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An Insider’s Take on The “Four Letter Word” Festival

By RACHAEL FREY

(Photo: courtesy Kerry Clarke)

(Photo: courtesy Kerry Clarke)

One of the city’s biggest and most anticipated events, Calgary Folk Music Festival, is a four-day, family-friendly, cultural and musical jamboree that has been going strong for 38 years. More than 53,000 music lovers (not to mention a small staff and an army of community volunteers) take over Prince’s Island Park to revel in genre-bending music and ground-breaking collaborations.

As the festival’s artistic director, Kerry Clarke is responsible for scouring the globe to find the most exciting, buzz-worthy musicians and bring them to Calgary for one weekend in July. She says the best thing about her job is “being surrounded by awesome colleagues in the office and around the world who are on the cutting edge of culture and creativity.”

Over the course of more than 20 years working with the Calgary Folk Music Festival, Clarke has helped to define what constitutes “folk music”—something that can be difficult, if not impossible, to nail down.

kerryclarkequote“Definitions of musical styles are always evolving as are people’s perceptions of what terms mean,” Clarke says. “Folk to me is from two branches—either based on the traditions of different cultures and the evolution of (those traditions), or original singer-songwriters. But the delivery of those can be through orchestral pop, hip-hop, world music, blues, country—it’s a big umbrella with creativity and originality at the core.”

“It also signifies a programming and event format with a wide variety of artists, including icons and upstarts, with a lot of opportunity for discovery,” Clarke says. One of the ways Calgary Folk Music Festival fosters discovery and innovation is through “workshops,” a unique show format that brings diverse artists together on stage to jam and collaborate live, creating spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime performances.
Clarke says she’s excited to see so many of the performances this year, among them innovative hip-hop group BADBADNOTGOOD, singer-songwriter Carsie Blanton, English soul musician Michael Kiwanuka, and Mbongwana Star, a seven-piece Congolese band.

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