by Paul Dalhousie
With 33 years of history, it's safe to say the Edmonton Folk Fest is a local institution. Taking place annually at Gallagher Hill, just south of the Saskatchewan River, this four day gathering has deservedly taken its place as one of the capital region's must-see attractions.
Upon entering the grounds one is immediately taken aback by how near perfect the location is. With the large main stage nestled into the bottom of a large hill (which serves as a ski hill in the winter) and a sea of blue tarps creeping up the natural amphitheatre that surrounds, any seat in the designated area is going to make for an amazing show, both visually and acoustically.
The park is in full view of the impressive Edmonton skyline, which makes for a beautiful, picturesque backdrop. Upon further exploration the depth of the festival becomes more evident, with six other stages and an absolutely mind-boggling assortment of food vendors that do their part to represent the global influence that drives the festival, with flavours and dishes from around the globe.
The raucous beer gardens is a definite stop for any thirsty music fan (of age, of course). Open at 5:30 pm on weeknights and noon on the weekends, this is a great spot to catch up with other festival goers to hear about a show or jam session that might have been missed or to just enjoy some suds in the sun.
More than kid friendly
The festival goes beyond being kid friendly in that it actually encourages the presence of kids by allowing children under the age of 11 in for free and giving discounted rates for older youths. All of these ingredients come together to make for one of the most welcoming, mellow, and music-conducive environments that one could want to get from a festival. This really is a party where “bring your family bring your friends” applies.
Amidst all of the excitement surrounding the festivities it may seem easy to overlook the raison d’être of the Folk Fest—the music itself.
The performers and performances will stick out in your mind for both their quality and quantity. With this year affectionately being dubbed the "best year ever" (for the 33rd year in a row) it's difficult to find a more polished, eclectic group of performers in one place.
2011 featured a mix of blues, alt country, French folk, world, trad, and even some alt rock, with bands from around the world putting it all on the line for your viewing and listening pleasure.
Although the lion’s share of the action does take place on the main stage during the prime time night hours between 7:00 and 12:00, be sure to see some of the jam sessions and lesser known acts taking place on the other stages. The stories of the bands coming together for some epic musical unions were floating around well into the nighttime performances.
Like most festivals, the experience needs to be lived to understand why this festival continues to be one of the premier music events in Canada. The Folk Fest manages to create an atmosphere that goes beyond the music, into an experience in itself. The entire production—from the setting, of the stages, to the volunteer staff that keep it going, and even the festival goers themselves—generates a feeling we look forward to experiencing again and again.
After a dizzying weekend, the FestivalSeekers crew is already preparing its tarps, sunscreen and bug spray for next year, which no doubt promises to be the best one yet.