Our Story

Our story

What began in 1980 as a modest two-day affair on three stages has grown into the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s current incarnation — a four-day extravaganza that highlights brilliant upstart and iconic artists from around the corner and the globe in concerts and our unique collaborative sessions on eight stages, plus Block Heater and other year-round programming. The Festival’s history is replete with pivotal moments: the permanent mainstage built on Prince’s Island Park in 2002, the recovery after the great flood of 2013, interactive digital programming during the pandemic and the experiences of over 1,600 community volunteers who build and produce a multi-generational, 53,000 strong, annual village.

With thousands of artists and musicians through the decades, there are boundless stories and tales as tall and beautiful as the trees. Perhaps you spotted David Byrne riding a bike around the island after his sound check, or k.d lang performing in a cowgirl dress with the Reclines early in her career. Did you witness Ongo Trogode playing horns made of hollowed out tree trunks, and hear about how volunteers acquired 200 donated bikes to send to the band’s Central African Republic village? Who can forget Alacie and Lucy’s intense Inuit throat singing, Gil Scott-Heron’s poetry in the rain with an impromptu local backing band, Jann Arden making Janis Ian cry doing a version of Janis’s “At Seventeen” on a session stage, Kris Kristofferson’s mesmerizing solo set or Thievery Corporation’s off-the-charts mainstage show?

These are just some of the well-worn grooves on the 45 Festival album that have been created since  Winnipeg’s bearded hippy Trotskyist Mitch Podolok took Ontario’s Mariposa Folk Festival model west to Calgary and Edmonton as The Travelling Folk Festival and Goodtime Medicine Show in 1980 for Alberta’s 75th anniversary. The following year, it was transferred into the Calgary Folk Club’s capable hands, who dubbed it the Calgary Folk Festival at our current home Prince’s Island Park and valiantly ran it on grit, volunteer steam and a willingness to battle the elements until 1987. The Festival moved indoors during the ’88 Calgary Olympics as folks regrouped (some mortgaging their houses to support the organization), and incorporated the new Folk Festival Society of Calgary.

A proudly tenacious and creative organization, the FFSC recovered from early financial difficulties to develop a nest egg that allowed us to purchase land and build the boutique venue/office space Festival Hall, which opened in 2012. In 2013, with volunteer and City support, we overcame the flood of the century that damaged Prince’s Island and its infrastructure less than 5 weeks prior to the Festival. In 2016, we added Block Heater, a vibrant nomadic festival which has been housed in Inglewood, the East Village and downtown at indoor venues and Olympic Plaza. It has evolved into a significant mid-February oasis that defrosts the winter blues with an inspiring and diverse line-up. We continued programming during the 2020-2021 pandemic in creative virtual ways plus produced Summer Serenades, one of Canada’s first and only live music festivals, in 2021. 

Seasons came and went, with tall tales and festival myths for the ages, but the spirit of the Calgary Folk Music Festival belongs to the passionate audience members (“folkies”) and dedicated volunteers. Each year, volunteers power the show — from pouring suds in the beer garden, managing and operating stages, transporting and feeding artists, setting up and tearing down the site, to scanning tickets, snapping photos, and so much more. Volunteers with decades of experience under their belt span three generations — all passionately committed to crafting the most memorable annual musical experience. Folkies who met at the Festival now bring their children and grandchildren; a couple got engaged on stage with Michael Franti; and neighbours, friends and colleagues from near and far re-unite annually on our bucolic site. It’s this grassroots community spirit that has buoyed the festival since 1980, and what makes the Calgary Folk Music Festival truly one-of-a-kind. 

The Calgary Folk Music Festival is now proudly middle-aged with a modest 16-person full time staff, 12-person volunteer board and 1600-strong volunteer corps who steward an organization that annually programs over 170 artists from around the corner, Canada and the globe. The organization collaborates and partners with community and arts organizations and businesses to deliver magical experiences to diverse audiences year-round as one of Canada’s flagship, trailblazing music organizations with a national and international reach and a broad, cutting-edge programming vision. 

Our impact

The Folk Festival Society of Calgary serves as a cultural hub, economic driver and community gathering space, creating a significant impact on the local community by enriching the lives of residents and visitors, supporting local artists and promoting sustainability.

CULTURE: The festival unites creative folks from diverse backgrounds, genres and cultures, introducing audiences to a wide range of music styles, artistic disciplines and traditions from around the globe. There are so many stories over our 45 year history about artists who have collaborated, worked and toured together after being on the Festival’s unique sessions. Immersion in the arts fosters cultural appreciation and understanding of diverse worldviews and perspectives.

ECONOMY: The festival attracts tens of thousands of attendees annually, including some 18% from outside Calgary. This influx of tourists to a marquee Canadian festival shines a spotlight on Calgary and environs and stimulates the local economy by generating revenue for local attractions, hotels, restaurants, bars and shops.

COMMUNITY: The festival provides opportunities for community engagement and participation through a range of meaningful volunteer opportunities, workshops and interactive activities, strengthening community bonds and fostering a sense of belonging among attendees. It’s an inclusive, multi-generational family-friendly event with interactive activities and programming that cater to folkies of all ages - from babies and toddlers to octogenarians.

LOCAL ARTISTS: Local and upstart artists perform alongside iconic artists, providing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for them to share their music and stories, collaborate and enhance their careers as well as that of the local music scene’s profile.

ENVIRONMENT: Sustainability and environmental responsibility are central to the Festival, with waste reduction, recycling and carbon footprint minimization programs throughout the Festival. Raising awareness about environmental issues and modeling eco-friendly practices, help the festival contribute to building a more environmentally conscious community.

Mission and values

The FFSC Mission

The FFSC enriches the lives of our diverse community by bringing people together in the celebration of music, providing opportunities for artists to reach new audiences, and elevating the role of arts and culture in our city.

The FFSC Vision

Curate and produce deep, diverse grassroots musical experiences, as a community builder and trailblazer that will live in the hearts of the people and nurture the soul of the city.

Strategic Framework and Pillars

Share a passion for music — creating an interconnected community where music is the focus;

Foster community spirit — building a diverse and inclusive community through connection, collaboration, and accountability; and

Create a vibrant and sustainable organization — lead as a socially responsible organization in response to an ever-evolving community and industry.

Board of directors

Members of the society are all volunteers who have demonstrated their commitment and support of the Festival. Society members elect a twelve person board, with renewals and new positions becoming available annually at our AGM in April. 

2023–2024 board of directors:

David Frid, Shannon Anderson, Kerry Lynn Okita, Monique Minvielle, Jory Kinjo, Aman Adatia, Karin King, Jed Teigan, Lisha Hassanali, Peter May, Shaad Oosman, Lynn Maric

Looking to join the board?

The FFSC board nomination committee is always looking for interesting, vital and passionate music lovers to join the board. To become a member of the FFSC board, you need to be a society member. After two years completed in good standing as a FFSC volunteer, you can apply to become a member of the society.

Applications, with a small fee, are submitted and accepted prior to the AGM each year.

Application form

Safer spaces

A safer space is a supportive and non-threatening environment where the physical, mental, and emotional safety of the people within it are the highest priority. 

Through our ongoing work with community organizations, Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA) and Sagesse, we have developed and implemented a Safer Spaces policy. We are committed to providing a harassment-free space for everyone, regardless sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, disability, physical appearance, age, language, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, socioeconomic status, or otherwise.

All disclosures, anonymous or otherwise, are investigated by the anti-abuse committee or the on-site organizers before action is taken. Any actions and cases will not be discussed publicly.

If you have any questions as to enforcement, review process, disclosure process or have a suggestion to improve our safer space policy please contact us at saferspaces@calgaryfolkfest.com

Land acknowledgement

In the spirit of respect, reciprocity and truth, we honour and acknowledge Moh’kinstis, and the traditional Treaty 7 territory and oral practices of the Blackfoot confederacy: Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, as well as the Îyâxe Nakoda and Tsuut’ina nations. We acknowledge that this territory is home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3 within the historical Northwest Métis homeland.

Finally, we acknowledge all Nations — Indigenous and non — who live, work and play on this land, and who honour and celebrate this territory. Each year, we gather along the Bow River, known by the Stoney Nakoda people as Ijathibe Wapta and Mînî Thnî Wapta (Cold Water River). We are grateful to call Prince's Island Park and Moh’kinstis our shared home.