A recap of the Winnipeg Folk Festival days three and four
Partial cloud cover, a refreshing breeze, and cooler temperatures made for a great day to folk fest, and only one lobster-person sighting. In all seriousness, sunburns are no joking matter, especially with climate change and increased UV exposure. At a minimum, sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher should be applied at the beginning and midpoint of your outdoor activities, and don’t forget your ears, nose, and cheeks. Dehydration is also a big concern under sunny skies, so don’t forget your water bottle; Folk Fest has water taps through the site, and the lineup is shorter then the beer tent or lemonade stand!
First up, electronic wizard and crowd pleaser Rich Aucoin. It’s amazing how well EDM fit in with the folkies; although dance music is dancing music regardless of genre. Rich programmed some tasty electronic sounds on the fly, even using the audience as an instrument, and explaining the process and machinery along the way. His set was entertaining, educating, and engaging all at once.
Judging by how quickly the Snowberry stage crowd settled in, Julian Taylor’s Friday night tweener set impressed a lot of folks. Including one of his standout young performers, Jace Bodner, who dug in right up front. Taylor began with “Human Race,” which he dedicated to his sister and all those struggling with mental health issues. His crack band had a familiar face, guitarist/keyboardist Darrel O’Dea, a longtime friend and Staggered Crossing bandmate. The crowd really came alive for his latest single, “Seeds,” and by the closer, “Zero To Eleven,” they were up and dancing! Plus one hipster yoga dude. “I’m having the best time of my life,” exclaimed Julian! A packed Snowberry responded with a standing ovation!
Not to be outdone, local singer-songwriter Dylan XXX a.k.a. Field Guide, jambuster packed Shady Grove with not a single square centimetre of space to spare, unless you wanted to park it amongst the poison ivy. Remember to stay on the paths as the woods of Bird’s Hill Park are infested with the toxic plant. Despite the distant view, Field Guide’s layered folk-pop sounded great from the entrance, a short path through the ring of trees surrounding the Shady Grove meadow. Field Guide started out in The Middle Coast, a trio that also featured Boy Golden and Roman Clarke. Roman graced Main Stage last year, and Boy Golden this year in what could be well-earned foreshadowing!
The crowd somehow grew uncomfortably full for Kacy and Clayton, the nearest thing to Ian & Sylvia since, well Ian & Sylvia. But more Byrds-like. A pair of tunes through the trees would have to suffice. They have really hit their stride since their 2017 participation in the Young Performers Program, and are currently one of the most entertaining duos around.
Another standout workshop was up next. It looked good on paper, and sounded even better in person. While jam sessions get the buzz, singer-songwriter circles are the foundation and mainstay of the festival. One Nation Under A Groove featured four emerging Indigenous artists, each unique with their own style. Aysanabee, Evan Redsky, FONTINE, and Julian Taylor perfectly capped-off a day of workshops with strong songwriting and powerful voices, and they all sound great.
Sunny War is a real treasure, musically and personally. Cut from the same cloth as Tracy Chapman and Allison Russell, she sounded fantastic from the beer tent where RMC was winding down with Julian Taylor and Aysanabee. No interview or feature on Aysanabee, but he’s as lovely an individual as his music would suggest. Please Folk Fest, find a solution to the reefer truck generator, as Sunny War would have sounded even better without the internal combustion engine backing band.
Filling in for Ferrell, Boy Golden stole the show with a band of local all-stars. Great performances are difficult to critique because you’re too busy enjoying the moment; suffice to say, Boy Golden gained a much larger following with his energetic, clever, well-delivered tasty folk-pop-roots-rock. No wonder he’s a CBC Music darling!
There’s always a debate or discussion about traditional vs. modern. So for the evenings, Folk Fest has two stages, main stage for more traditional or conventional artists, and Big Bluestem, the daytime workshop stage that parties hearty after dusk. Case in point, Ukrainian group Balaklava Blues brought the noise, and the dancers and a wonderfully raucous good clean fun time. Slava Ukraini!
Sorry headliners, RMC headed back to the Fairmont Hotel to hang with Julian Taylor, where we found him jamming with Georgia Harmer, Cedric Watson, BuenRostro, and others while former Folk Fest artistic director Rick Fenton sat back and soaked it all in until he couldn’t contain himself and had to join in! Hello hazard number one – great music no matter where you are.
Carlos Pacheco and Santiago Buck of BuenNostro (Mexico) dropped in and were coaxed out of their shells with a friendly Manitoba welcome and a pint. Not only did they join in the jam, but they took the lead for the late night finale and presented friendship bracelets, the woven thread kind like the young folks sport! Of course we said we’d be at their workshop tomorrow, come hell or high water.
Four days is tough with three late nights. Fun, but tough. It’s always a struggle to make it to Bird’s Hill Park early enough on Sunday morning to get a good spot, or even a spot period, at the gospel worship. The gospel workshop has a long and storied history, from being a one-off to audience favourite, to launching the careers of artists like Ruthie Foster. Ruthie was a relative unknown in 2001 when she was booked solely for the gospel workshop. She’s been a headlining/featured artist ever since.
As mentioned, arriving just in time for the start of the first workshop on a Sunday means no hope of finding a spot at the gospel workshop, so off to see 80s/90s Canadian College radio darlings Grapes of Wrath with Leaf Rapids and Clayton from Kacey and Clayton. The delightful personality of Leaf Rapids’ Keri Latimer set a bubbly tone for a great sampling of different but complementary artists. The real treat is having each artist joined by the others, jamming to their own tunes; it turns into a delicious circle of energy, artists and audience feeding and growing off each others’ energy.
When you don’t have a set plan, listen to the people, and the people couldn’t stop talking about Leaf Rapids. So many people fell in love with the Latimers (vocalist Keri and bassist Devon). Local pride and desire to support took over, and I went off to see Leaf Rapids again. There’s no such thing as seeing Leaf Rapids too many times; it’s like they’re having you over for coffee with the conversation being their set. They make any setting or venue that intimate. It’s also encouraging to see so many Manitobans flock to local artists when they can and do, see then frequently just down the street for only a few bucks.
What began as a sincere promise turned into an even better workshop segue, from What Was Going Through My Head to Feed Your Head, as promised last night to BuenRostro.
At first blush, Feed Your Head seemed musically incompatible; Pow Wow singer Joe Rainey, powerhouse vocalist Aysanabee, neo-traditional Mexican artists BuenRostro, and DJ Shub. But DJ Shub (formerly of Tribe Called Red) can make anything into dance music with a message. He brilliantly mixed the live jam with samples and beats, involving all artists, orchestrating like an EDM Duke Ellington. Easily one of, if not, the best workshops of the festival.
Grapes of Wrath gave the Big Bluestem crowd everything a fan could want, all the singles, a few deep tracks and some newer (2013) tunes. All the 80s alt kids sang every word. Every single, and a few album tracks. Having left past acrimony behind, the trio enjoyed every note as much as the audience.
Australian singer-songwriter Vance owned main stage with a punchy energetic set of infectious pop tunes. His bright ukulele sound set the tone for a bouncy sing-a-long to all his hits.
War On Drugs took it up a notch with a rollicking good set, ending with “In Reverse,” for the first time this tour. The younger crowd hung on every word and note, as those with work on Monday fled to their beds.
As the 48th Winnipeg Folk Festival drew to close, over 25,000 basked in the afterglow, anticipating next year’s event.