Calgary folk fest fanatics compete for best seats



chris bolin/metro calgary


Calgarians Kerry O’Connor, left, and Blaine Sutherland show off their tickets yesterday for the Calgary Folk Music Festival at the front of the line at Prince’s Island Park. It’s O’Connor’s 10th year and Sutherland’s eighth year in a row that they come for all four days of events.


They are a unique blend of music fan, outdoor enthusiast and competitive runner.

The so-called “tarpies” of the Calgary Music Folk Festival are lined up every day, bright and early in front of the gates at Prince’s Island Park — tarps, lawn chairs, bottled water and Tilley hats in tow — as they prepare for the running of the main stage, an act that one of the first tarpies in line says is akin to the running of the bulls in Spain.

“It’s a tradition, you can’t really experience the folk fest without doing the running of the tarpies,” says Blaine Sutherland, one of the first in line outside of the gates for last night’s show.

Sutherland and fellow tarpies Sharon Gray and Kerry O’Connor would not divulge what time in the morning they arrived at Prince’s Island Park yesterday in order to be first in line. Metro caught up with them just past noon, and folk fest gates don’t open until 4:30 p.m.

These tens of folk festival enthusiasts rush to the grass (the running shoe of choice is usually Birkenstocks or Crocs) in front of the main stage each day when the gates open. They are eager to get prime pieces of lawn.

The three friends say they’ve each been coming to the Calgary folk festival for the last decade, and take pride at trying to claim their position in search of good music and good times.

“We meet the same friends in line every year. It’s the same group of people,” Sutherland says.

“The best part about the folk fest is not seeing the bands you know, but being exposed to all of those bands you’ve never heard before the weekend.”

Kerry Clarke, folk fest artistic director, says there are usually a few hundred people lined up outside folk fest gates daily waiting to get in, but only about 50 die-hard tarpies who are there bright and early first in line.

“Sometimes they’ll leave the folk fest at night, and turn right around and sit by the gate until morning so they can be first in line once again,” Clarke says.

“They’re our die-hard tarpiestas.”