By Troy Hasselman, February 5 2020 —
The winter months in Calgary can be a long, dreary slog to get through as the seemingly endless shortened days and cold weather drags on with the city’s busy summer festival season still months away and we await city-uniting events like the Calgary Folk Festival. Those hoping for a taste of the beloved summer festival that takes over Prince’s Island Park over a weekend every July will have a chance with the return of Block Heater across six different venues in the east end of Downtown and Inglewood. Block Heater runs from Feb. 20–22.
The festival had its inaugural run in 2016 with concerts at their home building — Festival Hall — along with the Ironwood Stage & Grill and Inglewood Folk Club, as a means of keeping the festival going through the entire year aside from just during the summer.
“Internally we’ve talked about wanting to bridge the gap between our summer festival and the winter,” Calgary Folk Festival director Kerry Clarke says. “We came up with this as a couple of staff together, ‘Does it make sense to do a winter festival?’ ‘What would it look like?’ It was a collective decision about six years ago.”
This year’s festival will run at the Central Library, Festival Hall, Gorilla Whale, Ironwood, King Eddy and Studio Bell. The Block Heater name comes from the heating up of the few block radius that the festival will take part in long with the block heaters in cars, which are another integral part of the Calgary winter experience. The festival will begin on Thursday night with shows in Inglewood before also moving into Downtown for the rest of the weekend.
“We start in Inglewood with our own Festival Hall as well as the Ironwood and Gorilla Whale and we move down the Music Mile for Friday and Saturday nights into our friends at Studio Bell and use four venues within Studio Bell including the King Eddy,” Clarke says. “As well, we are in the Central Library where we expanded into last year. That same programming continues on Saturday night. On Saturday afternoon we have a combination of the East Village and Inglewood for our venues. Except for Thursday night, where we only have three stages, we always have five stages concurrently in operation.”
While Block Heater has grown strongly since it first began in 2016, the festival is still looking to grow further with ideas for future plans including collaborations with other winter festivals and adding an outdoor component to the festival amongst other proposals.
“We’re part of a new, exciting winter festival strategy so there’s going to be a highlight on that and some collaborations with High Performance Rodeo and some of the other festivals that take place in the six-week winter period,” Clarke says. “There’s some talk about doing an outdoor collaboration between us and High Performance Rodeo and some of the other festivals that place in the six weeks inter period. We’re also talking about doing an outdoor component, probably on Saturday afternoon, in and around the East Village area. We’re also having conversations about possibly doing a large concert during the weekend at a separate venue that would probably kick off or close Block Heater.”
This year’s headliners will include DJ and Folk Fest veteran Kid Koala, Calgary hometown favourite Chad Vangaalen, rising Indie star Hannah Georges and Spoken Word legend Shane Koyczan.
“We’ve had a long relationship with Kid Koala. He’s been to the Festival twice and he’s really wonderful no matter what configuration,” Clarke explains. “This is more of what people are familiar with in his traditional DJ sets. Chad is someone we’ve had at the festival a couple of times, he’s a local hero and done a lot of touring and is very well respected locally and nationally. We’re excited to have him, he’ll be doing a concert at one of the larger spaces in Studio Bell’s Performance Hall which we call the Flipp Reality Hall because we have a wonderful sponsor for that. He’ll be doing a concert that includes his full band. Hannah Georges is also a very well-loved indie artist across the country. She’ll be recording very soon, her album will be produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner. Shane Koyczan is someone I’d really like to highlight, he’s a spoken word artist who started out in the band TOFU — Tons of Fun University. He’s really, very unique. His words are amazing, he’s got some beat poetry and some spoken words. He’s a storyteller first and foremost.”
Block Heater, like Calgary Folk Festival, acts as a chance to discover new artists alongside the headliners. Clarke recommends those unfamiliar with the lineup to research the artists on the festival website before heading to the festival to get an idea of what they’ll be seeing.
“We often have artists who are going to be people’s new favourites,” Clarke says. “It’s not uncommon at Block Heater for people to say ‘Why didn’t you have so and so?’ We say ‘We hired them two years ago,’ and they say, ‘I hadn’t heard of them two years ago.’ I recommend you get on the curve early and really do your investigating because people you might not have heard of could be really doing something special. Go to our website, we’ve got videos you can watch and music you can listen to. You can just explore and get to know some of these artists and come and try it out because we have tickets for the full weekend but we also have passes for individual evenings. You can come and see lots of different artists under one ticket. It’s very much a festival-in-a-box situation like the summer festival, only with more walls and ceilings.”
Alongside the headliners, Clarke mentioned a few of the rising acts at the festival that people should look out for.
“Son Little is very cool,” Clarke says. “He came to the festival a couple years ago and is a new soul artist and I’m very glad that he’s performing at the festival. Carmanah are a band from BC and they have a really great indie pop sound. I think people will like that a lot. Marlaena Moore from Edmonton has performed in Calgary a couple times and it’s really special to have her at the festival. Those are some. Of course Cécile Doo-Kingué is amazing. She’s from Montréal and is an incredible guitarist on the blues tip. We have 38 artists at Block Heater and I love them all, but those are some that people might want to keep particular attention on.”
The Festival will also be honouring Black Future Month, the Afrocentric iteration of Black History Month with a screening of the documentary We are the Roots — which tells the story of black settlers on the Canadian prairies — alongside performances from black artists from across Canada and beyond.
“February has traditionally been Black History Month and some people still call it that and there’s programming called that,” Clarke says. “The folks involved with us are more in the Black-futurist movement which is looking towards the future and new innovations and sounds and cultures that are out of the African-descended community, so we’re celebrating that with the film We Are the Roots and a panel discussion. We just also have a lot of artists that are a broad representation of what African-Canadians are doing in music like the aforementioned Afrotronics who are sort of a black futuristic sound, Cécile Doo-Kingué and Lynn Olagundoye, an amazing R&B soul artist. An artist from Edmonton I’m really excited about Karimah. People may have seen her if they were at the Decidedly Jazz Danceworks show last year, she was their narrator and performer. We also have Son Little who I mentioned and a really great artist from the States, Sonny Moore. So just a really broad representation of the different creativity that’s happening in the African-descended community.”
For more information about Block Heater, it’s lineup and schedule and to purchase tickets, visit their website.