WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: Brett Fillmore
Continuing with our summer nostalgia, we take a look back at Circle festival, now in its fourth year, has emerged as a low-key candidate for Calgary’s best.
One of the main charms of Circle festival (formerly known as Circle the Wagons) is the element of spectacle it adopts through its postmodern carnival theme: the venue changes every year, like a travelling circus; the main stage is dubbed the Big Top; contemporary circus performers like stilt walkers and jugglers wander the crowd throughout the event. Most impressively, nouveau cirque performers take the stage alongside musical performers to create a unique and creative blend of choreographed performances and freestyle artistic impression. To stand amongst steampunk enthusiasts watching DJs and bands flanked by lyra performers or aerial silk acrobats is the quintessential Circle experience, but this year’s edition stretched the concept to include even more imaginative accompaniments like flamenco and belly dancers.
Food & Drink
At many festivals, beer gardens and food trucks are treated as merely a necessary amenity provided to concert-goers. At Circle, eating and drinking are approached as an integral part of the festival experience. All the best from YYCFoodTrucks are centrally located, and the entire festival grounds act as a beer garden for Village Brewery. Because of the more-is-more approach to food and drink, variety is king and lines are never a problem.
Day & Night
Daytime at Circle is eminently family friendly. In keeping with the carnival theme, there is a special circus performer stage for kids, as well as a circus school where they can learn skills like plate-spinning and tight-rope walking. One of the biggest draws is the Fast N Furriest Weiner Dog Dash, essentially a drag race tournament to determine Calgary’s fastest weiner dog (!). After dark, Circle gets rowdy. Side stages and activities whittle down as Calgary’s night crawlers come out and the grass surrounding the Big Top transforms from a blanketed reclining space to a sweaty boogie arena.
Circle remains immune from large corporate sponsorship—the main promoter is Cowtown heroes Bass Bus—and its emphasis on local vendors and performers go a long way to build a sense of community. The festival is small (about 5,000 people), but it also somehow feels small in a good way, and a way that transcends attendance figures. Circle is happy to cater to a certain crowd, and is not heavily advertised. For example, hard copy tickets could only be purchased through indie landmarks like Sloth Records and Luke’s Drug Mart. Unlike some other Calgary festivals, Circle organizers understand that creating an enticing atmosphere is the name of the festival game.
A lineup of great artists is the shoelace binding Circle together, and 2017’s version of the festival was tied tight.
The Boom Booms
The boys from the Boom Booms started their set for a handful of distant, disinterested listeners and finished it awash in a large crowd of dancing revelers. Their soul-injected funk itched that late afternoon scratch.
Vancouver’s own transfixed the crowd with their synth-driven electropop.
Aloof pysch-rockers Raleigh blissed out the Bazaar stage with a heady mix of reverb-soaked guitars and solemn cello.
Reuben and The Dark
Reuben and The Dark’s emotional brand of indie folk was perfectly suited to the elegant aerial acrobats performing alongside them.
Neighbour added some bell bottom flavor to the Big Top stage with his disco-flavoured broth of house and funk.
Too Many Zooz
True originals, Too Many Zooz were the highlight of the festival. Their brass-laden grooves served as flint to their sparking stage presence, drawing the biggest and most energetic crowd of the night.