Homestoke Explained: The Calgary Folk Music Festival

Travelling is many things to travellers: a chance to explore new places, see parts unknown, try exotic foods, experience the local culture and push your limits. As much as I love and crave international adventures, I must admit that a lot of these things can also be experienced at home. So as much as I’m a firm believer in being excited about travel, I also think there’s a case to be made for finding adventures at home. I call doing so “homestoke”, meaning to seek out amazing adventures while at home between trips. As a non-digital nomad, to me this is sustainable travel. I can fill up my wanderlust cup at home while saving money and time for big adventures abroad.  I consider myself fortunate enough to live in a place that gives me ample opportunities for these mini-vacations.

More on that, traveller extraordinaire Alastair Humpheys explains what he calls “microadventures” in this excellent podcast that’s worthy of a listen. To him, getting out and trying something new in your hometown or its surroundings can excite the senses and break the tendency to go into auto-pilot while living our regular lives.

This brings me to the Calgary Folk Music Festival (Folk Fest to locals). It happens every year, but each time it’s a little bit different. The festival takes place on the beautiful Prince’s Island Park next to the pale blue glacier waters of the Bow River which I cycle through most mornings on my way to work. Although it’s a place I visit regularly, the festival transforms the park into a whole new adventure for four days each July.

Prince’s Island Park: a nice setting for a music festival

Themes can vary from year to year, for example one 2012 celebrated Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, while 2013 celebrated the fact that the festival was even happening at all after the devastating floods that ravaged the city earlier that summer. This year’s festival doesn’t seem to have a theme, but features broad range of artists to cater to every taste. Despite not being familiar with a lot of the artists this year, I still love going because I discover so many new bands from around the world.

For example, last night I learned to love two new bands who performed on one of the side stages before seeing the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie on the main stage. The first was Thao and the Get Down Stay Down who not only have one of the best band names ever, their talented frontwoman is a multi-instrumentalist who connects effortlessly with her audience. During her set, she complimented Calgary’s river pathway system by saying it was one of the best she’s ever seen. That’s a pretty high vote of confidence considering that she hails from beautiful San Francisco.

Next up were the Juno Award winning (Canada’s Grammys) The Strumbellas who played a lively, energetic set as the sun descended leaving pink and purple streaks across the sky which further highlights the magnificent setting.

The Strumbellas rocking out at dusk.

In addition to taking place in a beautiful location, the Folk Fest has a notoriously relaxed atmosphere where most people sit in front of the main stage on tarps (they are colloquially referred to as “tarpies”) making it a very family-friendly event suitable for all ages.  Further, in keeping with this unique and chilled out vibe, are the collaborations which take place on Saturday and Sunday before the headliners start playing. Throughout the day, multiple bands will play themed sets giving you a chance to catch acts that you may have missed on the bigger stages due to scheduling conflicts and to see your favourite bands in a different kind of performance.

Folk Fest also deserves another nod for its commitment to keeping the venue as clean as possible. While another Canadian festival made headlines recently because its patrons left the site covered in trash, Folk Fest organizers go to great lengths to divert up to 86% of waste away from landfills and offer water bottle refilling stations throughout the grounds. This means that you can watch a set without having to turn around to a sea of plastic water bottles and other garbage on the ground like you do at other festivals (I’m looking at you Pemberton).

Pictured: Not Calgary Folk Music Festival
Photo credit:

As much as I love the clean riverside setting and interesting collaboration sets, above all else my favourite thing about the festival is the way it brings people together. I rarely make specific plans to meet anyone there and instead just wander around catching up with people from many different circles. It’s almost like adult summer camp.

While some festivals leave me feeling like I need a vacation from them (ahem, Coachella), Calgary Folk Music Festival is my perfect, summer mini-vacation that I don’t even need to leave the city for. In short, it is the ideal, small adventure to shake things up and keep life interesting in between bigger trips and for that I will keep coming back year after year.


Share this:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.