Calgary Folk Fest 2009

The Calgary Folk Fest attracts an enormous range of artists from all over the world, ranging from up-and-coming college radio favourites, all the way to some of the industry’s biggest legends. As a broke, unemployed internet comedy writer (as well as a bona-fide z-grade internet celebrity), my natural place at the festival is begging for change outside the gate. How I ended up with an exclusive media access pass is a mystery, since anyone familiar with my work should know better than to give me a microphone and permission to ask whatever I want around famous people. It’s a big responsibility, and totally unsurprisingly, I managed to totally blow every opportunity to ask important and meaningful questions. Instead, I made fart jokes, yakked endlessly about cartoons and professional wrestling, and asked a group of Grammy winners to finally settle the MC Hammer/Vanilla Ice debate. I had a blast.

When I first heard that I was going to be walking around talking to celebrities all day, I was struck with both elation at the opportunity I’d been given, and utter horror at the fact that I was in way, way over my head. I’m not a music journalist; I write fart jokes about monster movies while collecting unemployment insurance. You know that image that popped into your hear the moment you read that? That’s exactly what I look like. I tried to make myself look respectable, I really did. I didn’t wear the shirt with the holes in the armpits, and I even had my shaggy unemployment hair trimmed. Unfortunately, my barber decided that I should look like a twelve-year-old girl with a hormone problem and a beard. And so, armed with a notepad, a voice recorder, a camera, my new “hair by my mom” looks, and my beautiful photographer/assistant/girlfriend, I set out to thoroughly embarrass myself in front of famous people.

We set out from our house bright and early in the morning, stopping along the way to grab a fast food breakfast which I immediately spilled down the front of myself. So much for first impressions. I bumped into my stepbrother on the way in the gates who, familiar with my work, was a little sceptical that I wasn’t just trying to bullshit my way in. Arriving at the media tent, still dripping with some sort of processed egg product, we were handed media passes with our names on them and a stack of interview request forms to fill out. I requested an interview with nearly every single artist at the festival in the hopes that one of them would confuse me with a legitimate journalist, which isn’t easy when your press pass says BAD NEWS CENTRAL in big bold letters. So you can imagine what ran though my head when I received this interview schedule:

It was at this exact moment that the elation/horror balance tipped squarely into pure abject terror. I wasn’t going to be talking to one or two random musicians I had never heard of; I was basically interviewing my iPod. It’s even stranger now, listening to a song on my headphones and knowing that the person singing it thinks I’m a total goober. On a positive note, it was about this time that I discovered that the media area had its own exclusive outhouses, and they were immaculate.

My first interview wasn’t scheduled until 2pm, which gave me nearly three hours to watch some of the acts in preparation. We first set out to stage 3, which was occupied by Danny Barnes, Deep Dark Woods, Luluc, and the Good Lovelies. I’m sure it was a good performance, but we unfortunately only caught the last ten minutes of it, and I spent most of that time trying to suppress dry heaves. After that we visited stage 2, which was occupied by LeE HARVeY OsMOND, Hayes Carll, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Amelia Curran. It was another fantastic show, but this time I was distracted by a play going on in the grass behind us. I went to have a look, and it turned out to be a kid’s show called Little Red Riding Beard. The combination of Little Red Riding Beard and the sound from stage 2 of half a dozen people singing about getting stoned was a little too much for this early in the morning, so we set off to the beer gardens to meet up with some friends and calm my nerves.

One whole beer later, we set off to the media tent to interview the local Calgary rap duo of Dragon Fli Empire. I opened with some questions on bad movies, and we ended up chatting about Dario Argento and the early 90’s dog movie called Bingo. It was a fantastic start, if not totally pointless, and I’m sure I left them more confused than anything. I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing, and was more than ready to talk to Arrested Development. Unfortunately, one of the media tent volunteers tracked me down and informed me that the interview was being pushed back to the end of the day. Instead, my next chat was with Ray Wylie Hubbard, who shared some thoughts on how the music industry had changed since he’d started out. It was a great chat, and I learned a lot about how older performers were viewing the collapse of the music industry. I was feeling incredibly confident by this point, so I decided to start pushing my interviews in a more comedic direction. This was a horrible, horrible mistake, and I apologise greatly to The Acorn for implying that the only reason I enjoyed them was because I was stoned. It was much funnier in my head. I also apologise to Sarah Harmer for pretending to confuse her with Julie Dorion. I’m pretty confident that I’m the only person in the history of Folk Fest to end an interview with the subject speedwalking away with a look of sheer horror on her face. At his point I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and die, which wasn’t helped at all when the media coordinator came up to me to tell me that Jay Crocker was ready for our interview. One problem: I hadn’t signed up for an interview with Jay Crocker, and he probably figured that out the moment I started franticly flipping through my program guide looking for something to talk to him about. You don’t know embarrassment until you have to tell someone that you have to delay your interview with him because you can’t remember who he is. At this point I was hoping that the accumulated humiliation would cause me to spontaneously combust, but fortunately a camera crew for a local newspaper grabbed him away from me before I could humiliate myself any further. Unfortunately for Jay, they made him dress in a banana costume. It turns out the whole thing with me had been a miscommunication, and the media volunteer who set it up apologised for the little mishap. I felt much better, but Jay still had to wear the banana. For the record, Jay is a very talented musician, and I should have taken the interview when I had the chance. Hopefully I can talk to him at next year’s festival. Hell, I might even bring my own banana costume.

Things started to pick up with my interview with The Deep Dark Woods, who I have kind of a weird history with. I’ve known one the members through an internet forum since before they were famous, so naturally he wasn’t one of the ones to show up for the interview. Instead, we talked about Hulk Hogan for so long that one of the members got up and left out of boredom. My audio recording of the interview says it went on for 20 minutes, so I can’t really blame him there. They were really nice guys, and our talk was a lot of fun. Next was a picnic table interview with one of the members of Vishten, which I unfortunately had to cut short because Arrested Development was ready to talk to me. I ended up catching the end of their show with Dragon Fli Empire, Kid Koala, and Mutabaruka from backstage, which was easily one of the best Folk Fest shows I’ve ever seen. It was also the largest in the festival’s history, attracting a crowd of 6000, or roughly half the attendance of the entire festival. I got to hang out and chat with them after the show, mostly about old-school hip-hop versus modern radio rap. It was quite enlightening to hear from people who’ve been through the whole thing. I asked them to settle the MC Hammer/Vanilla Ice debate once and for all, and Hammer won hands-down. As far as I’m concerned, the debate is over. Surprisingly, several members of the group held Hammer in pretty high regard (Vanilla Ice, not so much). Dragon Fli Empire singled me out of the media crowd to take a picture of the full stage lineup, and I almost tripped over a tent stake while backing up trying to fit all of them in the frame. I ended up missing my chat with LeE HARVeY OsMOND, so my last chat was with The Ebony Hillbillies, who taught me all about the history of stringed instruments in Africa. It was incredibly informative, and a great way to end the “work” part of my day.

I spent the rest of the evening with my friends and stepbrother in the beer gardens, listening to the main stage concerts and chatting about the festival. Everyone was in great spirits, and everyone agreed it was a fantastic festival. Mavis Staples and Loreena McKennit put on great shows, and Staples’ rendition of The Weight had the entire beer garden singing and dancing along. The outhouses were getting a little nasty by this point, but I still had access to the pristine media outhouse, which ticked off pretty much everyone at our table. That’s pretty much how the night ended; my friends jealous of my semiprivate bathroom, most of the artists thinking I was a total moron, and my girlfriend swearing that she’d never let me forget me blowing the Sarah Harmer interview for as long as I live.

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