Yesterday I wrote a blog post that caused more discussion than maybe anything I’ve ever written on this blog.  And you thought folk festival goers were a calm people.  My blog post about the Calgary Folk Music Festival‘s tarps resulted in one of the blog’s busiest days ever and no wonder, everyone has an opinion when it comes to tarps at the festival.  (I sort of wish I had written something more eloquent to generate so much buzz) but it was tarps, so tarps it shall be.

The issue was particularly controversial on Monday, because during this weekend’s festival, at least five of the festival’s main stage performers complained about the set up, that sees those with tarps sit directly in front of the stage, while those who like to stand and dance to the music are relegated to the far sides of the stage. My post offered some suggestions on how organizers could fix the problem, as did everyone else who took to Facebook, Twitter and the blog’s comments sections to weigh in.  I’m not scientist but data suggested that very few people seemed in favour of the current system, some saying they’ve vowed not to go back until it’s fixed.

But that’s my side of the story and of course the Calgary Folk Music Festival, which just celebrated it’s 35th year has been hearing and working on the issue for years. So I wanted to give Kerry Clarke, the festival’s Artistic Director an opportunity to weigh in on the debate. Here’s what she had to say:


Were you surprised that five headliners brought up the tarps/dance sections?
Kerry: Not necessarily we’ve had comments from artists in the past, particularly US artists who are used to performing at festivals where everyone stands. This is what we communicate to the emcees (to mention to the audience) and to the artists in their handbooks:

“For those who are new to the wonderful world of folk festivals, ours is a very diverse daily audience of 13,000, many of whom set up their own temporary home base in front of mainstage with their friends and family – on a tarp and blankets with short chairs, coolers and other essential items. Some of these dedicated music aficionados, or ‘tarpies’ line up for 5-9 hours to secure their favourite spot.”

There are areas for folks to stand and dance on either side of main stage.

This combined tarp seating and standing/dancing area is what we’ve found to be the best, most egalitarian way to accommodate what amounts to a small town of people.  Even if you’re seated, don’t forget to show the artists lots of love so they know you’re alive and engaged.


Do you get an opportunity to talk the artists afterwards about it?
Kerry: We communicate with artists regularly about their the entire Folk Fest experience.


What are you hearing from the folk fest fans about the tarps and dance sections?
Kerry: Opinions have been mixed for years. Some love having a home base and sitting; others think the ‘tarpies’ take up too much room and that dancing areas should be expanded.


What changes have you made and what changes do you hope to make?
Kerry: Our festival constantly evolves in all areas – programming, operations, etc. We’ve expanded the dancing sections, communicate with people about their tarp size and are discussing other solutions to creating the most egalitarian and comfortable way of accommodating 12,000 people over 6 hours of programming.


Places like Regina and Canmore have gotten rid of the up front tarp section either all together or for some of the night. Do you ever see there being a rush/stand up section in front of the stage?
Kerry: Regina has a standing area in front of their mainstage, but their stage is a couple of feet higher than ours so audience members sitting behind can see over them.

A standing/dancing section in front of the stage has happening naturally with our festival when artists like Fishbone, Michael Franti and Seun Kuti close it. That’s why we choose to close with them.

We also have the twilight stage, which neither Regina or Canmore (or Edmonton) have. This provides a great alternative to the mainstage and an opportunity for people to stand and dance.

So what do you think? Should the tarps stay or go?  It seems like they’ll definitely be staying, but is there a better compromise?  Feel free to weigh in! 

Mike Morrison


  1. Thanks for bringing up this issue. I also like how you chose to offer solutions instead of just complaints. It makes for a better discussion! As for me, I’m all for getting rid of the first 10-12 rows of tarps. I don’t necessarily mind the idea of setting up camp (as I do this now, but usually far back, under a tree), but agree that the area right in front of the stage should be reserved for the avid fans (who choose to stand all night)and dancers. It will be interesting to see if the powers that be at CFMF feel the pressure to change??

    Once this issue is resolved perhaps you could take on the next biggest pet peeve of mine…that of enforcing the “festival chair” height rule. The number of regular height camp chairs set up throughout the lawn seems to be growing exponentially every year…this is due, I would think, to little/no regulation or enforcement of the stated rules. Is there anything more annoying than sitting on your festival chair and the only thing you can see in front of you is the bumbs of the people sitting in their regular lawn chairs. We either need to enforce the festival height or provide a space for the regular lawn chairs. But then this, I suppose, is an issue for another day.

    Thanks again for bringing up the issue of the tarp ghost town.

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