Winnipeg Folk Fest Young Performers – Ila Barker


by Martyna Turczynowicz

Ila Barker is a young artist emerging on the Canadian Folk scene. Her music is lyrical, soulful accompanied by guitar. Ila will be releasing her first album on July 10th at Folk Fest. Stylus sat down with Ila to talk about her experience with the Galaxie Young Performers Program and Folk Fest.

Stylus: Tell us about your experience with the Galaxie Young Performers Program

Ila Barker: I found out about the program last year at Folk Fest. On Thursday of the Folk Festival, we get bussed into the city to the United Church in Wolseley. We meet with our mentors; we’ve been paired individually with who they think we’d be best with. We spend the day with them, jamming and showing them what we know. We’ll have feedback from them and they’ll help us decide what they think we should perform. On Friday, we’ll be performing onstage with our mentors in a song circle on Shady Grove Stage. They put “nobodies” on stage with such accomplished musicians. Some of the people that are performing the same day as I am, have been total inspirations in my musical career, it’s such a great opportunity. The program’s given me confidence and made me feel good about myself as an artist, that I am good enough as an artist and totally fired me up to go after what I want.

Stylus: Can you tell me more about your mentor?

IB: She’s the banjo player from Oh My Darling, I’ve been checking them out recently and I hear their name a lot so they must be really good. Getting to work with somebody who’s playing at the Folk Festival is really cool. Outside of the Galaxie Young Performers Program, my mentor is Keith Macpherson, of Keith and Renee, he’s my producer, manager, mentor. He’s doing a lot for me right now. We’ve been working together through a program in ACI, The Arts and Cultural Industries Association of Manitoba, for the past eight months. They take aspiring dancers, graphic designers, actors, video game designers, and paired them with mentors. I was the only singer in the group. Every month we check in with ACI and tell them how many hours we’ve put in to our work, how many times we’ve met with our mentor. It was super good, I felt like I made a lot of progress in the past eight months.

Stylus: How have your previous experiences with Folk Fest been?

IB: I went to Edmonton Folk Fest for two years in a row with my aunt and uncle, the year after that I went to Winnipeg Folk Fest for the day. Last year I camped for the full five days and that was rough but amazing. I’m excited to be back. Last year I also did the Folk Music Camp, which is four days before the festival. It’s very similar to the Galaxie Young Performers program except that we had a lot more time to work with the mentors and didn’t perform at the end. I got to work with some amazing people; Abigail Washburn, Kai Welch, Martyn Joseph and Willy Porter. I bonded with all of them really well; it was awesome. Abigail Washburn had a banjo workshop; they gave us banjos and she taught us three cords and everybody plucked their little notes and that was cute. There were vocal workshops, stage workshops; that taught us how to act on stage and build a set list. I had one on one meetings with Martyn Joseph and Kai Welch as my mentors. I would either play them a song and get feedback or they would teach me something new. It was a super cooperative relationship and some of the stories we heard from the performers were life changing; they completely inspired me to keep going with my passion. It was a really great experience, by the end of the four days I was music’d out. I was like “oh my god, now I have to listen to music for five more days” but by the end of the festival it was like “can I have more please?” I feel like I really belong at the festival, whether as a camper or as a performer.

Stylus: What is so special about folk fest to you?

IB: Folk Fest is my home festival. It’s one of the few I’ve been to, which is sad because I want to branch out. I think what’s so special about it is that we each have our own special take on it. The reason why it’s important to me is important to me and the reason why it’s important to you is important to you and because of that we grow such a diverse folk fest community and we just have this awesome vibe together, everyone just wants to be there, it’s fantastic.

Stylus: How do you feel about the musical community in Winnipeg?

IB: In Winnipeg the music scene is super cool. A lot of people think that it’s a bad place for young musicians to start out because Winnipeg is pretty small, but since it’s a smaller community it’s easy to become known. A lot of people know a lot of people; something I get from people who aren’t from here is that they’re weirded out by how you can walk down the street and bump into somebody you know. Because it’s so close knit, the music groups spread. I think it’s just awesome here, there are so many great musicians and people are so supportive of artists. There’s also a lot of support groups for certain groups, for example, the Aboriginal community and because of that, people get in touch with me, asking if I want to be involved in different music projects in the aboriginal community. Today, I found out that I would be featured on the Aboriginal Music Compilation CD, I’ll have one my songs on there.

Stylus: What’s your biggest inspiration right now?

IB: I think Feist is super awesome, she’s one of my absolute favourites right now. The things she comes up with, when I listen to them I always think “wow that’s something I would have never come up with” Another artist I’m constantly inspired by, especially when I was just starting out with music is Colbie Caillait. When I listen to her cute, bubbly songs I get all excited and I just want to go home and write, that’s something that keeps me going.

Stylus: What do you have planned for the next year?

IB: The official release date for my album is July 10th. That’s my big goal right now: finishing up the CD. That and getting more of a local buzz going about my music. It’s going to be six or seven songs on the album, all original, with the mentorship of Keith MacPherson. He supported me, sat down and helped me write the songs.  It will be on sale at Folk Fest. It’s gonna be a tight deadline to get everything mix and mastered by then. I have a few other things in the works, but those are under the table for now. I’ve had a lot of support from government programs like the Canada Council and I’ve received grants to work on releasing the album and a lot of support from the community.

Stylus: Who are you looking forward to hearing at Folk Fest this Year?

IB: Well, so far the Friday that I’m performing, Patrick Watson is performing as well. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna be best friends. Patrick Watson is one of the people who inspired me to keep going. A cover I did of his song was the first song I ever put on YouTube. The great escape, it was on a Tropicana commercial, after I heard it I searched YouTube for like two days, typing orange juice song, Tropicana, escape until I finally found it. I actually met him at the Edmonton Folk Festival, they let me go backstage and I met him. He’s a super cool guy, I can’t wait to hear him again. Serena Ryder, oh man, she’s gonna be great. She just rocks.

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