Home Feature A recap of the Winnipeg Folk Festival days one and two (Thursday...

A recap of the Winnipeg Folk Festival days one and two (Thursday and Friday)

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The Shady Grove stage. Photo by Broose Tulloch.

There are three hazards to be aware of at the Winnipeg Folk Fest: missing great music because you’re experiencing great music at another stage, you’re in a line or you’re catching up with an old friend. And on opening night, that friend was rain. An hour-long deluge, joined by a strong prairie wind, reduced William Prince’s opening set to a few songs, and Tweener FONTINE’s to two. Both artists are coming into their own, owning the paths they walk, and they left the main stage crowd wanting for more, much more. They are two Indigenous voices so rich and powerful they must be heard live, preferably at an outdoor festival; William soft and calming with tear-inducing stories of life, and FONTINE warm and bright.

KT Tunstall was a bit delayed, but not dismayed as she roots-rocked her solo set with favourites, hits, and clever covers. With a looper, big black and white guitar, and even bigger and lovelier personality, KT charmed and delighted teh main stage audience. As energetic and engaging as the banter and music were, the highlight was the bombshell she dropped on the audience – an upcoming album of duets with none other than legendary rocker (and Fonzie girlfriend), Suzi Quatro! She then proceded to play the first single, “Shine A Light.”

Remember danger number two: in a line. Suffice to say, a fine tweener set by local indie guitarist extraordinaire Kris Ulrich was experienced in this manner.

It didn’t take long for Fleet Foxes to show why they were the headliner: all the lights, volume, and sound of an arena show for smooth alternative rock with sweet high harmonies that take you back to the Beach Boys.

And everyone’s old friend rain returned for one last brief visit of the weekend.

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Dawn broke on a clear blue sky Friday morning, quickly turning it into a sunscreen and water day. That was fine and dandy for those who remembered. Not so for the few patrons who acquired a lobster-red sheen.

Friday workshops fully embodied hazard number one, as many spent all day at whatever stage they found shade at. For a number of patrons, this is how they Folk Fest.

Roots Music Canada (RMC) spent the day in Shady Grove covering the Young Performers Program. 37 young performers, aged 14-24, were matched with one of five mentors: Irish singer Susan O’Neil, Andrina Turenne, Matt Foster, Kris Ulrich, or Julian Taylor. The YPP will be featured in an upcoming RMC article.

The first group, mentored by Irish folksinger Susan O’Neill, played to an audience of just over 100, mostly family, friends, and other young performers in support. The attendance rose steadily until Shady Grove was comfortably full for the final two groups, thanks to word of mouth.

Most have recorded albums, EPs, or digital singles, several are already touring vets, so selecting highlights is near impossible; apples and oranges; so a few observation highlights will have to do for now.

Susan O’Oneil hung on every note from alternate sides of the sound booth.

Andrina Turenne sat right up front stage left, swaying to the music.

A real bond develops between mentors and participants, and that was obvious in Matt Foster’s introduction to each of his young performers. Matt watched from the shade stage right. Mid-workshop, Shady Grove begins to fill.

They all blew me away,” stated Kris Ulrich, “I’m just in awe!” It couldn’t have hurt that Shady Grove was now comfortably full.

Julian Taylor also introduced each of his young performers, and was visibly proud and impressed as he enjoyed their performances off to the side.

On to the main stage, through the beer tent for a quick cold one with an old friend or two. Not seeing four prevented hazard number three.

First up, Adia VIctoria. And she was a whirlwind of energy; a mosaic of Sudan Archives, Tanya Tagaq, Erkya Badu, and Buffy St. Marie – and absolutely riveting. Wielding a sweet blues voice (what Alana Myles was going for in “Black Velvet”) and a razor-sharp intellect, Victoria commanded a hard rock trio, delivering powerful messages, personal to the political, soft to in-your-face. She took full advantage of the few moments between songs to put songs in context and add an occasional, “the power of folk [music is] speaking truth to power.”

Tweener Julian Taylor gave folks a full concert in four songs: an audience sing-a-long, a statement song “about resiliance,” one about his favourite place, and one that got ‘em dancing with “Zero to Eleven.” “I’m so honoured and grateful,” Julian said, “I got to be a mentor, and they just killed it.”

Fruit Bats played a tasty set of alternative, roots rock friendly tunes with little talk but a lot of fun onstage, save the sun in their eyes. “Doesn’t the sun set in Manitoba?” asked leader Eric D. Johnson, “Can someone from the Folk Fest please place one little cloud, right about there?” It’s a shame the glare kept them from seeing just how many people were digging their vibe.

A few minutes later, that cloud appeared for Iceland chanteuse Arny Margret, allowing her to see an audience mesmerized by her clear, bight soprano ballads.

Rufus Wainwright suffered from hazard number three: old friends. But the first few songs were great. Thousands of credible sources revealed his father, Louden Wainwright III, and sister, Suzi Wainwright-Roche, joined Rufus on stage. The rousing finale, “Islands In The Stream,” (written by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and recorded by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton) flowed past the main stage into the tavern tent, food vendors, and into forest.

Headliner Emmylou Harris is the queen. With grace, poise, and that voice, she transfixed the audience simply by being Emmylou Harris.

There is something indescribably zen about listening to the final few songs through the woods and on the wind as you make your way home.

Stay tuned for three and a-four.

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