From Inspiration to the Stage, Winnipeg Folk Festival Nurtures New Generations of Artists

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Over at Birds Hill Park, the tents are up, the speakers are wired, and one of Manitoba's major destination events, Winnipeg Folk Festival, is ready for throngs of music fans, volunteers, and performers. Running July 6-9, the annual event offers festival-goers three days and four nights of musical discovery, including a stellar line-up of internationally-acclaimed Manitoba talent.

The list of homegrown music acts hitting festival stages features acclaimed wordsmith John K. Samson & Winter Wheat, vocal powerhouse Begonia, powerhouse folk duo The Small Glories, banjo virtuoso Leonard Podolak, folk/country artist Richard Inman, singer/songwriter Carly Dow, hip hop artist Bubba B the MC, fiddle-playing twins Double the Trouble, children's artists Seanster and the Monsters and Mr. Mark, and JUNO-winner Joey Landreth. There's sure to be plenty of chances to see local talent throughout the weekend, including the popular Manitoba artists workshop and the Stringray Young Performers Program.

Having the opportunity to get on the legendary festival stage is no small thing for many local acts. Carly Dow is making her Folk Fest debut this year, which feels like a special achievement for the emering artist.

“It feels surreal... exciting... it quite literally feels like a dream come true," says Dow. "I've participated in the festival's Young Performers Program for many years and have always had this major goal of being included in the lineup one day. It feels like a huge accomplishment to be performing this year.”

Winnipeg-raised, Toronto-based artist Joey Landreth returns to Folk Fest stages this year with his solo project, having played the festival last in 2014 with The Bros. Landreth

"It’s an absolute honour to be playing Winnipeg Folk Fest with my new project," says Landreth. "The Folk Fest for many Manitobans is ultimate live music experience and something that we are all so proud of. 'Yeah, the winters are cold. Yes, there are big mosquitoes but we have Folk Fest.' To be invited to play it is the highest accolade you could be awarded as a Manitoban musician." 

Alexa Dirks also brings a new project to the fields at Folk Fest this year, performing as Begonia. 

"I'm very excited to be playing Folk Fest this year," says Dirks. "I've played a few times with Chic Gamine in the past and it's always been an exciting thing to be a part of. It feels like a really important milestone for me to be on the Folk Fest stage as Begonia this year." 

Cara Luft, another YPP alum who has gone on the play the festival, will be kicking off this year's main stage with musical partner JD Edwards and their duo, The Small Glories. 

"We're over the moon to be playing this year. It'll be our first official time performing as The Small Glories, and to be opening the festival is one heck of an honour. JD and I have been traveling non-stop, sharing our new project with folks all around the world, and now we get to share part of this musical journey with our hometown festival. Pretty special!"  

Many of this year’s locals will come together for the popular Manitoba artists’ workshop, which has drawn huge and appreciative crowds every year. Dow and Landreth will be joined by Begonia, Richard Inman, and The Small Glories. Presented with Manitoba Music and Manitoba Film & Music, the workshop takes over Green Ash on Sunday, July 9 at 11:30AM.

Manitoba’s folk and roots community is internationally-respected and most of the artists that have made a name for themselves on the global stage – like Loreena McKennitt, Fred PennerThe Wailin’ Jennys, The Duhks, Chic Gamine, William Prince, and many more – have all graced the Folk Fest stage. Many of them see the Winnipeg Folk Festival as a catalyst for the local community and emerging artists. 

"The Winnipeg Folk Festival plays a pretty huge role in the local roots community, not only through hiring local acts for the festival, but also in having the Young Performer's Program," says Dow. "The YPP is great for inspiring and mentoring youth who are interested in pursuing a music career. The festival in general is always inspiring, in my opinion, because of the amount of amazing music one gets exposed to over the weekend - from Canada and all over the world." 

Edwards agrees: "I think the festival really inspires artists to produce amazing quality music. WFF is a world class festival and the audiences are well informed and steeped in all kinds of music. The artists they book are always incredible and fresh. I think local artists understand that and want to create the best music they can so that maybe they can perform there too." 

"Aside from giving young, up-and-coming musicians something to aspire to, it provides a unique opportunity to witness world class artists do their thing. That’s not something that cities the size of Winnipeg often get," explains Landreth.

And he knows of what he speaks. Landreth has been going to the festival since childhood, alongside his brother and bandmate David, volunteering with their father as stage hands on Main Stage when they were teenagers. Now he's playing festivals across the globe. 

Inspiring and fostering new generations of musicians is something Folk Fest works hard at all year round.  As one of Manitoba's largest arts organizations, it offers a variety of specialized programming and training, including its workshop series at the MTS Future First Musical Mentors, Folk School classes, and, of course, the Stingray Young Performers Program.

Open to emerging musicians age 14-24, the Young Performers Program offers a day of workshops and mentoring with festival performers and a chance to perform on stage during the weekend. Several participants from its Young Performers Program—including past festival performers Del BarberOh My Darling’s Vanessa Kuzina, and a couple of this year's acts The Small Glories' Cara Luft and Dow—have gone on to careers in music.

"I think Manitoba has a reputation for having a strong folk/roots community because it has one of the best folk/roots communities around," muses Landreth. "It’s diverse, runs rampant with great story tellers and is loved and cherished by the scene at large. It’s the perfect incubator for the folk/roots tradition to flourish." 

Getting a chance to hear and connect with other performers is a big part of what makes the Folk Fest experience so special, and so inspiring.

"I am very excited to do a workshop with the band Big Thief," says Dirks. "I got into their album Masterpiece in the last six months and it truly moved me. If they play 'Paul' when we share the stage I will probably be reduced to a blubbering idiot. Also very excited to do a workshop with Charli 2na! I feel very lucky!"

"Some of my favourite Winnipeg Folk Festival memories are from the first year I ever attended the festival," remembers Dow. "I was 15 years old and had been accepted into the YPP for the first time. Playing on the Shady Grove stage as part of the festival was a huge moment for me... I knew then that this was something I wanted to continue doing, and that someday I would be back at the festival as part of the official lineup."

"Winnipeg is the hometown festival and so will always have a special place in my heart," says Luft. "It is also the festival that has given me unforgettable opportunities in boosting my career, starting with taking part in the Young Performer's Program and then being hired to perform the following year.  So yes there are lots of other incredible festivals all over the world, but how lucky we are to have such a world-class festival in our own backyard."

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Festivals Winnipeg Folk Festival MB Live John K. Samson John K. Samson & Winter Wheat Begonia Bubba B the MC The Small Glories Richard Inman Carly Dow Seanster and the Monsters Mr. Mark Joey Landreth Double the Trouble Leonard Podolak

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