Eyes On the 38th Annual Winnipeg Folk Festival

The Monday after Folk Fest always feels strange.

Maybe it has something to do with the confinement of clothing.. or the loss of brain cells.. or the dreaded j.o.b.. or the sound of engines replacing instruments.. or the feeling of intrusive pavement.. or our sunburned everything. Either way, the 38th Annual Winnipeg Folk Fest has wrapped up in traditional fashion and here is a bushel of photos from some of the favourites that this year had to offer:

Toots & the Maytals:
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M. digs SST?!: Winnipeg Folk Festival Day 2

M. Ward photo by Taylor Burgess

A handful of songs into M. Ward’s surprisingly electric set, indie folk singer-songwriter Matt Ward said, “We want to thank everybody for their hospitality. It’s a very beautiful part of the world that you live in. This is our first Winnipeg Folk Fest—and it’s quite the thing.” And then they quietly let the first notes of “Post-War,” the title track from his 2006 record, drop.

As humbling as that experience was, interviewing the guy earlier tonight was even more so. When I asked him about the impressive roster he’s worked with (including Conor Oberst, Jenny Lewis, Zooey Deschanel, Jim James, and more) he says that he mainly thinks about making records and making music, and tries to put distractions out of his head. When I asked him what his average day in Portland is like, he says (after taking time to marvel at a large dragonfly) that it includes spending time with friends and family, emailing, calling, playing guitar, going on walks, eating food, and… sleeping. When I asked him to define what today’s boundaries of folk music are, he says, “You know, I don’t really know what that means. I definitely don’t what indie folk means. So I think it’s better for you guys to define it, because you guys are listening to everything that’s out there, and I’m not doing that really.”

What music Ward was into, or at least what has shaped his songs, was playing Beatles songs, and then discovering their influences like the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry (M. Ward concluded their encore tonight with “Roll Over Beethoven”), Little Richard, and the like. What really surprised me was that he cited L.A.’s SST Records as an influence. “When I was growing up, they [released] Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. and the Minutemen, and so discovering them was another huge part of the equation.” His “high school band” Rodriguez were really inspired by Mike Watt, fIREHOSE, and the Minutemen. “We really tried to learn from them, and that was a great experience.”

And what about that other world’s-most-influential band—the Velvet Underground? “I love the Velvet Underground. ‘White Light/White Heat’ comes to mind as one of my favourite songs. My band and I used to cover ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror.’ The way that the records sound, you know, the way they were produced, just is engaging and very interesting. I’m a fan.”

Ward kept singing “Post-War”‘s refrain of “Some lucky night” over and over, noticeably putting a number of the kids at the festival to sleep, and then they switched into “Chinese Translation,” one of his best-known solo tunes—a bafflingly poetic and contently simple tune. So I could go into abstract detail of how Ward’s internalization of non-traditional music make him “indie”… but I’d much rather hit the hay and save myself for day three.

Getting Folked: Winnipeg Folk Festival Day 1

Jayhawks photo by Taylor Burgess

Heading to the Winnipeg Folk Festival on a Wednesday evening sure felt weird—probably because I’m not bro-ing down at the campgrounds right now—however, getting to the fest was really easy with the Winnipeg Folk Festival Shuttle provided by Winnipeg Transit. And though the sun was hot (quite hot) the line-up to get into the fest moved quickly shortly after six o’clock. Remember not to bring glassware or breakables, people.

The opening ceremony was rung in by Dave Courchene from Anishnabe Nation with some assuring words; “Music is universal for all of us. It brings an inspiration of messages which tell of peace. Tonight and through the festival we will see performers using their gifts for a future for our children.” He also talked about how the younger generations cry out, lamenting the people being who are being exploited, a sentiment which was quite a sweet shout-out.

Melissa McClelland then took the stage with her sweetie-pie roots. I was pretty far away, so I couldn’t tell that Luke Doucet was on stage until McClelland cracked a joke that she “married into Winnipeg.” Then it was obvious where the confident stagger that was backing her was coming from.

Despite some claims, my phone didn’t get any reception, so I couldn’t tweet about anything until I got to the media tent. And when I did get there, after submitting interview requests with M. Ward and Mountain Man, (stay tuned for those) I was told that West African afro-blues band of Tuareg rebels Tinariwen couldn’t get their visas, and, thus, won’t be playing the festival. It’s a pretty huge disappointment considering they’re the most hyped and exotic band playing the festival. Then again, maybe you’ll just have to check out Mighty Popo, Omar Souleyman, or Ordo Sakhna instead.

The rest of tonight was filled with the anything-but-exotic Jayhawks (from Minneapolis) and Blue Rodeo (from Toronto). The Jayhawks seemed promising, with their catchy Aughts alt-country, but they didn’t really raise their energy levels above a hearty simmer. As the night went on, the tunes got more and more syrupy (which I thought worked in their favour) and they finally closed their hour-long set with quite their most rocking number.

And to close out the night, Blue Rodeo played the entirety of their best-selling 1993 album Five Days in June. This was likely exciting for anyone who’s heard the band before, but the Blue Rodeo bug hasn’t hit me yet. (Har har har har.) But srsly, folks, they played really tight, and they genuinely seemed excited to be there, which, if I knew their music, would have been the recipe for a perfect show. Beats me why a bunch of Canadians would wax nostalgiac for ’90s Americana though. I’m just not feeling the Winnipeg Folk Festival buzz, yet!

Chad VanGaalen

By Jonathan Dyck

Chad VanGaalen may be many things to many people, but one thing is certain: he embodies the do-it-yourself aesthetic at every imaginable level. From self-production and designing his album artwork to building instruments and animating his own music videos, it’s difficult to think of something VanGaalen isn’t good at. Now, after three diverse albums of homespun folk rock, the Polaris Prize-nominated Albertan has released his electronic side project, Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz, under the moniker Black Mold (on the Calgary-based label Flemish Eye). Stylus caught up with Chad VanGaalen to discuss his musical alter-ego, his artwork, and why it’s unlikely that he’ll be invited back to perform at the Winnipeg Folk Festival any time soon.

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Amelia Curran

By Whitney Light
“My songs are sad to the point where we joke about it all the time,” Amelia Curran says only half in jest. At the Winnipeg Folk Festival, where this interview happened, the Newfoundland native and Halifax-based singer-songwriter performed in a workshop called “Woe is Me” with some kindred musicians strumming tunes about heartbreak and hard luck. Whether she’s playing alone or with a five-piece band, Curran’s songs compellingly mix a comfy guitar with her seasoned and deliberate voice. A talented and practised creative writer, she released her first album, Barricade, in 2000 and her most recent, War Brides, received wide critical acclaim. Now Hunter Hunter, her second album with Six Shooter Records, is ready for release this September. Continue reading “Amelia Curran”