Most people don’t think the western Canadian city of Calgary, home to the world-renowned Calgary Stampede and rodeo, is a likely venue for reggae music. But they should think again. ReggaeFest, Calgary’s International Reggae Festival, has become one of Canada’s most exciting music events. Launched in 2004 with less than $600 (Canadian) in seed money, ReggaeFest now draws a crowd of over 5,000 fans every August. The event features Canadian artists alongside musicians from around the world. This year’s lineup even included Grammy award-winner Inner Circle, Jamaican-born singer and songwriter Beres Hammond and Elaine “Lil’Bit” Shepherd of Bahrain.
Cofounder Leo Cripps concedes reggae might have been a tough sell in a region where country music dominates the airwaves. But Calgarians flock south during the region’s frigid winters, where they are exposed to the music. “They go to Mexico, Puerto Rico, South America, and the Caribbean—all reggae-oriented destinations,” he says. It also helps that Calgary is home to 10,000 Jamaicans and other Caribbean and African immigrants.
Local businesses are fans too. The festival gets financial help from local sponsors like Calgary-based beer maker Big Rock Brewery, as well as municipal, provincial and federal governments. The international record label Virgin has also agreed to provide support. While reggae has long drawn fans in cities like Toronto and Montreal, the sponsors hope their festival will help further promote the genre across the country. At least it’s cheaper than a week at a Caribbean resort.
For more information visit: www.calgaryreggaefestival.com.