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Block Heater an ambitious bridge between summer and winter for Folk Festival

Back for an eighth time, bigger than ever—and without hyperbole—is Calgary Folk Music Festival’s Block Heater.

The concert series which trades Prince’s Island Park for venues across the Downtown and Inglewood, is back in full form this year after much smaller winter festivals held during the pandemic.

It will feature 32 different artists at 13 different venues, which include the Ironwood, Central United Church, the Jack Singer Concert Hall, and Chinook Blast HQ at Olympic Plaza, among others.

“This year, we’re able to hold the biggest block heater that we’ve ever had, and it’s probably more than double in terms of audience capacity that we’ve ever had,” said Kerry Clarke, artistic director for the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

“We really wanted to have a combination, where people have a bit of a choose your own adventure in terms of how they want to take in music.”

Block Heater is running from Feb. 9 through 12, and has a combination of ticketed concerts and free performances.

The festival opens on Thursday with a free performance at the Esker Foundation by Icelandic artists The Visitors at 7 p.m., with performances by OMBIIGIZI and Lindy Vopnfjörd at the Ironwood at 8 p.m., and Steven Taetz and Abigail Lapell at the Festival Hall also at 8 p.m.

A full lineup of all of the artists and venues is available at www.calgaryfolkfest.com/blockheater.

Bigger budget from Canadian Heritage means a bigger festival

Clarke said that support from the Canadian Government through Canadian Heritage, and from the City of Calgary, meant that the festival was able to expand this year, adding new venues that they weren’t able to in years past.

She said that this year would be a reminder that people can still see really amazing music during winter.

“It’s nice to be able to bridge that gap between the summer and the winter, and remind people that you can attend awesome, really inspiring festivals in the winter as well, because I think we tend to focus a lot on the summer,” Clarke said.

The winter festival season had been bookended by the High Performance Rodeo in January, followed by the Block Heater festival in February, but that has begun to change over the past several years.

Chinook Blast, said Clarke, had become the glue that connected lots of different festivals together and gave people more of a reason to venture downtown.

That ability to get out, see a Block Heater concert at a venue like the Jack Singer Concert Hall and then take in some of the public art afterwards said Clarke, makes everything feel more like a festival instead of just individual concerts.

She said that the free concerts from Block Heater during Chinook Blast were also important to the Folk Music Festival.

“I think it’s important to be able to offer something completely accessible to people, to bring music to where they are, and in an atmosphere where other things are happening as well.”

Some venues selling out fast

The evening performances at the Central United Church on Feb. 10 and 11 are the most likely to be sold out before the festival begins, said Clarke.

“The Friday night with Deep Dark Woods and Hayden is going really well, and then the following night with Jesca Hoop, Mick Flannery, and Damien Jurado are also those shows that people might be SOL if they don’t get a ticket soon.”

She said she’s encouraging Calgarians to purchase their tickets before the concert dates because they expect that the venues will all fill out at the last minute.

“It never hurts to get in on it early. We find Calgary to be pretty last minute, sometimes really near the event all of a sudden everyone wakes up and they want to get a ticket, and sometimes they can’t,” Clarke said.

For Calgarians who miss out on purchasing tickets, Block Heater is holding free concerts at Olympic Plaza on Saturday, Feb. 11, starting at 6 p.m. The concert features an all-Calgary lineup of ZENON+, Deicha and the VuDudes, and Sinzere and the Tribe.