You can always expect a little strange serendipity at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Sure there’s the happenstance of bumping into old friends on the hill or spotting familiar faces in the beer garden, but we’re going deeper. Much deeper.For example, exactly one week after the Big Valley Jamboree crowd sang happy birthday to Toby Keith lead guitarist Rich Eckhardt during a Friday night headlining set, Brandi Carlile announced to the Folk Fest masses that her on-stage sidekicks, twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth, had celebrated their birthday the night before, and asked the folkies to serenade them.(In another, smaller bout of birthday serendipity, your faithful correspondent was born exactly one day after Carlile in 1981. Strange, right?)Stranger still was the experience of sitting in the smoking section at the top of Gallagher Park hill Friday evening and hearing a young man named Evan ask those around him how many times they had attended Folk Fest.“This is my first time,” a young woman responded.Evan was more than incredulous. “Your first time?” he asked, unable to believe the words, his face contorted in a look of stunned surprise.“How many times have you been?” she asked.“I’ve been coming here my entire life. I wouldn’t be here without the Folk Fest,” Evan said, pointing to the ground beneath him. He was being literal.The young man went on to explain that his parents moved to Canada from South Africa in the early 90’s, and when they were deciding whether to put down roots in Vancouver or Calgary, Saskatoon or Winnipeg, they settled on Edmonton simply because of the Folk Festival.Evan’s parents brought him along each year, touting him in a backpack as a toddler so he could peek out over the patrons. Once he was old enough to attend on his own he remembers being so wrapped up in the scene that he slept on the festival grounds, waking in the morning and walking home to the Bonnie Doon area before returning each day to do it again.Imagine the Folk Fest framing an entire life. From adolescence to adulthood, he returned year after year. In fact, Evan has attended every year expect one — last year, when a trip through Italy (and stopover in Amsterdam) derailed the lifetime streak.“It killed me to miss it,” he said, dredging up the regret with such earnestness you would have thought he was discussing a family member’s funeral.
Tim Moreland waits to take part in the lantern parade during the second day of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in Gallagher Park, Friday Aug. 9.
David Bloom /
Evan returned this year, shocked by the first-timers because the Folk Fest has become so intertwined with his own existence. He still lives nearby, within easy walking distance, although he hasn’t spent a night sleeping under the stars at Gallagher Park in several years.Celebrating its 40th year as Edmonton’s preeminent music festival, the Folk Fest will endure far beyond four decades, strengthening the community and drawing people from across the globe, whether they find themselves here for the weekend or a lifetime.Hardly able to endure a year away, Evan can’t imagine missing another one, and couldn’t possibly imagine what his life would be like without it.“Where would you rather be?” he asks, without indicating whether he’s speaking about his beloved music festival, or the city his parents came to call home because of email@example.com@rygarner
Music fans hold candles as they watch performances on the main stage during the second day of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in Gallagher Park, Friday Aug. 9.
David Bloom /