Edmonton’s smallest festival is a family affair

Almost a week after the Edmonton Folk Music Festival wrapped up, the love lived on at a south-side park on Saturday where Edmonton’s Littlest Folk Festival marked two decades of celebrating its founder’s birthday.

Dave Cunningham, who many people know as the interim executive director of the Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta, hosts the festivals in Donnan Park near 79 Ave. and 91 St. because it’s right across the street from his house.

The performers include Cunningham himself, his children, and others from the Edmonton folk music community.

The Cunningham family don’t do things half-assed — they rent a tent for the stage, lay down a wooden dance floor, and run electricity for their public address system on very long extension cords all the way back to their house. There’s a full-size teepee that the family made themselves. One year, there was even a pyrotechnics display. It usually attracts about 120 people. “It certainly could have more people, but it’s really a private function. I’m not trying to create a festival — I just want to play music with my friends,” Cunningham explains.

“For years, we just called it ‘The Party in the Park.'”

In the early days, Cunningham says the festival was essentially an annual summer office party he hosted in his backyard, with music thrown in. Later, the Cunninghams joined forces with their neighbours and took down the backyard fence between their properties to make a larger venue.

About seven years ago, they moved the show across the street to the park. “Last year was the first year we sought out permits with the city,” explains Jesse Cunningham, 23, who is Dave’s youngest child.

“That didn’t go so well. So this year we don’t have any.”

The neighbours don’t seem to mind. Many of them bring lawn chairs or blankets and take in the guitars, fiddles, banjos and keyboards. This year’s festival was a bit of a milestone for Cunningham. Later this week, he’ll turn 60.

“It’s become more acoustic over the years as I get older and can’t take the volume,” Cunningham says about the show. “We have a lot more people who write their own songs, too.”

As the evening wound down around 11:30, all the Cunninghams, remaining and even audience members were called to the stage to play or sing in the final jam.

Another year of Edmonton’s Littlest Folk Festival was over.

“Please take an instrument with you back to the house,” Jesse Cunningham announced before the P.A. was switched off.