‘Dad correspondent’ Broose Tulloch reports on the kid’s programming at the Winnipeg Folk Festival
The posts on parenting forums are heartbreaking: “I’m at my wits end,” “I’m crying while I type this,” “I don’t know what to do,” “I can’t find any daycare or activities or places to go,” “My child is…”
Included! That is what all children and families are at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.
WCMA, Gala des prix Trille Or, and Canadian Folk Music Award nominee and Folk Fest performer Jocelyn Baribeau a.k.a. Madame Diva, echoes that, “I think the Folk Fest does a really good job of including [everyone].”
Founder Mitch Podolak’s vision was music for ALL folks, which is why it’s “people and music,” and not the other way round. He left no doubt when he single-handedly ran off of a group of drunken bikers causing trouble with a baseball bat. He made a statement: this is a place for families. And it is. Organizers, volunteers, and attendees continue to maintain and expand that vision. Arguably the best example, and certainly the most active, is the Chickadee Big Top, the family stage.
At first blush, it’s a typical mini Kids Festival under one big (and open so the breeze blows through) tent, with crafts and performers, and just outside, a huge sand pile, physical activities to run off steam.
‘everyone can make art and music’
James Culleton, one of this year’s performers, spent Tuesday mowing a labyrinth in the tall prairie grass.
James is also one of the Big Top performers, promising his “Superfun show will certainly blow your hair back” with props and visuals, much in the vein of his mentor, Al Simmons.
“The overriding theme to my Superfun album is that everyone can make art and music and sharing that joy,” he said.
A closer look at the stage reveals its inclusivity; crafts are organized by time, not age; the outside games are selected and adapted so any child can play, regardless of physical capability; the tall grass labyrinth is wide enough for mobility devices; and on Sunday, an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter communicates all the performances.
If you plug your ears and watch a musical performance, you will be in awe of how many ways you experience and enjoy it, beyond just auditory: the visuals of the movements, the expressions, the dancing, the vibrations.
Jessee Havey has gone from singing for Grammy and Juno Award winners the Duhks to singing for ducklings with her all-star Banana Band featuring Grace Hrabi, Ethan Osland, Ian LaRue, and Nathaniel Good. While Jessee and partner in music and life, Nathaniel, have no brood of their own, they have deep connections to the Folk Fest, and a long-held desire to make music for children that is fun, uplifting, and inclusive.
“I grew up in that folk world. It’s important to impart those values to children and make it a safe space for the littles.”
“I grew up in that folk world,” Jessee explained, “It’s important to impart those values to children and make it a safe space for the littles.”
Talking about the message in the music, Jessee quotes one of the finest artists and people in the industry: Heather Bishop, saying “If you want your art to live on, feed it to your children.”
With that omnipresent idea in her mind, Jessee Havey and the Banana Band have nonsense songs that are nothing but a good time with friends, and fun songs that also have an important message about inclusion. For Jessee and Nathaniel, who identify as queer and non-binary, it is especially rewarding that their most requested song is a little ditty called “The Pronoun Song,” that is simply about being who you are and letting others be themselves. After all, there’s not really any difference between a child who decides they are a cat for a morning wanting to meow and be called “Kitty” and a person who prefers “they” to “he” or “she.” The one constant is that all of us are “we” here.
Children being children can be very stressful for parents. What is cute and adorable behaviour to watch as an observer can be sheer terror for the parent dealing with it. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) children tend to be impulsive and are rarely “seen and not heard.” For a parent who has to explain why another adult has told their children to “come here away from that child,” having someone include their children is a godsend and brings on the happy tears.
“My son struggled with ADHD and couldn’t participate in the same way as other kids, so I always appreciated it when someone would take the extra time for him.”
“My son struggled with ADHD and couldn’t participate in the same way as other kids,” Jocelyn Baribeau, a.k.a. Madame Diva explained, “so I always appreciated it when someone would take the extra time for him.”
“Young kids will get up on stage, and the parents are mortified,” she said, “and I always work with them. My puppeteer will sit and talk with the child.”
“Everybody gets to be part of the show in any way they need.”
Jocelyn’s son, Micah, is now part of the act, and his role continues to grow. Born and raised in a musical home, Jocelyn began KinderMusic as a way to teach music and work from home while raising small children. At night, she would moonlight as part of the Manitoba Opera Chorus. She owes her current career to simply wanting a francophone show for kids who’s first language is French.
“I couldn’t bring my kids to a French show, so I dreamed up Madame Diva,” she said, “to give families an opportunity to sing French songs by someone they know, not someone on TV.”
Under the Chickadee Big Top, the message is “You are welcome, in all the ways that make you you.”
“I think I’m gonna be a puddle of mush all weekend,” Jessee said, giggling, “Mitch will be smiling and laughing down on us, or up at us.”
Yes, yes he will, with all of us.