Review: GentleFest

ami performs at GentleFest

written by Stiff Wiggle
photo by Cary Bilcowski 

I attended GentleFest 2023 as a performing musician and received a complimentary ticket. I would be remiss not to mention this bias. Despite that, this review presents a sincere reflection of my experience.

It’s natural to scan a festival’s lineup and immediately form an opinion. Judging the Winnipeg Folk Festival roster the second it drops is practically a tradition. 

Resist this urge. Festivals are immersive experiences that are unlike anything we typically do as adults. There are more important aspects to consider.

Consider your fellow attendees. Festivals have communities, not merely crowds, which coalesce in temporary tent towns. Having cast aside the drudgery that society forces them to endure, festival patrons are devoted to Dionysian revelry. What emerges is a culture unique to each festival that frames the whole experience. What you get for your memory palace is a new cabinet and, hopefully, some memories to keep there.

GentleFest seems unremarkable among the growing multitude of prairie festivals. Innocuously slated at August’s end, it almost echoes Real Love Summer Fest, held two weeks prior on the same land. Real Love arguably had the more attractive lineup, but there’s an ineffably human factor to the festival experience where GentleFest truly shined. The passionate spirit of the volunteers who make it happen is reflected in every aspect. It’s the kind of weekend where, if you open your heart and let the love flow in, you could be transformed. Jaded cynics may find this laughable. I still have hope for them.

Perhaps the fest’s roots account for its truly lovely vibes. GentleFest began quietly and humbly in 2020 to keep a group of artists and their friends hopeful during the pandemic. And more so than any other festival I’ve attended, a genuine sense of community unites the experience. I met countless friendly people at my first GentleFest. I was subsequently inspired to begin a new musical project, and I’m proud to say we performed at this year’s incarnation.

It’d be impossible to list every treasured moment. I’d like to say that my twenty-minute set was the highlight of everyone’s Friday, but that distinction indisputably belongs to NKDBODI’s deft tapestry of a DJ battle, woven from incongruous genres such as glitch-hop, DnB, and electro swing.

Music gently infused my Saturday, but it was not my focus. (There’s so much more to a festival than music!) As I roused, Lounge FM’s cozy tunes wafted through the campground like incense. In the afternoon, I visited the Love Post to write some fan mail and brighten someone’s day. 

Then, I was invited to bare it all for a life drawing workshop. That wasn’t the only costume change. I dressed down for a competitive round of lingerie croquet; then I covered up before the chill of dusk arrived, and then the music enticed me again. Ami Cheon had hundreds eating from her palm before Sassy Mellows had us begging them to give up the funk.

Sundays are often bittersweet at a music festival (I always cry at endings), but Stubbs And The demanded we party hard to the bitter end. We said our farewells, and we left, empty yet full.

GentleFest hosts their Snow Ball in March. GentleFest tickets go on sale April 1.

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