A Shallow Person’s Guide to the Folk Fest (Part 1 of 3)

Thanks to haloocyn http://www.sxc.hu/photo/856335It’s that time again. I don’t know about you but I sure find that each year seems to go by faster than the last. Everyone has a marker by which they measure the passing of time. For some people it’s New Year’s Eve, for others perhaps an anniversary or birthday. For me, it’s the Edmonton Folk Festival. My year runs from one folk fest to the next. And now, in these few moments before the big day, or should I say four days, I am filled with both excitement and dread because, as you may already have guessed, it’s not always easy to be a shallow person attending what for many people is their “kumbaya” event of the year. But I’ve been attending now for more than 30 years and have come to learn the ways of the devotees so, for those who may be embarking on this journey (or some facsimile) for the first time, I thought it would be good of me to share with you some of the wisdom I have acquired over what appears to be a very long time.

Getting Ready

The Rules: For such a free n’ easy music loving crowd there are a lot of rules that you are going to have to follow. There’s rules about when to come, where to line up, who to line up with, when and how to enter the park, where to put your tarp, how large your tarp can be, how tall your chairs can be, what you can drink…well you get the picture. My advice is to start following rules, yes any rules, for a couple of weeks before the event, just to get into practice. A good long game of “Simon Says” might help you get into the spirit of things while, at the same time, strengthening your listening skills.

Warning! This is a particularly difficult aspect of the show for us “shallows” as we typically like to do things our own way. There are ways around most, if not all of the rules but since I don’t want to jeopardize my ability to attend this festival, (and not following the rules will do just that) you will have to contact me privately for more information.

The Line-Ups: There’s no getting around this one. You’re going to line-up to buy your tickets, line-up to get into the entry line-up, line-up for food, line-up for the plates you need to put the food on, line-up for bathrooms (a bit of a stretch to call them that), line-up for CDs, and line-up to leave. At the end of each night you will find yourself in the “mother of all line-ups” traffic jam. Here’s where that ability to make small talk will come in handy as you try to alleviate the boredom by engaging those on either side of you in some sort of meaningless banter. See the “conversation starters” below for some tips on how to get things started. You may not like it but it’s either that or one of those “little white pills” I have spoken so fondly of in the past.

The Dance: Back to the mirror for this one, although for the purpose of this exercise I recommend a full length one. There’s gonna be dancin’ and you’re gonna be boppin’ if only to continue to see the band while everyone else is groovin’ to the music. Here’s what I suggest. Practice your moves to some Celtic and then some African sounds. They’ll be entirely different (one you’ll have to focus on your feet, the other primarily on the upper body). Once you have those down some combination of each should get you through the North American stuff. (The rather colloquial language here is my attempt to get into the spirit of the event.)

Starting a Folk Fest Conversation

Like it or not at various points during the week-end you’re going to have to start a conversation. Whether it’s in one of the multitude of line-ups, the beer tent or while you’re “chillaxing” on the hill, it’s going to happen. I’ve said it before, I’m nothing if not the queen of chit chat, so here are some conversation starters for communing with your new folkie friends. They tend to be friendly, engaged and committed people so once you get them going you’ll likely be able to sit back and let them do most of the work.

“Love the shirt! Did you pick up the fabric on your last trip to India?”
“These are delicious! Are they local, vegan hotdogs?” (thanks Wader)
“I can’t wait for the Sunday morning gospel workshop!”
(Watch carefully for the look on their face before continuing with this thread.)
“I really wanted to see
[insert your favourite artist here] but there was no way I could miss my hot yoga class this morning.”
“Oh, you’re an accountant. That must be interesting work.”

Warning: At some point during the week-end you’re going to be approached by a long-time attendee who will start complaining about the crowds; let you know that side stage concerts are not really “workshops” anymore; and that they used to be able to arrive at anytime and still sit a stone’s throw away from the main stage. It’s time for them to face the harsh reality that, despite their appearance, this is no longer the ‘80s and this conversation is getting really old. I’m afraid you’re going to have to be the one to tell them to “let it go”, for all of our sakes.

There’s just too much to cover and so as not to overwhelm (and keeping my Gen Y readers in mind) I have broken this posting into 3 parts. Tomorrow…What to bring.

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7 thoughts on “A Shallow Person’s Guide to the Folk Fest (Part 1 of 3)

  1. wader says:

    “…miss my hot yoga class this morning.” Hilarious!

  2. Louisa says:

    Aha – I knew it! I knew there would be rules. Folk-music-listening/hot-yoga-doing/vegan-hot-dog-eating hippies are always the biggest sticklers for rules.

  3. Smg says:

    I understand there are different subcultures ie the “top of the hill” folks versus the ” bottom of the hill” folks. Can you provide any suggestions for how to infiltrate without being caught??

    • wcaplan says:

      I don’t think I would worry about anyone noticing much at the folk fest as I believe both cultures adhere to the “bailey’s in the coffee thernos” culture. As long as you can still walk when they can’t, you’ll be fine.

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