Concert Review: Calgary Folk Music Festival Celebrates Triumphant 40th Anniversary With Top-Tier Talent

Thursday 01st, August 2019 / 16:46
By Sebastian Buzzalino

The Calgary Folk Music Fest (CFMF) made a triumphant return to Prince’s Island with some returning favourite acts, Scottish legends and a Colombian band that threatened to steal the show. BeatRoute was there for all the action.


Main Stage

Tune-Yards’ electro world fusion jams got the festival going on Thursday with style. Merrill Garbus surrounded herself with loopers and synthesizers to move the growing crowd with a set that was as weird as it was captivating, oddball curiosities colliding with polyrhythmic beats and a global sampling of influences.

Sharon Van Etten
Main Stage

Sharon Van Etten returned to CFMF for the first time since 2013, now on a bigger stage. Working the crowd with a fierce ease, her confidence backed and elevated her powerful set. Van Etten channeled her best Patti Smith as she prowled the main stage, casting everyone under her spell.

National Stage 4

Combining modern rock riffs with Ojibwe stories, iskwé’s set brought a theatrical power to Stage 4. The activist and performer didn’t hesitate to use her pulpit to call out colonial power structures, leading the packed crowd through traditional chants in their own acts of resistance.

Belle & Sebastian
Main Stage

Nostalgia hung thick in the evening air as it seemed like the entire festival awaited the Scottish indie rock royalty. Though Belle & Sebastian played predominantly newer material, skipping over some of their early classic tracks, generations of fans swooned and swayed to the band’s immaculate and uplifting indie pop.

The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer
National Stage 4

At the other end of the island, The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer closed off the night with rollicking, swampy, harmonica-heavy R&B. The usual duo were augmented to a four piece, including Miss Quincy on vocals and Geoff Hilhorst (Deep Dark Woods) on keys, who added some well-placed textural elements to give the set a new dimension.


Combo Chimbita
National Stage 4

New York-via-Colombia’s Combo Chimbita proved to be one of the unexpected highlights of the festival. The riveting quartet brought their experience of the Latinx diaspora to Stage 4 with an eclectic mix of cumbia, Afrobeat, samba and bossa nova intermingled with Western elements of psych, funk and jazz. Combo Chimbita’s explosive and moving set stole the show on Friday evening.

Sheila E
Main Stage

Though there were some Folk Fest veterans that scratched their heads at the inclusion of Sheila E as headliner for Friday night, their concerns were dispelled as soon as the sprawling R&B outfit took the stage. Sheila E is a queen commanding her flock and audience with ease as she worked through an extended set of originals and covers, getting everyone dancing well into the night.


Asleep at the Wheel
Main Stage

Like a busted pickup ramblin’ down Route 66, Austin, Texas’ Asleep at the Wheel brought almost five decades of twang and thunder to the main stage on Saturday afternoon. Bandleader Ray Benson felt right at home at the helm of his troupe as they blended classic country and southern rock into a seamless package.

National Stage 4

Toronto’s Weaves are art pop perfection. The highly-lauded quartet played a tight set of tracks that shifted and morphed from jangle pop to jazz freakouts, guitar-god solos and neo-soul grooves. Frontwoman Jasmyn Burke is a consummate leader, taking everyone into her world as she tangled and untangled pop hooks in front of their eyes.