Note to readers: Our good friend and fellow travel writer Lisa Monforton – also editor-in-chief of FestivalSeekers – returned recently from a very cool musical adventure in the outbacks of Alberta. Not only did she come home with this post in hand – but she has TOTALLY convinced us to put this unsung musical event on our roster for next year!
I love a surprise. And I was happy to find one recently in the most unlikely of places – in Alberta’s other-worldly Badlands at a little music festival called the East Coulee SpringFest.
East Coulee is a community located an hour and a half northeast of Calgary along Alberta’s Hoo Doo Trail, which is a stretch of highway named for the tall mushroom-like spires of rock that swirl around these dehydrated hills.
Built on the backs of hardworking coal miners, East Coulee has been the site of this unsung music festival for nearly two decades.
From the moment my husband and I arrived – after parking our car on the side of a dusty road and wandering into the local community hall – we felt as if we were an intimate part of this super cool rural Alberta event.
But this is the unpretentious beauty of the East Coulee SpringFest.
It’s an organic mingling of friendly musicians, city slickers and country folk who wander between three main venues less than a city block apart: the community hall, the East Coulee Tavern, and the East Coulee School Museum (which features the region’s coal mining history and is funded by proceeds raised by the festival).
One moment, you’re hanging out – a.k.a. drinking beer and yapping about life – with Moms of musicians who have shown up to pass out business cards and sell “merch” for their talented offspring.
The next thing you know you’re fighting back the tears as talent like Edmonton’s Jasmine Whenham stands before a small crowd and, guitar in hand, sings achingly beautiful lyrics that make more than a few of us (even the guys!) cry.
And then, by the end of the night, you’re gleefully caught up in a whirling dirvish dance party and shaking your booty to the great big sound of the Kirby Sewell Band.
On the final day of this year’s SpringFest, Harry Manx – a musician (from Salt Spring Island) well-known for blending blues, folk and Hindustandi classical music – put us all in a peace, love and happiness state of mind for the drive back to Calgary.
En route home, we mused about how in a short and extraordinary space of time – we had danced, shared meals and swapped stories of love and loss with total strangers.
As quickly as the landscape morphed from the Badlands to bald-ass prairie to Cowtown’s bustling metropolis, the weekend was over. Definitely, though, not forgotten.