by Ryan Haughey
The Winnipeg Folk Festival is a time for sharing love, creating memories, and most of all, enjoying music. Artists from all over the world come together to create a shared experience in our Winnipeg home. Acts at both Main Stage and Little Stage in the Forest play their hearts out and share themselves with the audience for one magical weekend.
The festival starts on Thursday evening, with the field in front of the Main Stage covered almost entirely in festival goers’ tarps and blankets. The first night showed that the ‘folk’ in ‘Folk Festival’ doesn’t pin down only one genre.
Blues rocker Larkin Poe kicked up some dust with raunchy guitars and heavy soulful vocals, but right after that Tim Baker of Hey Rosetta rowed through a light indie rock set that was just as passionate as its forerunner. Toward the end of the night, Death Cab for Cutie was forced to lay down their instruments for the duration of a distant thunder storm, but they were able to return to the stage and finish their set under the bright lights of the Main Stage.
Aside from the countless concerts that occur over the course of the weekend, Folk Festival is also known for its workshop performances, where performers are teamed up to play alongside each other onstage. The workshops are a more intimate way for the artists to share their songs and their creative process with the audience and with each other.
Usually artists will take turns playing songs, but the most special moments are when they all begin to pitch in musically to create a unique version of the song. Such was the case when Car Seat Headrest and Snail Mail played along with Mt. Joy’s “Astrovan”. Their differing styles meshed into something altogether new that was only to be heard at Folk Fest.
Sometimes the most exciting performances you can catch at Folk Festivals are the ones you entirely didn’t intend to see. When sitting around before or after an act that you were looking forward to, you might just experience something even more special from an artist or group you’ve never heard of.
Laying in a hammock after a workshop, I first heard Nigerien group Tal National take the stage and kickstart their set. It didn’t take long for me to feel the heart of this West African rock band bang to the rhythm of their songs. With giant smiles on their faces, Tal National shared their music and their positivity with the audience at Green Ash stage. It’s always a great moment when an act you didn’t even know about becomes a highlight of the festival.
Winnipeg Folk Festival breeds musicians. Artists are on stage and in the audience, but the Young Performer’s Program (YPP) gives young musicians the chance to experience Folk Fest from up on the stage. Throughout the week, YPP participants are grouped with a Folk Fest performer to hone their craft and meet and learn from other musicians.
One of the toughest decisions that Folk Fest forces upon festival goers is whether they should spend the evening at the Main Stage or at the Big Bluestem stage. Big Blue @ Night is always a dancing blast with exciting artists. On Friday night, it was a tough choice whether to see Mt. Joy and Jason Mraz at Main Stage or Living Hour and Car Seat Headrest at Big Blue, but sometimes you can catch a bit of both if you run. As K’naan finished off the night at Main Stage, the other side of the festival got to see a beautiful performance from Alvvays, who always make a night memorable.
The mornings and early afternoons at Folk Fest can be so cathartic, and the lineup complimented this feeling with relaxing music from artists like Haley Hendrickx, whose performance on Saturday afternoon laid a blanket of peaceful calm over the audience at Shady Grove. Saturday’s daytime headliner at Green Ash was Snail Mail, a highlight for indie music fans. The young artist grew into their comfort zone onstage under the hot sun and delivered a mesmerizing set.
Coming off of a wild Saturday night, regardless of whether you caught the barrage of Scandinavian psychedelia at Big Blue – Altin Gün, MAMMÚT, and FM Belfast – or the folk turned rock concert at Main stage – The Lone Bellow, The Sheepdogs, and Half Moon Run – Folk Fest Sunday would keep things rolling even through the near 30 degree heat.
The final day started off with an energetic workshop where Tal National, Mdou Moctar and Los Pachamama y Flor Amargo played off each other’s energies and styles to create a unique mix of world beats. The audience could feel how much fun the artists were having, which made the workshop all the more exciting.
Local songwriter extraordinaire Christine Fellows shared with the audience some beautiful, intimate moments. The talented and fashionable Begonia funked up and rocked out to transition day into evening. Kacey Musgraves finished off the festival with some “cosmic country” tunes that had the audience feeling the Folk Fest love. The saddest part of the weekend was the end, but it came with some cherished memories and unforgettable moments. Till next year, Folk Fest!