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Summer Festivals Preview: One season to rock them all

By Thomas Johnson, April 26 2018 —

Festival season, the only season that matters, is nearly upon us. As the snow recedes and its flooding washes away the spectre of school, five-hour daylight and the scourge of seasonal affective disorder, we welcome Calgary’s annual festivals back into our collective minds and communities. Sled Island will occupy June 20–24 for its 12th iteration. Over July 26–29, the Calgary Folk Festival will return for its 39th year. Both continue their streak of offering a broad range of musical taste, while maintaining the singular spirits that have allowed for such impressive tenures. Remember to pack sunscreen.

Sled Island:

Since 2007, the sheer breadth of Sled Island has drawn acclaim from noted international publications like Uproxx, Thump, Drowned In Sound, and, uh, the Gauntlet, who have lauded its expanse and the joy of discovery it thrusts upon attendees. The numbers themselves are staggering — five days, 35 venues, 250+ individual acts, and one great city.

Sled Island’s unique format is the source of its success. Every year in preparation, Sled Island chooses a guest curator to help decide which artists will play. This year, long-standing San Francisco punks Deerhoof are helping to deliver the weird to Sled.

“I felt like they gave us a good diversity that reflects their own career and influences. They’ve worked with so many other artists from rock and noise acts to contemporary symbols and classical musicians. They’re very eclectic in their tastes and we got a good representation of that,” says Maud Salvi, Sled Island’s executive director. “They’ve been really great to work with. We’re very happy with the list of people they suggested and we were able to bring. They will be here for the entirety of the festival.”

Photo by Mariah Wilson

Photo by Mariah Wilson

The complete lineup was released on April 17. Its comprehensive blend of rugged punk, electronic and all-around weirdo goodness should satiate about every demographic in the city. Headliners include psych-rockers Flaming Lips, alt-darlings Dirty Projectors and Grouper, who has been on Salvi’s must-get list for quite some time. Of further note are afro-futurists Shabazz Palaces, who Salvi mentioned she’s particularly excited for.

“I’m really happy to have Shabazz Palaces playing at the Legion specifically, I think it’s gonna be a really nice setting for them,” she says about the Seattle duo.

A late announcement was made for the cosmic bassist Thundercat, who calls Los Angeles his home despite hailing from somewhere beyond the known universe, who will play in Calgary for the first time. He will be warping your perception of space and time at the Palace in support of his acclaimed 2017 jazz-fusion album, Drunk. And if you can’t get enough of campus, The Flaming Lips will bring their dazzling glow to MacHall.

Calgary Folk Festival:

Since 1980, the Calgary Folk Festival has been providing the heart of Calgary with a holistic atmosphere wherein whole families can enjoy a weekend of live music en masse. For four days, Prince’s Island Park transforms into an inner-city utopian oasis booming with life. Roots, independent and world musicians flock to eight stages — six throughout the day and two in the evening — congregating among comedians and spoken word artists, startups and culinary experts, record pedlars and animators in and around the artisan market and beer gardens. For a weekend, you’re hoisted away from the city surrounding you and transported to a sylvan getaway. And though it’s not the only attraction, the music is, of course, a main draw.

“I think we’ve got a lot of diversity and breadth to the lineup,” says Kerry Clarke, Calgary Folk Fest’s artistic director. “We’re bringing back the talk tent, so that’s another roadside attraction for us. We’ve got some really great comedians and folk artists. We have the artist panels who are really funny and fun, where they tell some of their touring stories.”

The lineup, which includes 70 acts, is as wide-ranging as you’re likely to see from any folk festival, anywhere. Among local and international acoustic troubadours are a variety of genres, some of which may raise a few eyebrows.

Photo by Mariah Wilson

Photo by Mariah Wilson

“Last year we had some big Canadian names — Blue Rodeo, Barenaked Ladies, City and Colour. This year we have a few more headliners. About three each night. We’re not relying on three big ones. It’s more spread out.”

Those other headliners include Indigenous experimentalists A Tribe Called Red, Sacramento rap tandem Blackalicious, who will be the centrepiece act on the funk-oriented Friday night and New York polymath Saul Williams, whose blend of poetry, alternative hip-hop and experimental defy easy categorization. English singer-songwriter Joe Jackson makes an appearance.

“Legacy artists like Joe Jackson and Blackalicious — we like to do that. It’s important to us,” Clarke says. “We do try and plan it but it doesn’t always work as well as it did this year. I’m just as excited about the artists nobody’s heard of because I know people will come away with a new favourite.”

Sled Island Discovery passes ($214) and individual concert tickets (varying) available at www.sledisland.com. Calgary Folk Festival 4-Day Single User passes ($180) and single-day passes (varying) available calgaryfolkfest.com.

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