As a spoiled music critic who’s covered the Edmonton Folk Music Festival (for The Edmonton Sun and GigCity) at least 25 times, I just want to apologize. Not to any specific person I may have probably offended, mind you – but to the folk fest itself, as if it’s a living entity. Poor thing.
I’m sorry I whined about your lack of “big stars” in a genre that shouldn’t be about big stars. I’m sorry for rolling my eyes at so many mandolins, or having made the joke too many times that fiddle played well is simply called “violin”; or comparing some Scottish foursome to the casting call for Braveheart. I admit I wasn’t thinking clearly when I predicted in 2015 that Justin Trudeau probably wouldn’t win the election, based on a poll of folk fest attendees, or when I wore a Wildrose T-shirt four days straight to try to get a rise out of the Lefties; and I regret re-publishing a cartoon that suggests the folk fest is for only for old white people. I’m sorry I took the whole thing for granted.
It’s true: You never appreciate something good until it’s taken away.
“So many things were taken away,” says folk fest producer Terry Wickham on the last two years. “It’s been stressful. Trying to keep the business going when there is no business has not been a lot of fun.”
Of course we know the folk fest is coming back – Aug, 4-7, 2022 in its usual place, tickets on sale June 4 – but hearing it confirmed by its producer is the best news ever.
“We’re going to give it a go,” Wickham says, in typical laid-back style, adding, “We’re going to give it a 100% shot.”
He promises five “major headliners” to be announced on March 1. But you know what? It doesn’t matter! I’ll celebrate anyone – ANYONE – even four fiddlers who look like Robert the Bruce and sound so twee down glen to glen and down the mountainside. How about one solid hour of African dancing and drums? One sensitive singer songwriter after another? Bring it on. As long as we can sit free and clear and maskless on real grass, listening to live music of any kind, I’m cool. Don’t forget: You’re also allowed to smoke weed.
As for artists, Wickham says that pretty much everyone approached to perform this year said yes, no booking retainer required. That’s a rare thing in this industry, suggesting the deep love and trust that most if not all touring folk artists have for this event. John Prine, who died of Covid-19 in 2020, played here a few times, and said in an interview (with me at the Edmonton Sun in 2005), “For my money, it’s the best festival going. I really think that. I was telling somebody a little bit ago, I told them how much fun we used to have at Mariposa – but times change and now the going festival is Edmonton. It’s got the best feel and it gets a great range of different performers. I don’t say it to all the folk festivals. I wish I could.”
The folk fest survived its forced two year hiatus financially thanks to an endowment fund that generates 120K a year, and generous support from all three levels of government.
“That’s who we owe it to, and that’s why we don’t want to come back half-assed,” Wickham says. “Between very little music, the virus, winter and what’s going on around the world, I think it’s time for some light and joy in people’s lives.”
OK, folk fest: I promise never to complain about you again.