This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Folk Fest Part 2-The Festival

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Sounds pretty reasonable, I think most would agree. But when does “doing something well” cross into “holy shit, you are obsessive about this”? I’m not sure, but there is a chance that I’m somewhere on the holy shit side of that line when it comes to the EFMF. But I’ll leave the reader to decide.

We closed Part 1 talking about how to get your spot, and how after years of the insanely fun but too dangerous method of first come first serve on an old ski hill, the Folk Fest needed some way to make the process more orderly, and the lottery system was spawned. I mean created. It’s gone through a few iterations over the years, but essentially, here is how it works.

3 hours before the gates open, anyone interested in giving themselves a shot at the best spot of real estate to lay their tarp and watch the festival gather at a couple of makeshift “corrals”, one near the top of the hill and one near the bottom (civilized folks at the top, heathens to the bottom).  As both areas are totally within neighborhoods, you are asked to not arrive early. In fact there is no advantage to arriving early. as they always (except for the lottery disaster of 2013) have enough tickets for everyone. On Thursday and Friday, the lottery gates open at 2 PM. On Saturday and Sunday at 7 AM (yes, you read that right).  Once the corral gate is opened, by cutting it at an undisclosed location so people don’t gather in one spot, everyone streams in and is given 1 lottery ticket, assuming they have a nightly ticket.


Lottery Gate Being Opened. The yellow shirt folks are handing out the tickets


The lottery group-not looking too bad at 7 am after about 5 hours of sleep each!


The tickets!

The lottery tickets are colored and each different color has the name of a performer, and each band has 25 tickets and I think they do 60 performers (so around 1500 total tickets). On a typical lottery, of the 15-20 people that might be in our group on any given night, generally at least 10 and usually more will show up for the lottery. What we used to do is everyone gets a ticket, we spend a bit of time making sure we have no duplicates, the tickets would then be given to the 2 or 3 people running tarps (depending on how many people would be there that night) and everyone else would go home to do things like sleep. Or fill up on coffee. Or pack their big ass bag and hide booze. Once you get your ticket drawn, one person with their tarp get in line and march, slowly, down to the gate at the bottom of the hill and wait to go in, in our groups of 25. Once all our tickets were drawn, we would give the remainders to someone nearby and all is good.

Until some math challenged, hyper-sensitive, granola crunching, politically correct, tie-dyed shirt wearing namby-pamby  (probably from those heathens at the bottom of the hill!) complained that it wasn’t fair that people just got given tickets by those who were leaving, necessitating the creation of a new rule: You can’t leave the corral without either being in the tarp line after your ticket is drawn, or you hand in your undrawn ticket to exit. So instead of most people showing up, getting a ticket, and going home, now because someones panties or boxers got in a wad everyone has to stay until their groups ticket is drawn. Sing it with me, Kumbay-freakin-ya.

Annnnyyyway, as I tried to say above, we usually run two tarps. And since we started going to the folk fest, I’ve always run the first tarp. So I’ve done it around 80 times now,  a few more if you count Calgary. From bombing down the hill or sprinting up it in Edmonton in my younger days, to the sedate walk and then mayhem (getting to that part) of putting down the tarp now, to skipping in Calgary (you can’t run, but you can skip!) I can’t seem to let anyone else do it. I can say that the second Sunday in August (always the last day of the Edmonton festival) is the toughest wake up of the year. By that point I’d have been to around 24ish hours of music and getting around 4 hours sleep per night. Last year, for the first time, I noticed that I was getting pretty grumpy the end of every night, and really, if you are grumpy at a music festival you are doing it wrong. So this year, for the first time, I let go of the reigns on Sunday and let someone else do the tarp while I went home after the lottery (I couldn’t not go to the lottery, one thing at a time!) and slept a bit. Sort of blissful actually.  With my son all growed up, I might give him the responsibility and go into semi-retirement. We’ll see.

This year was a spectacular year for the lottery for us. We got 2nd group on Thursday, 1st group both Friday and Saturday, and 2nd group Sunday. For sure our best draw ever.

Once the tickets are drawn, you get into line. This will be the first of many lines (food lines, beer tent line, bathroom lines) you will be in. Get used to it. And you slowly go from the corral to the gate at the bottom of the hill, only to line up in single file at the gate.


Getting led to the site-it is a BIG DEAL to be this close to the front!


Once you get to the bottom, you line up here and wait for about 1/2 hour.


People getting their tarp ready for rapid deployement

About 10 minutes before the gates open, the volunteers ask everyone without a lottery ticket to leave the line. Only people with a lottery ticket can go in the gate to lay a tarp. Then at 4 PM on Thursday and Friday and 9 AM on Saturday and Sunday the volunteers are going to start leading you in, in groups of 25. (Unless you are the first group, and you get led in by this)



Bagpipe video!! It’s a REALLY big deal to get to see this part. Only the first group gets led in. In 20 years or so of doing this, I’ve been here 3 times total, 2 times this year!

And here is where it gets a bit silly (as if nothing so far has been silly). Once you get to the side of the stage, they let you disperse toward the stage to lay your tarp. You would think that it would all be pretty sedate. 25 of you go in (50 actually because the barbarians from the other lottery are coming from the other side) and put down your tarps. How hard can it be? All I can say is “sharpen your elbows.” You will never anywhere see so much competition over a 8×10 space (its a rule, max tarp size 8×10) in your life. It’s like the scene in Far and Away when Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are racing over the Oklahoma prairie for some prime farmin’ land. Seemingly mild mannered adults turn into slathering savages screaming “you are on my tarp!!” “Get off of my space!!” “I was here first you lower lottery barbarian”. Ok, maybe not screaming, but there is bucket load of passive aggressive going on!  It really is competitive and massively stupid. Like that 1 foot of space matters. But in the heat of the moment it does.  Once your tarp is down and you righteously guard your space and hammer in your spikes, you look around and everyone is all happy again, sharing hammers, talking about the coming acts just like 30 seconds ago they wouldn’t have ripped each others hearts out to be 6″ closer to the stage. Actually, over the years I’ve learned that you can avoid the majority of the carnage if you just pull back one tarp width (and I can gauge 8 ft with my eye to the inch!). It’s in my best interest since I am hyper competitive and very prone to getting a bit anal about my “space” in the 30 seconds of putting down the tarp. But then everyone in line before the run says the same thing, “oh, I never fight for space anymore” right before they hammer a spike in your foot if it’s in the way. Its absolutely the worst if you are first call, the closer to the stage the more competitive. Again, people are so dumb (present company totally included).

After you put your tarp down, you call and tell everyone where it is (now you text and send pictures). About an hour later everyone arrives and says the same thing “Awesome spot”. Doesn’t matter where it is. And nobody but the person who ran the tarp knows if they did good or not. They just put their stuff down, give you a hug, and head to whatever stage they are starting on, or beer tent. Or as my friend calls it, Stage Beer.  (Note: Even if you don’t want to participate in the tarp stuff, if you just show up and sit where you can it’s still a kick. There really isn’t a bad place to sit!)


Just after I put my tarp down on Friday. Here is a shot from the Folk Fest Site. There used to be a time lapse, but I can’t find it.

Tarp City

One last note on the tarp run. As I said previously, I’ve run the tarp somewhere between 80 and 90 times now. To the very best of my knowledge, there is no visual evidence of this. My daughter Mackenzie and Abby helped me in Calgary for tarp running practice (in Calgary, they still just line up and go in based on where you are in line, no lottery) because Mack didn’t want the pressure without seeing how it was done. So she and Abby have done exactly one (1!!!) tarp run. And this is from The Calgary Folk Music Festival site:

Mack “running” the tarp

Abby running a single chair

Mack and Abby togetherr

Actually, there is one picture of me on the Calgary site:

Somewhere in there–that’s me, behind the guy in the black shirt, behind the guy in the tilley hat. I’m the guy in the red hat, or in this case, just a red hat. Mayor Naheed Nenshi is in that picture too, stalking me as always.

Folk Fest Site Map

As you can see, there are 7 stages, Stage Beer (mmmmm, beer!) and main stage. The main stage is used primarily for evening acts. The side stages run Friday 6-9 and pretty much all day Saturday and Sunday 11-7, except for for a 1 hour main stage act from 2-3 Main Stage is happening Thursday 6-11, Friday 9-12:30, Saturday 7-12:30 and Sunday 7-11. So around 38 hours of music on 7 stages over 4 days. To say there is a lot to choose from is a massive understatement. Add Stage Beer to that mix and scheduling can get complicated.

The Edmonton Folk Music Festival is really, really good at scheduling talent. As has been mentioned, having around 100,000 people over 4 days gives you some stroke. The main stage generally has something for everyone. From the traditional singer songwriters, typically early in the evening to basically full on rock bands, particularly the closing acts on Friday and Saturday night. This year, the closing act on Thursday was Of Monsters and Men (really better live to me than their studio work, much more energy). Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros on Saturday (you’ve heard of them, you just may not know it), and a band called Lord Huron on Saturday and folk fest queen Brandi Carlilse on Sunday (Edmonton and Brandi Carlilse are in love with each other). Oh, remember the part above where Mack and Abby got their pictures taken in Calgary? Well, not satisfied with that, they worked their way to the front during Edward Sharp and were noticed by the VERY drunk lead singer Alex Ebert. During their biggest hit, Home, he came up to the girls while the audience was singing and thrust the mic out to them and let them sing in front of 20,000.  Mackenzie was crying afterwards, but to be fair, she was a little drunk too. Alex told the girls “you were really holding it down!” Amazing how things seem to follow the pretty 18 year olds around.

I’m not going to bog this down with a music review, other than a couple of things: Between the main stage acts, they always bring up someone to sing a couple of songs to fill the time while they change over the stage. Mostly these people play while everyone on main stage chats, goes gets food, rushes to try to get in beer tent, whatever (you really can’t talk much while the main stage acts are playing or you will get major stink eye). So for the most part, other than family, friends and die hard fans, these acts get mostly ignored. There have been a few notable exceptions. Geoff Berner singing “Lucky Luck God Damned Jew” was one song that got peoples attention. This year, it was Mike Farris. He got 4 songs while they set up Edward Sharp (huge band) and had everyone on their feet on second song. Think Al Green singing style. Won a grammy for best gospel album this year. Used to sing with Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, and has had some major drug and alcohol issues over the years. Really high pitched blues/gospel style played with a lot of emotion and fun.  He honestly sang one verse of his first song and everyone had shut up and were completely engaged, and like I said on their feet by song 2. I’ve never seen that. My wife is 100% in love with him.  Here he is with a bit of a quieter song:

Mike Farris “Mercy Now”


On Main Stage “Tweener”

My favorite act was Matt Anderson. I’ve seen him a few times in the past and love him. Huge guy, huge voice, totally engaging. Here he is on main stage. Do yourself a favor and play this through.

Main stage is always fantastic, except for the part where if you stand up the security people yell at you to sit down, until everyone is up. Which to me is kinda silly. If you are at a music festival and never want to stand up, I would say you are at the wrong music festival. I understand you may be blocking the people behind you, but again-if you are at a music festival and your view isn’t blocked every once and awhile, you are at the wrong music festival.  Lighten up security people. Here is what security people are supposed to do: hang out by main stage and watch the music!


Oh, and stop going into the audience looking for booze security lady (you know who you are). If booze on the hill is really that big a deal, how about making it where you can go to beer tent without a 1 hour wait in line? Just a little suggestion.

But while main stage is fun, the festival really happens on the side stages. All of the acts not on main stage get a one hour concert on a side stage, and while those can be fantastic, to me the western Canada folk festivals are all about the collaborative stages. From what I understand this is unique to Western Canada. What they do is put 3 or 4 acts together on stage and let them all play a couple of their songs. What routinely happens is that the bands join in on each others songs. It can be awkward when it doesn’t work, but when it does it can be beyond stunning. This year my favorites were  Mike Farris with a Chinese folk band called Hanggai (he called them Hung Guys) and with a 80 year old blues man from Mississippi called Leo Bud Welch, a totally bizarre mix that completely worked.  As well as Matt Anderson with a band from Vancouver called Good for Grapes, and a Brooklyn band called Lucius. Matt sang “People Get Ready” while the girls from Lucius sang harmony and Good For Grapes played the role of the band. I kept waiting for someone to come up and charge me an extra $20 just for the privilege of being there. He did a note at the end that was so big and held for so long you could see the other musicians on stage shaking their heads in amazement. One of those moments you’ll never forget.

Oh, and I do want to share one joke I heard on a side stage, by a guy from Scotland who said “I’m from the town SCOTTISH people joke about being cheap “We had a guy in our neighbourhood growing up that would take the kids every year to see Santa’s grave.”

Here are a bunch of shots of the various acts. Just cuz.

Hanggai-Chinese Folk Rock band

Good For Grapes 7 Nation Army


Ain’t no folk music like Ukranian Punk Folk  (Calgary)


Shakey Graves. I’m loving the flag! (Calgary)


John Butler Trio. One of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard. Folk Rock from Australia (Calgary)


When I’m 80 I want to be like this. Leo Bud Welch with Mamma Kin (John Butlers Wife) in Calgary


Of Monsters and Men


Tinariwen. Sahara Blues. Who knew there was such a thing, but it was really cool


Daniel Rateliff, Les Hay Babies, Bears Den (my daughters favorite) and Gregory Alan Isakov.

Daniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats “Son of a Bitch” and “The Shape I’m In”

And to close, some crowd shots, beer tent shots, and tarp shots. I know this likely got way too long for many of you to read. It’s a lot to talk about, and I’m a bit wordy by nature (shocker, I know)-so sorry! But I hope the folk fest crew made it all the way through. Ava, Shannon, Hannah, Janet, Paul, Kerry, Suzie, Judy, Cheryl-Ann, Freddie, Marie, Janessa, Abby, Marie and most importantly Jackie, Mackenzie and Ben (we will get you there on day Wyatt)- I can’t imagine missing hanging with you guys every August. It has truly been my pleasure to spend so many amazing and sometimes exhausting hours with you guys listening to music, catching up, drinking too much, and just generally soaking up the atmosphere. I will see you all at 2 PM, August 4 2016. It’ll be like a family reunion. And at around 11:15 on Sunday, August 7 we will be arm in arm singing “4 Strong Winds” listening to Kerry cry, just like every year. Love you guys, see ya soon!


Day and Night Crowd Shots


Sunday at Beer Tent. Anyone wonder why I do this every year?

Sunday Night on the Tarp!


See ya next year Edmonton!

Oh-and a special mention to my old high school friend Denise. I haven’t seen her since we were 18 years old, but every year she looks at the Edmonton and Calgary FF schedules and send me her recommendations. I’ve learned to listen, her taste is pretty impeccable. Thank you Denise!!

3 thoughts on “This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Folk Fest Part 2-The Festival

  1. Best Efmf blog ever!!!! U should be writing full time crept for golf,fishing, festivals,& boinking…wonder why Edmonton hasn’t got with it like all of Europe , USA, South America etc and just let people have there beer any where on site and sell it everywhere on site, I know many people who are missing music acts cause of stage beer.. Shame really when you think bout it… Keep writin …..derf


    1. Thanks buddy. I was talking to some folks involved with the Calgary FF, and they have discussed licensing the site. Not sure how seriously. They did increase the size of the beer tent and the seating this year. Compared to Edmonton, it is much bigger in relation to number of people on site. Lines were much shorter this year. I did hear someone suggest having a smaller beer tent in the evening where stage 4 used to be. They need to do something, it is really impossible to get in after 6 or so. I was going to link this to EFMFs Facebook page, but I’m not sure they will appreciate my humor at their expense, though it is all in fun!


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