5 types you’ll meet at the Calgary folk fest (bras and shoes not required)
This was originally published at OpenFile Calgary on July 28, 2012, but remains pretty accurate in more recent years.
by Zoey Duncan
The Calgary Folk Music Festival attracts a particular crowd to its island getaway each summer. These characters live quietly amongst us throughout the year, their folkie nature disguised under slacks and button-downs, but when the gates open, they let down their dreadlocks (real or figurative). Here are five types of people you’ll likely spot traipsing around Prince’s Island at folk fest.
If you’ve been to the folk festival, you know exactly what I mean. Even if you haven’t seen them in person, odds are you’ve heard the legend. Feelings are mixed about these dedicated fans, who camp out at Prince’s Island Park overnight in a desperate bid to score prime real estate in front of the mainstage. Should we admire their dedication and hope they offer us tarp space to watch Jeff Mangum? Or do we criticize them for leaving their tarp vacant for every other act while they sunbathe in the beer gardens?
The city’s bylaw department confirmed that Prince’s Island Park is technically closed between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., meaning no one should be inside the park during that time, and that tent camping is strictly prohibited. However, bylaw officers will let the Tarpies skirt the law during the festival and allow late-night, non-tenting folkies to line up. After the sleepover, when the gates are opened, Tarpies move as a swarm inside the park and speedwalk (running is prohibited) to the field in front of the mainstage to set up their headquarters for the rest of the day. The Tarpies are clever people, and will mark their territory with a homemade tarp marker, such as the one pictured, at right, to help them locate it more easily.
Once their space is claimed with a tarp and optional blanket and festival chairs, they’ll toss down backpacks, picnics and jackets and stroll through the festival unburdened by belongings. Like most everyone else on the island for folk fest, Tarpies will spend much of the day flitting between stages and food vendors, returning to their tarp for some or all of the mainstage show in the evening. Our recommendation is that you approach Tarpies with a smile if you’d like to share tarp space with them. Not all are willing to scooch over, though. Maybe bring an offering of a lentil-filled burrito and a beer ticket to better your luck.
Hip Kids Who Just Want to See [insert band name here]
These concert-goers were just checking their favourite band’s MySpace page when they learned so-and-so was coming to Calgary. The Hip Kids bought tickets without a second thought and didn’t even notice they’d be watching the band in a grassy field.
This will be their first folk festival, which they will attend while dressed for a nightclub, they won’t bring a water bottle and they won’t know to return their plate to get their toonie back. Someone will have to explain to the Hip Kids the beer-cup stacker in the beer gardens (it was created by a volunteer several years ago so that beer cups—now compostable—would take up less space in the trash) and if they’re lucky, they’ll discover an inexplicably good jam session mashup between a Klezmer band, a rapper and a person with impeccable command of the harmonica. They’ll also see that band who they came to see, and maybe they’ll even watch while squeezed between a few friendly Tarpies.
Drinking outside shouldn’t really be a novelty at this point in the summer, but it’s still approached with devout reverence at the folk fest. It’s dangerous to enter the Big Rock Beer Garden on a sunny afternoon (um—or morning for that matter) without a schedule in hand to remind you that there’s music happening all over the place.
Beer Gardeners plant themselves at a picnic table, surrounded by like-minded and thirsty people while beer, wine, cider and sangria flow into those aforementioned compostable cups. When acts aren’t performing on the mainstage, Beer Gardeners will likely hear just a trickle of music from the sidestages over the racket of debates about the Best Folk Fest Act Ever and folks trying out pickup lines on each other (“Want to come over to my place and listen to my Beirut record after the festival?”).
A possible solution to enjoying yourself too much, becoming a Stationary Beer Gardener and missing too much music is to use the m.calgaryfolkfest.com mobile site to check who is up next on each stage. If you’re more organized you may want to use the MyFolkFest feature to plan your entire weekend, if you haven’t already. But if that doesn’t work out, there are far worse places to spend a weekend than the folk festival’s beer gardens.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—and it’s also weather-dependent. As a folk fest visitor, you will admire the fashions of some of your contemporaries while simply gawking at others. While some attendees stick to earth tones, flowy sundresses and an endless wardrobe of scarves, others take this opportunity to folk it up a bit. For example, for four days a year, harem pants are highly popular and not completely out of place (but will still look strange to the uninitiated). Also not out of place: tiny crop-tops, hats that block the sun but also the view of everyone behind the wearer, tie-dyed attire and beards. Plus: bare feet, shirtless men and braless women. And expect to see a number of knitted garments, thanks to the knitting kits being offered by vendor Stash Needle Art Lounge.
You’ll also see some folks dressed in pretty much exactly what they wore to the Calgary Stampede: denim and plaid. Only this time they’re wearing sandals instead of boots and they no longer reek of free pancakes and maple syrup. Most likely, this year’s hand’s-down most notable fashion will be the mirrored suit Chris Isaak wore during his Thursday night encore. Seriously, just try to top that.
The River People aren’t actually at the folk fest, they’re hanging out on the other side of the Bow River. The most organized amongst them have brought a frosty beverage hidden inside an eco-friendly aluminum water bottle and something soft to sit on. Others are more casual River People, stopping to listen briefly while walking the dog or kids.
They’re typically harmless, but there’s always the chance that a River Person will roll up their pant legs and attempt to wade across the Bow River to sneak their way into the festival undetected. You’ll have to let us know if you’ve ever actually heard a success story that begins with this scenario. More likely, a member of the security team will thwart the not-so-clandestine entry attempt. In such a case, a River Person is more accurately called a River Troll.
Have you spotted other “types” at the folk festival this year? Let me know in the comments!