Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2009

It took Sarah McLachlan’s first Edmonton concert appearance since 2004 to drag me to the grassy knoll of Gallagher Park to finally experience the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Endowment concert ticket

I’ve seen the massive line-ups, winding their way down Connors Road. I’ve heard the stories about the great grub that volunteers feast on. I’ve viewed the photos of patrons doing their best to stay dry under impossible circumstances. But I didn’t understand, until Wednesday, what the draw was of a festival that is a summer tradition to many since its first incarnation in 1980.

Tickets were a pricey $70 for non-pass holders, but May and I decided it was worth the splurge. We had attended Sarah’s last concert at Rexall a few years back, and had enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

I met up with May downtown after work, and we took the bus down the hill. We had checked the website FAQs for some guidance as to what to bring. Besides ruling out our camp chairs that were probably too high, friends advised us to bring a tarp, comfortable shoes, and layers. I know those who have been to festivals past are likely well-versed in the lottery/line-up procedure and what to bring, but I would have appreciated a more blunt guide for newbies (perhaps similar to what the Fringe has developed) – complete with photos of acceptable chair examples (yes, I am very much a visual learner).

Off the bus, we encountered patrons that seemed to be wandering aimlessly, and without any signs to guide us, we approached a volunteer to direct us to the appropriate line. She told us that there were two possibilities with a sort of half-laugh, so we joined the line that we could see – the one that wound its way down Connors Road. We hoped it was the right choice.

Entering the grounds in an orderly fashion

After this pre-entry confusion, I am happy to say that the rest of the night went much more smoothly. Yellow ropes marked thoroughfares down the hill and towards the concession area at the bottom, and though there was the chaos of thousands of people jostling for the best spot, it was controlled by civility and a respect for personal space.

Our view of the stage

We lay down our tarp, while others more keenly prepared pegged their tarps into the ground (seriously, why didn’t we think of that?). And though the sky threatened to rain a few times, we were blessed with a dry first experience. Still, throughout the night, we added to our growing Folk Fest Survival List:

  • Low-to-the-ground folding chairs (examples here, as sold on-site at the Campers Village tent for upwards of $45)
  • Tarp and pegs
  • Colourful space marker, and/or flare gun (we nearly couldn’t find our way back to the tarp after our visit to the concession)
  • Umbrella, hat and poncho
  • Shoes with good grip
  • Snacks and lots of water
  • Sweater, scarf, gloves and blanket or sleeping bag
  • Flashlight (though we never used the porta potties, we wondered if they were lit inside)

After setting down most of our stuff, we joined the crowd flow down the hill for some sustenance. There were quite a few food vendor tents, but only a handful open on this special concert evening. We opted for butter chicken from India Palace, a booth that had travelled all the way from Winnipeg. It was a pricey $11.99, but offered quite a full serving, and the samosa in particular was very good. On a side note, I had no idea that the Folk Fest instigated a $2 plate deposit on the main days, mandating a sound environmental policy – I have to wonder why other local festivals (Taste of Edmonton and Heritage Days in particular) haven’t followed suit.


Butter Chicken with Naan and a Vegetarian Samosa

The view from the bottom of the hill was a sight to see – in daylight, thousands upon thousands of colourful specks, and after nightfall, waves of candlelight, all the way up the slope.


So many people!


May and I

It was definitely a family-friendly event, with more children than I could count. The festival, at least from where I was sitting, also seemed to be less overtly corporate than, say, the Fringe. Some advertising was present on the columns next to the stage, but every tent and seating area hadn’t been renamed to include a sponsor name.

Besides being my first time to the Folk Fest, this was also my first time at Gallagher Park. It is a great venue for an open-air concert, with the natural stadium seating provided by the hill, and a spectacular view of downtown Edmonton. I’m sure more than a few come for the picturesque setting alone.


Downtown Edmonton from Gallagher Park

And the concert? Wonderful. Tracy Chapman surprised me with her sense of humour, imagination, and oh, her voice. I am glad she chose to sing one song acapella – it absolutely hushed the crowd. Compared with Sarah McLachlan, she was actually the better entertainer in terms of providing richer anecdotes and song introductions. At one point, she mentioned how cold she was, and someone from the top of the hill actually tried to pass down handwarmers – unfortunately, they never reached her, but it was a thoughtful gesture.


Tracy Chapman


Candlelit ovation for Tracy

Having seen Sarah in concert before, she delivered what I expected her to – haunting and soothing melodies that almost always sound better live. She was particularly self-deprecating that night, without need to be.


Sarah McLachlan

I am happy to have finally experienced the Edmonton Folk Music Festival – I will consider joining the throngs of happy music lovers again in the future.

6 thoughts on “Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2009

  1. Nice write up! My husband and mine’s first trip to the Folk Fest five years ago was similarly encouraging. Each year we get a bit better at the routines, and now it is both pleasantly familiar yet full of newness each time. I love that so many thousands of people are kind, polite and patient 99.9% of the time there – really gives me a bit of hope for humanity. Glad you enjoyed your time at the Festival!

  2. I am new to Edmonton and sad to have missed this event! The funny thing is that I live right across the river (you can see my building on your first picture) and heard the concert very well… except for the terrible echo that made the whole experience very painful. Thanks for the survival list, too. Next year, I hope there will be some great performers again and I’ll be sure to be there 🙂

  3. Your review made me wish I had come to see Tracy! The ticket price was the major deterrent… I didn’t really care to see Sarah but I see now that paying the price to see just Tracy would have been worth it!

  4. Missing a Sarah performance makes me sad. As many times as I’ve seen her now, I never tire. Sounds like you had a great time.

  5. Thanks for the great writeup! We were sitting just to the left of the sound booth (facing the stage) when the hand warmers (hot paws) came by for Tracy Chapman. I passed them on and saw them reach just below the sound booth. Not sure how far down they made it from there. Fabulous performance by her and Sarah that night!

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