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Edmonton folk fest a love-in kind of weekend

As the last strains of music fade away on the 43rd Edmonton Folk Music Festival, patrons showed their love and gratitude with bums on the hill, applause and a surety they'll be back next year.

Gallagher Hill was dotted with tarps of all sizes and colours Saturday and Sunday--heat and sunshine just as ordered too--as thousands took in the sold out 2022 edition of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

The vibe felt upbeat but mellow for this, the return of Edmonton folk fest after a three-year absence. Festival-goers of all ages (from babies in strollers to seniors) took in mainstage and small workshop performances in scorching summer conditions. Kids cooled off at the splash pad and parents/grandparents grabbed a piece of shade if they could find it; as lines snaked around at the water stations, food trucks and beer tents.

But there was music to ease the wait, after all, so no one seemed to mind. And despite the many lineups, literally thousands of volunteers kept this well-oiled machine that is folk fest moving contentedly along. 

"We know we're rusty, but we've managed really well," said folk fest artistic director Terry Wickham. "I'm proud of our volunteer base--they picked right up from where we left off, like we didn't miss a beat."

There were a few artist cancellations (due to COVID-19, or still-disrupted air travel issues), which resulted in an artist makeup with a more diverse and youthful feel. No matter. "It's young through the lineup, and it sold well," said Wickham, stating the obvious. Ahem. The festival sold out as always, weekend passes, day tickets, all of it. "Some of those we booked back in 2020 gave up touring. It just turned out that way."

At a Saturday afternoon workshop, award-winning singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter shared tunes with the audience and other fellow creators, saying that although she spent 16 hours on airplanes getting to the city the previous day (from her home in the Blue Mountains of Virginia), she was thrilled to have made it. The audience agreed. It was obvious those on stage were as happy to share harmonies or guitar riffs as those occupying grassy seats.

At another late afternoon set, players from Nashville and Canada's east coast joined in with borrowed guitars and even steel guitar moments on each other's songs; more of that communal sharing everyone loves best, judging by the warm reception of the throngs on the hill. 

This year, an enhanced Indigenous presence took form by way of a small stage and couple of teepees offering kids crafts and an education on First Nations foods and traditions, something Wickham says will get further tweaking in years ahead.

It's what folk fest is all about, "community and music, of course," as Wickham describes it.  Terrific music of all genres, in fact--country, bluegrass, folk, blues--and it's why this long-running festival sells out every year. Rain or shine, Edmontonians have been setting down their tarps for decades. And. loving, it.

When it all wrapped up Sunday evening, over 60 acts had entertained buyers of 56,000 tickets over a rain-free, four-day event. There was an attitude of gratitude at the 43rd annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival as patrons remembered what they had been missing the last couple of years.