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Owner Arlen Smith at The Palomino in Calgary on June 9.TODD KOROL/Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Some of Alberta’s biggest music festivals are gearing up to return to full-scale events for the first time in three years.

While major events such as Calgary Folk Fest, Calgary Stampede and Sled Island did endure in some reduced capacity last year, 2022 has been consistent with the idea of normalcy. Thus, expect Calgary to be bustling when the summer’s first major festival, Sled Island, kicks off June 22.

Since its debut in 2007, the discovery festival has become known for its ability to fill a wide variety of local bars, restaurants and event spaces while showcasing musical talent that (geographically) runs the gamut from local to overseas. This year there will be more than 200 musical acts as well as filmmakers, comedians and visual artists showcased in 29 spaces.

“While we are proud of the projects we developed during the pandemic, we’ve really missed the festival,” says Sled Island’s Maud Salvi. “It is what we do best and the way we know we can have the biggest impact, so it’s very exciting to be working on it again. The feedback so far leads us to believe that our audience shares that excitement.”

Ms. Salvi has been the festival’s director since 2013, the year of Calgary’s devastating floods, and has watched its symbiotic relationship with local food and drink businesses grow for nearly a decade.

Murals on the wall at The Palomino.TODD KOROL/The Globe and Mail

Sled Island’s festival is unique when compared to most other major festivals in the province because it allows people to experience live music in venues that don’t usually hold live music. Examples this year include I Love You Coffee Shop, Dandy Brewing Company and Tasting Room as well as the recently new-and-improved Plaza Theatre. Live music institutions such as Ship and Anchor Pub, Broken City and the Palomino Smokehouse have been involved since early days, which are several examples of how a business opting to support live music can truly pay off.

“I think live music helps build communities around specific venues and in turn, this helps grow diversity and loyalty among the clientele,” Ms. Salvi said. “I know it’s sometimes hard to prioritize live music over DJ nights that are more lucrative, but with time, I think a commitment to live music can pay off.”

She notes that many of the repeat venues see some of their best weekly sales of the year while the festival is taking place.

The Palomino acts as a major hub for Sled Island and will offer live music on two floors from June 22 to 26. Its operations manager, Dan Northfield, has watched the festival evolve since its inception 15 years ago and echoes Ms. Salvi’s statement that it is, in fact, one of the bar’s busiest times of the year.

“Venues have come and gone, musical tastes have changed, new generations of artists and fans, the floods … it’s still here, working hard to engage with the community in a thoughtful way with exciting, interesting artists.”

He sees much reward in the bar’s longstanding commitment to providing musicians a platform, though the reward is not always a financial one.

“Making sure artists are fed, watered and paid at the end of the night can often come at a loss for the venue. We do it because we love it as much [as we love the barbecue],” he says.

Looking beyond local businesses where people can hear or otherwise experience the artistic offerings of the festival, Sled Island has collaborated with Eighty-Eight Brewing Co. for its 2022 custom beer. Dubbed Love Letter, the hazy pale ale will be made available at all (liquor-serving) venues later this month, if not already. The Dandy Brewing Company and Lukes Drug Mart also serve as food-related partners for the year.

Pulled pork sandwich and fries at The Palomino.TODD KOROL/Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

As the festival keeps things in the “heart” of Calgary, so to speak (i.e. the downtown and Beltline neighbourhoods for the most part), working with a notable business such as Eighty-Eight, which is physically out of its venue radius, can still garner much attention and support.

“The whole point of Sled Island is to expose people to what makes Calgary a great city, even to those who live here,” Ms. Salvi says. “We may not always be able to host events in bars or restaurants we like, but we try to include them however we can through other means, be it by sending our audience their way or by having their food served at our artist lounge.”

Whether it’s watching the local acts such as The Rifle County Players on Palomino’s main floor, Zenon on Broken City’s rooftop patio or otherwise, you can eat and drink while doing so knowing that festivals like this are doing more for the local food scene than one might think.

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