and band onstage in front of a mountain range.
In my memory, this is Sarah McLachlan, onstage at the Calgary Lilith Fair where she loomed magnificent as the Rockies. Photo by Carey Rutherford

What an amazing day of festivular expansion. There’s no way to really describe the occurrences without just chronicling them: not that amazing, really, unless you’re paying attention.

The AfrikaDey! World Music Festival is just down there, just down 3rd St and onto Prince’s Island. And after speaking with PR person Maram (“It’s my 1st year doing this, but I’m really excited about the events”), it just seems like I really should get an interview with one of the performers who weren’t prohibited from travelling to Canada (as some were). Maram and I have an interesting enough talk, but I really want to speak to musicians.

But to a guy with legal blindness issues in the downtown core, the approaching dusk winds it’s warning fingers through my mind: the last time I tried to find the Island, it took me an hour of wandering about in the newly constructed streets around my old Eau Claire stomping grounds to actually cross the river and get onto the green. And now I’m heading to this populous area with a music festival in full swing as the sun heads towards the horizon: how long will it take me to find it? How long will it take for them to find me a musician to interview? And then, after darkness (to me) has fallen, then to get the heck outta there?

The Expo Latino Festival 2008 (and 2019) proves that Calgary is more than just cowboys and horses. Image courtesy of the Hispanic Arts Society.

Maybe I should find an easier alternative for my Live Music faithful.

So then I’m wandering up and down the C-Train lines looking for The Palomino Smokehouse & Social Club, because there’s ALWAYS music at the Palomino, and I can get some decent food and beer, too! I ask a small crowd of ne’er-do-wells if the place is nearby.

“You’re right in front of it!” one of them enthuses.

“Why is it so quiet?” I ask, looking blindly up towards where a sign probably resides.

Blue poster for Sled Island depicting wolf biting microphone stand
Sled Island has become one of Calgary’s most diverse musical events. Image courtesy of Sled Island Music & Arts Festival.

They don’t know, but help me find the door, and then join me at the table they find for me inside. Snow White and her 3 Dwarves (sorry guys, but I forget your names) are just downtown to while away a Saturday afternoon before going to the Chasing Summer Festival.

I think of a short time before, still wandering, when I ask a passerby what street we’re standing next to on the C-Train line

“I’m not from here,” she says, “and as there’s no street sign, I can’t tell you.”

There’s some musical experience echoing through the streets from the direction we’re looking, and I had assumed it to be more AfrikaDey! events, perhaps in Olympic Plaza, as these things tend to spread around the city when they’re ongoing. I point across the street:

“Is that a plaza over there?”

“Yes,” she says, “where the native music is.” (Hmm, the vocals COULD be First Nations, but it’s hard to tell with the echoing)

“And is that a building jus there next to it?” I say, pointing closer to us.

“Yes, and it says ‘opera’ on it,” she agrees cheerfully. Clearly, she’s happy to be of help.

“Great, so this is 1st St. Thanks,” I say, turning around and heading back in the right direction.

The Bison Noir is full of unexpected delights tangential to the Honens Competition itself. Image courtesy of the Honens International Piano Competition.

“First Nations music?” I think. Perhaps I should just go and check out that thing, and see if I can get an interview in an area I’m definitely interested in. But again, I reflect on the time, and the onrushing dusk, and the number of unknowns I’m prepared to take on this evening without being able to see. And I continue to the Palomino, ye olde shoppe of not one but two previous musical stories. And thus begins the conversation with Snow White & her Stooges.

“Yeah, Chasing Summer’s at Fort Calgary, and it’s going to be AWESOME!” Doc tells me, and he and Snow White begin a conflict about whether Tiesto or Hardwell will be the best thing to happen to Western Canada’s largest electronic music festival, but clearly nobody’s losing either way.

But this is NOT about all the festivals that you (or especially I) have already missed this summer: it’s about the fact that there’s festivals EVERYWHERE in July/August, so neither of us have any excuse for not getting to one or two of them. Note that, whoever may have been performing in Olympic Plaza, there as also the Chinatown Street Festival that day, and probably more if I kept inquiring. More importantly, there’s still the 2014 Honens Festival (piano, Sept. 4-7), the X-Fest (alternative rock, Aug. 30-31) and most immediately, but not least, Opera in the Village (Aug. 14-23) which is Calgary Opera’s bid to take over the East Village area with clowns, movies, food, beer, and their centrepiece festival-tent presentation of the comic musical masterpiece, Candide!

So don’t blame my literary negligence for your lack of musical inspiration as the summer wanes: get to it!

Posted by Carey Rutherford

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.