WORDS: Brett Fillmore
Can you smell that sunblock? It’s festival season, friends. The Calgary scene has lost a couple good soldiers (no more X-Fest and no word about a 2017 edition of Garbage Daze), but there’s still a lot to be excited about. Here’s a rundown of the city’s 5 most notable summer music festivals:
This is Calgary’s celebration of indie. The festival brings out a particularly weird and wonderful (wonderfully weird?) attendee base, who pedal bikes between stages of every size and shape scattered around the downtown core. This year’s guest curator is Flying Lotus, who has hand-selected several ultra-unique acts to play sets over the course of the weekend.
Sled consistently has one of the most eclectic and esoteric lineups around. A lot of the bands you’ll see rarely play festivals at all. You may not recognise many of the names on the bill, but it’s a terrific place to discover amazing new music if you’re willing to get weird.
Stage hopping at this festival is very difficult, and you have to plan carefully as opposed to drifting from stage to stage like other festivals. Although most of the tickets at each venue are reserved for pass holders, they’re still individually ticketed events, so if you want to see a certain band you have to go early and remain locked into that venue for the night.
Calgary Folk Music Festival
In the eyes of most Calgarians, this is the crown jewel of Cowtown summer festivals, music or otherwise. Idyllic Prince’s Island Park is a stellar venue and the festival has become a city institution. Beware long lines at the beer garden and food trucks.
Lots of fantastic artists can be found on cosy side stages for intimate sessions under the trees. For instance, this year you can see artists like Donovan Woods or Basia Bulat—who would regularly play good-sized theatres –up close with only a couple hundred other people.
The main stage is a bummer, even for a folk fest. People line up hours before the gates open in the morning to sprint into the stage area (affectionately known as the Birkenstock 500), to set up blankets and chairs for the day; so by the time the headliners play any standing or dancing is relegated to absurd tiny side areas essentially parallel to the stage. Keep your eye on the National Stage 4 schedule, which goes late and is meant for rowdier bands and audiences.
Circle The Wagons
This is one of the city’s hidden gems. It’s a small, carnival-themed, family-friendly festival with lots of great local musicians as well as circus-style performers. Everything stays pretty low key here—they haven’t even announced a lineup or venue yet.
The collection of food trucks at Circle The Wagons is second to none, and there is always quirky sideshows going on, like 2016’s wiener dog races.
The festival sets up a temporary circus school, but alas, it’s only for kids.
This is the big electronic music event of the year in the city, this year featuring no less than Tiesto himself. Make sure to check out Betty and Kora favourites The Funk Hunters and hometown heroes Smalltown DJs.
If you’re into EDM and any of its forms, this is the Calgary festival for you. There isn’t many places you’ll see a bunch of PLUR bracelets or spirit hoods in the city, but you definitely will here.
The environment is fun, but not especially conducive to a great EDM festival experience: the venue is essentially a big parking lot, there is only one side stage, and the shows don’t go late because of noise bylaws. Also, there are always people hospitalised at this festival from drug-related causes, so watch yourself.
It’s Western Canada’s biggest hip-hop festival, taking place over just one day on August long weekend. One Love is a newcomer to the city, in only its third year.
Calgary isn’t known as a hip hop town, but the lineups for One Love are always strong. Past lineups have featured big names (Nas, J. Cole) and underground fan favourites (Action Bronson, Tyler The Creator). This year is no exception, with Lauryn Hill and Anderson .Paak on the bill. Essentially, none of the acts One Love brings in would otherwise tour anywhere near Calgary.
One Love is still working out the kinks as a festival. 2015’s edition was a mess, with admission lineups that took hours, barely enough amenities (like food trucks and porta-potties), and weather that turned the entire grounds into a mud bog. Things are bound to steadily improve from an organisational perspective, but the festival is onto its third venue in as many years and there are still some growing pains to come.
BONUS! Performance In the Park
Okay, so this isn’t actually in Calgary, but it’s close enough and worthy of a mention. It’s an adorable little weekend in Banff put on by Parks Canada, and you won’t find a more beautiful venue. It’s only a stone’s throw away from Tunnel Mountain Campground, too.
The bands that play the festival are stationed at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity for the week leading up to the shows, an amazing experience for even high-end artists at an incredible facility.
After last year’s killer lineup that included Hey Rosetta!, Bahamas, Stars, and Shad, 2017’s edition is headlined by Hedley. Blech. Also, it’s family oriented so if you’re going to have to flask it if you want to party.