Edmonton Folk Music Festival

Notes from the Hill: The Edmonton Folk Music Festival

Gallagher Hill, Edmonton Folk Music Festival


For nearly four decades, music lovers have been staking a claim on the hill of Gallagher Park in Edmonton, Alberta, making the trek numerous times over the four days of the legendary Edmonton Folk Music Festival.  Held every year on the second weekend in August, Folk Fest is a hand picked concoction of talent from around the globe, blended beats of reggae, blues, modern, funk, rock, folk and storytelling, captivating the roughly 20,000 people gracing the grounds on any given day.

“Music is one way for young people to connect to themselves, but is also a bridge for connecting with others.  Through music, we can introduce children to the richness and diversity of the human family and to the myriad rhythms of life.”

-Daniel A. Carp-

It’s the pouring of life into a well written melody, an hour long session of acoustic genius and one hand banging the piano top while the other hand plays the keys to the sweet notes of a falsetto-style voice.  It’s bagpipes and drums, electric guitars and spoken word philanthropy.  It’s a compilation of genius on display for a community of folks looking to be enchanted as they sway and dance and stomp.  You might say it’s an annual obsession in our city.

“Our vision is to continue to improve as a world- class folk music festival. At the same time, we work very hard to raise money through fund raising activities and through soliciting corporate sponsorships to keep ticket prices accessible for ordinary families.”

-Edmonton Folk Festival-

Edmonton Folk Music Festival, 2018


  • Accomodation for Special Needs:  Folk Fest provides a designated area for those with wheelchairs and mobility issues.  Programs are available in Braille, and there are assistive-listening systems.
  • A Green Plan:  The festival works hard to minimize the impact on the environment.  Recycle bins are located around the grounds.  Beer cups are compostable, as are the cutlery and containers from food vendors.  Reusable plates are issued with a $2 deposit that is refunded upon return.
  • Food Truck Vendors:  A wide variety of food ranging from vegetarian to BBQ, pizza to popcorn is available onsite.  You may also bring in your own food, but please just remember to clean up after yourself!
  • Water Station:  Stay hydrated by bringing a reusable beverage container.  Water refills are free!
  • Merchandise Tent:  The perfect place to pick up the CD of a favorite new artist or some funky folk merch.
  • Craft Tents:  Support local vendors by perusing their wares.
  • Beer Tent:  This is the only place on the grounds that allows the sales and consumption of alcohol.
  • Yoga Sessions:  There’s yoga as well!  Join in for a little namaste before the day begins.
  • Candles:  Candles are a folk fest tradition that light up the hill after dark.  Due to fire regulations, they come with a mandatory cover.  You can purchase one from a lovely volunteer.
  • Folk Fest App:  Stay up to date with artist bios, schedules and more by downloading the Edmonton Folk Music Festival app.


Edmonton Folk Music Festival, 2018

A sea of souls, an eclectic collection of boho hats, folk merch and flip flops laid back in Tommy Bahama beach chairs or sprawled out on plaid picnic blankets, all gathered to relish in the iconic festival atmosphere.  A row of tents line the top of the hill, views of the Edmonton city skyline glowing in the golden hues of a brilliant sunset.  The scene is perfection, a moment that makes any festival goer acutely aware that the days are about so much more than stage names, instrumental work and notes.  It is a vibe, a palpable feeling of connection and freedom of spirit, a kinship of community set against a wanderlust worthy backdrop.  As I basked in the collage of a fading downtown facade, the panorama of city lights beginning to twinkle above a crowd united by notes lingering in the air, mini donuts in hand and my loved ones around me, I was hit with understanding.

THIS is the Edmonton Folk Festival.


Shakey Graves, Main Stage, Edmonton Folk Music Festival, 2018

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”


69 artists playing on 7 stages.   Acts such as the Canadian icon, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Decemberists (USA), Anderson East (USA), Regina Spektor (USA), Michael Franti & Spearhead (USA), Shakey Graves (USA) and The Milk Carton Kids  (USA) graced the mainstage to close the evenings.  Smaller stages hosted amazing group jam sessions, pairing three to five different musical acts on a single platform, both highlighting their individual talent and making for some incredible impromptu collaboration work and growth.  The smaller stages also played home to acts such as Breabach (Scotland), Jon and Roy (CANADA) and Tash Sultana (AUS) who was set to hit the mainstage but suffered equipment damage in Toronto the week prior.


I believe all artists are worth having a listen to.  Some will capture your attention more than others, but that’s what makes music so beautiful.  The single greatest aspect of attending a festival is the exposure to new sounds and names, allowing you to become a source of support for an artist you haven’t yet heard of.  Here are some of our favorites from the weekend:

CITY OF THE SUN:  This trio from Brooklyn, NY was hands down our favorite act of the weekend.  Their sound is described as a “streetside acoustic post-rock odyssey”.  In the pouring rain of Sunday, we threw aside the umbrella and danced, shaking dripping wet hair, jumping, dancing and completely caught up in their incredible sound and vibe.

City of the Sun, Edmonton Folk Music Festival, 2018

SHAKEY GRAVES:  That voice.  He’s known for his “American rock, boot stomping blues”, and you are hooked the minute he opens his mouth.  He was the let loose in the rain, crowd engaging kind of awesome we’d been looking for.

THE DECEMBERISTS:  Known for dramatic sound, compelling and distinct melodies, they are a perfect blend of folk and rock.  And no moment sent out a better vibe through the crowd than when they covered the Benjamin Franklin song that was cut from the ‘Hamilton’ musical.  Who doesn’t love well placed, comedic swearing?

The Decemberists, Edmonton Folk Fest

JON AND ROY Another voice that simply grabs you.  They radiate low key warmth and are guys you can imagine having a beer with. Throw in the trumpet and it’s music magic.

JAM SESSION COLLABS:  Perhaps my favorite single moment of the festival was the jam session that had DakhaBrakha (UKRAINE) and City of the Sun join forces, musical souls meant to vibe together in perfect harmony.  Another favorite was watching the electric guitar of Bill Kirchen (USA) meet the xylophone of Trio Da Kali (MALI).  It was fun, and the simple passion for music and connection was defined by these two.  And for his lighhearted humor, our heart goes to Steve Poltz (USA).  His fun lyrics, his story about Jewel and the Mexican drug bust and the fact that he never stops smiling make him a guy you’d love to spend some time with.

Stage 5, Edmonton Folk Music Festival, 2018


Edmonton Folk Music Festival, 2018
Celebrating our 17th Anniversary at Folk Fest, 2018

For us, life is about connection.  We continually seek out opportunities that will allow us to connect to eachother, nature, our city, friends and strangers.  We work to give our daughters new experiences that allow them to embrace culture, creativity and diversity, opening their hearts and minds to new ideas, growing a desire to explore and embrace.  Live music and festivals are such an incredible avenue of discovery for both young and old.  When we mix with strangers over a common bond, we form a kinship of understanding and acceptance.  Laughter is shared, we clap in unison to a beat.  We try a new food, support a local vendor and we fall in love with a voice, sharing and promoting their work to our friends and family.  Connection is a series of links, a passing of thoughts and loves from person to person, and Folk Fest is the ultimate daisy chain.


“There’s nothing like a music festival. People are ready to have a good time.  I don’t think anyone comes to a festival going, ‘I’m gonna be a complete bummer today.”

-Gary Clark Jr-

Gallagher Hill, Folk Fest, Edmonton

TICKETS:  Tickets are FREE for those under 11 and over 80 years of age.  Tickets can be purchased as 4 day passes, weekend passes or for individual days well in advance, and they go quickly.  Do yourself a favor, and pick your tickets up at the Office prior to the festival!  This saves waiting in long lines at the event box office before also getting in the wristband line.  You can get the 4 day pass pre-banded in the days leading up.

ARRIVAL:  Have you route well planned as there is NO onsite parking, and parking is restricted and enforced in nearby neighborhoods.  There are many options including walking, riding your bicycle, taxi and Park & Ride.  We chose to take this option by parking at the lot near the Butterdome (U of A) and catching the designated buses direct to the hill.  Make sure to factor in the additional costs of parking as well as regular ETS bus fare (exact change required)

SEATING:  Tarps and lawn chairs are a staple, but be aware of the restrictions.  Tarps cannot be larger than 8×10 feet.  Chairs are limited to a maximum leg height if 8 inches.  Tents cannot be higher than 1.5 meters and may only be used in designated areas at the top of the hill.

FOOD & DRINK:  Folk Fest combines the ability to bring in your own food and non alcoholic beverages with the ease and option of a wide variety of food trucks and a beer tent.  Water stations allow for the refill of your reusable bottle, so ensure to pack one and stay hydrated.

FAMILY FRIENDLY:  While a few lyrics and conversational words may be colorful, the festival is extremely family friendly with entertainment for all ages.  Just ensure your little ones stay close, that they are respectful to those around them trying to listen and that you pack accordingly for a long day that can change in temperature or weather.

CHECK THE WEATHER:  The 2018 Festival saw a scorching 36 degrees on day one, smoke roll in from a forest fire in the next province on day two and it dipped to a balmy 12 degrees and torrential, unrelenting downpour on day four.  We had a blast on each day despite it all, but we were well prepared (unlike alot of others).  Sun?  Hat, umbrella, water, sunscreen, sunglasses. Rain? An umbrella, additional tarp, rain boots, extra socks and a positive outlook.  Just be prepared for it to change on a dime.

I would like to express my most heartfelt gratitude to the folks at Edmonton Folk Festival for allowing me to have media access to the festival.  Cheers to the dedication and effort you put into 39 years of giving our city this incredible experience of connection, possibility and passion.  I also want to give my utmost appreciation and admiration to the 2,500 volunteers who make the festival possible.  You guys are the real rockstars. 




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12 thoughts on “Notes from the Hill: The Edmonton Folk Music Festival

  1. Great coverage of a fabulous festival. I love folk music and I love the video of Brandi Carlile performing Crazy live at Edmonton. It’s one on my Youtube short list. I love the way you captured the scene there and my thanks to for the 2,500 volunteers that put this on.

  2. What a well organised festival! I love that everyone has space, and it looks peaceful and fun rather than frantic and an endurance test, like some festivals! I also like that they have considered the needs of those with disabilities, and the free water station as well.

  3. It’s been ages since I have been to a music festival. This one sounds lovely and the weather seems perfect. I love that the event had A Green Plan. I really like the idea of returning those plates. I remember seeing so much trash at the last festival I went to.

  4. I love the connection I have with music and how it helps me process a range of emotions. I totally agree it’s a great way to connect with others too. I have never heard of the Edmonton Folk Festival and I’m not a big festival person, but it seems like a great event if you do like them. Your tips are very helpful for planning too. I like that they are green and provide accommodation for special needs as well. It’s a beautiful view from up on that hill!

  5. I love the organizing! Making the event accessible and inclusive, plus making it as green as possible are huge pluses. I hope more managers of events (big and small) will put this on their check lists in the future.

  6. We love live music, and it was great to read about your festival experience, The thought that it’s a free event for younger and older festival goers alike speaks volumes of how much this has a true community vibe. We’re off to a local festival next weekend, and if it’s half as good as the experience you’ve described here, we’ll be in for a great time. Although I’m not sure mini doughnuts will last long enough to wave in the air…

  7. Happy 17th Anniversary. What special way to celebrate. The Edmonton Folk Music Festival looks so vibrant and high on energy. We have never been to this kind of music festival. With food trucks, water stations, eco friendly set up and convenience for all including free tickets for people under 11 and over 80 years of age, this seems to be a great festival to be a part of! Hope we are able to attend something similar!

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