Block Heater 2020 puts focus on Black Futures Month, Indigenous flare

Festival-goers anxiously wait for the next act to take the stage at Block Heater 2019. Calgary Folk Music Festival/Lisa Amos

From the dozens of dazzling performances to the spoken word, to the new, made-in-Alberta film screening — the Block Heater winter festival is once again bringing a flurry of creativity to Calgary.

The offshoot of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, now in its fifth year, is known for its diversity in everything from the audience to the artists that grace the stages.

READ MORE: Block Heater 2020: Who, what, when, where and how to enjoy this year’s festival

This year is no different, promising a jam-packed three days that will help festival-goers feel the “connection to a lot of different cultures.”.

Basia Bulat serenades a crowd at the 2019 Block Heater music festival. Calgary Folk Music Festival/Lisa Amos

“There’s so many artists that we’ve worked with in the past and we plan to work with in the future, and that really tell a story of a certain history of North America that involves people from a wide variety of backgrounds,” said Kerry Clarke, the festival’s artistic director.

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“Their families may go generations back, they may be more recent immigrants, and I think that their explorations of music is mirrored in other communities where people are exploring traditional music.”

New to the festival this year is a focus on Black Futures Month, which for Lynn Maric — who is performing at Block Heater 2020 and also sat on the panel that helped guide the festival’s programming — really hits home.

“I think it’s a matter of us understanding that – especially being that Canada is an immigrant country – that black people have been here also at the beginning as well,” Maric said.

‘Part of the landscape’

So why Black “Futures” Month? Well, it’s a twist on Black History Month.

“When it comes to Black History Month, sometimes there’s a tendency to focus on what’s happened, what has been done,” Maric said. “And I think that there’s so many things the black community is doing now and there’s so much innovation and things that I think are on the forefront that are propelling us forward.

“And I think sometimes in an effort to create hope and excitement and also awareness, it’s important to talk about the things that are happening now.”

READ MORE: 2020 Block Heater music festival celebrating 5th year with more venues, acts

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Part of bringing that excitement and awareness will include the screening of We Are the Roots, a film made in Alberta which tells the story of black settlers who made the Prairies their home after fleeing racism and persecution in the U.S. between 1905-1912.

“There’s some of us that have some very deep roots just like our white brothers and sisters that date back generations too. So to understand that we are part of the roots of this province – we are part of the landscape as well,” Maric said.

Festival-goers dance at a performance at Festival Hall during Block Heater 2019. Calgary Folk Music Festival/David Kenney

Maric said along with the film, festival-goers will see a wide variety of performances from black artists, including vocals, theatrics and poetry.

“I think the folk fest audience is generally quite white,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really, really beautiful for people to see that even among the black community, there’s diversity within us too.”

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‘They make up the proper quilt’

For Clarke, holding a roots festival without showcasing and celebrating the roots of the country would be “disingenuous.”

“We both highlight it and normalize it. We highlight it, but it’s not token,” Clarke said.

“These artists are part of the whole big picture and they make kind of like a quilt – they make up the proper quilt.

“These are important artists, and I think, given our history of presenting diverse music and diverse people… I think it fits with us and I think it’s not too radical with us and I think our audiences tend to be pretty open-minded and open-eared.”

READ MORE: Block Heater music festival warms up Calgary’s arts scene in frigid February

In addition to the unique take on paying homage to Black History Month, the festival will also feature an array of Indigenous performances.

“I feel like there’s been a really amazing and quick evolution of Indigenous music in this country — or maybe we’re just more aware of it — but it feels to me like there’s almost a renaissance going on and we really want to be part of that renaissance and we want to give a space for that,” Clarke said.

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A band plays at Studio Bell during the 2019 Block Heater music festival. Calgary Folk Music Festival/Melanie Boisvert

“And again, the Indigenous artists are from many different kinds of musical and cultural backgrounds,” she said.

“We’re presenting the best of what we think is out there and these artists happen to be some of the best, and they also happen to be from diverse communities.”

The 2020 Block Heater music festival runs from Thursday, Feb. 20 to Saturday, Feb. 22. Tickets can be purchased online.

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