by Andrew Friesen
Although the grove of cottonwood trees beside Brandon’s Keystone Centre may not look like much from the outside, hidden within is the home of one of the best musical celebrations on the Prairies. Located in the heart of this province’s second largest city, the 29-year-old Brandon Folk, Music and Art Festival has slowly made a name for itself as a worthwhile stop on the folk circuit for both artists and fans alike. And despite it’s decidedly urban location (the site is bounded by a hockey arena, a high school, and a car dealership), the festival “under the trees” feels decidedly rural and intimate – the sprawling Winnipeg Folk Fest this is not.
This year’s lineup, headed by Martha Wainwright and Hawksley Workman, follows a similar track to the last couple: combining a handful of larger names with some of Manitoba’s best up-and-coming young artists. And although it’s oft-overlooked in favour of the much larger Folk Fest or much sexier Jazz Fest that take place two hours to the east, organizers are making a concerted effort to boost attendance and buzz outside of the Wheat City.
“The last few years have been a lot different than the ones that have come before,” says festival artistic director Shandra MacNeill, noting that organizers have aimed to feature “national and international musicians and artists to perform alongside local talent.”
The three-day festival, which runs this year from July 26th to 28th, is also unique in that it asks all of the artists to remain in the city for the duration of the event. MacNeill credits this for a weekend featuring plenty of opportunities for collaboration between artists. “It’s not like a small country fair where whoever is around plays,” says MacNeill “there’s a great deal of artistic integrity and I think that the nationally recognized musicians we have performing are surprised by the amount of talent we have regionally and locally.”
Having grown up in Brandon and attended the festival for many years, I’ve seen first-hand just how important it is to the cultural life of the community. With many of our best musicians hitting the road over the summer (or heading up to the folk-friendlier pastures around Riding Mountain National Park), it’s one of the few events that offers an opportunity for residents of Westman to see local talent in their own backyards.
In addition to Wainwright and Workman, attendees this year can look forward to established local acts like JP Hoe and Imaginary Cities in addition to up-and-comers including the Young Pixels, Oldfolks Home and Ingrid Gatin.
Tickets run $80 dollars for the weekend, $68 if you’re a student or senior. Don’t miss out on an amazing time in the Wheat City this weekend!