Gathering Music Enthusiasts at the Calgary Folk Music Festival

The Calgary Folk Music Festival runs Thursday July 21 - Sunday July 24

Elyse Bouvier

For 4 days in July, Prince’s Island transforms from a quiet, pastoral park into a spirited hub for thousands of music enthusiasts attending the Calgary Folk Music Festival. In its 37th year, the Festival aims to expand the boundaries of what constitutes folk music, while simultaneously drawing people together as a community.

“I have been happily surprised at the enthusiasm of the Calgary community,” says Debbi Salmonsen, who is in her second year as the Executive Director of the Festival and a transplant from Vancouver.   When it comes to the music scene, Deb says that Calgary has many things going for it; numerous places to hear music, a supportive music industry, strong support from the City and organizations like Tourism Calgary, as well as the rise of collaborative music initiatives such as the Music Mile and of course the newly opened Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre.  

But recent years have also seen changes to the local and national festival landscape, with an increase in niche festivals and the lingering effects of the economic downturn.  The best way to handle these changes according to Salmonsen is to adapt.

“It’s all about the experience,” says Salmonsen. “We adapt by creating, maintaining and nurturing our audience. We’re not always sure how things will change, but we continue to move with the times.”

One way the Festival has adapted is by expanding beyond the 4-day festival to offer music, arts and cultural experiences year-round. In 2013 they opened Festival Hall in Inglewood, offering about 30 intimate concerts throughout the year, a winter festival, film screenings, theatre, poetry and workshops as well as making the space available for rent to the arts community and for private functions.

And they’ve also incorporated a number of new experiences for attendees to the 2016 Festival. Highlight for this year include:

Expanded Big Rock Beer Garden: The beverage garden has nearly doubled in size and will incorporate music into the family-friendly space. During the day you can enjoy a drink while watching performances on Stage 3, Field Law Stage. In the evening, a large screen with a live feed will broadcast the main stage performance so you never have to miss a beat or a pint.

More Dance Space: The dance area has been slightly expanded on each side of the main stage allowing for more movement while still accommodating those that want to set up their blankets and chairs.

More Family-Friendly Activities: The Family Zone is also growing with more activities to keep the young ones busy if they tire of listening to music. This includes a half-pipe skateboard ramp, more bouncy castles and activities, and The Book Truck, Calgary Public Library’s mobile book truck featuring over 1500 books to keep those active minds occupied.

Keeping it Green: For years, attendees paid a $2 deposit on re-usable plates that were trucked off for cleaning. But this year, with the wide range of compostable products now available, Festival staff determined that they could decrease their footprint by going fully compostable rather than trucking the plates off to be cleaned. They have set up more composting stations throughout the grounds to accommodate the change.

And what about the iconic cow plates used by volunteers and artists? After years of service they are being retired. However, you can take home one of these pieces of Festival history for only $2.

Before ending our conversation with Salmonsen, we asked her what things people, even those that don’t partake in the Festival, can do to support the Calgary music community.

“If you like music, and I believe everyone does at heart, then push your boundaries and get out and hear something. Stop by the festival. See a band at one of the venues. If you’ve never been to the opera, go. People should take a chance and experience the great music that Calgary has to offer.”

In case you decide to stop by, the Calgary Folk Music Festival runs Thursday July 21 – Sunday July 24, 2016. For Festival information, artist schedules and tickets, visit


Over the next 4 days, we hope to explore the question of community at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. We’ll be onsite talking to attendees, volunteers and artists. We invite you to join the conversation. Send us a note via Twitter @NewScoopYYC, on FB at NewScoopYYC, or come find us at the Festival. #NewScoopYYC #CFMF2016 #community

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