Many of us have dreamed about it while sitting out on our tarps at Birds Hill Park, the sun setting behind the tents, the gentle aroma of Whales Tails wafting through the crowd. We’ve looked up at the stage and imagined ourselves underneath the lights, in front of the microphone, looking out on thousands of eager audience members.
The Winnipeg Folk Festival has inspired countless people to take up an instrument, practice hard, and start creating. For some, it’s a lifelong passion. And for a few, the dream turns into reality.
“When I first moved to Winnipeg and attended the festival in 1993, I was just learning guitar, could play maybe three songs, and was totally swept away by the hugeness of the festival and the caliber of talent. I yearned to be a part of it,” says Keri Latimer, of roots quartet Nathan, who became a volunteer after her first Folk Fest visit.
In the years since, Latimer has distinguished herself as one of Manitoba’s top singer/songwriters, first playing Folk Fest in 1997 with indie folk/pop trio Special Fancy. Latimer’s band Nathan – which also features Shelley Marshall on banjo, accordion, guitar, and vocals, Latimer’s husband Devin Latimer on bass, and Damon Mitchell on drums -- has won numerous awards and accolades, including a Juno nod, since stepping on the scene seven years ago. The band just released its third album, Key Principles on Nettwerk Records -- the home to festival alums like Sarah McLachlan and Erin McKeown – and is gearing up for a busy summer tour season including several Canadian folk festivals.
“In 2005, when Nathan played the Main Stage, it surpassed any wild guesses I might have stabbed about where our ramshackle band might land itself. It was very moving,” explains Latimer, who will perform a short set with Nathan on Main Stage on Friday night between the African Guitar Summit and Kiran Ahluwalia.
Twanged up roots singer/songwriter Romi Mayes and her band The Temporarily Employed is also part of this year’s line-up. And like Latimer, she discovered her music ambitions through Folk Fest.
“When I was a young teenager I used to get out to Folk Fest with my pals and party my ass off in the campground,” reminisces Mayes, who’ll take to Main Stage for a short set between Indigo Girls and Corb Lund. “We'd have late night jams and I remember trying to keep up, strumming the guitar with my thumb, mostly playing a G-chord and faking that I knew what anyone was doing.”
Mayes has come a long way from those campground days. She recently released her second full-length album, Sweet Somethin’ Steady, helmed by Texas producer Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier), and has been touring madly through North America, sharing the stage with big names like Camper Van Beethoven, Iris Dement, and Ricky Skaggs.
For Joel Klaverkamp of popular funk act The Hummers, playing Folk Fest is a definite career highlight: “Playing the Winnipeg Folk Festival is realizing a 15 year old dream. It is no understatement to say it is a major lifetime achievement for me. The people and the music I've experienced there have had such a profound affect on my life that I feel the need to participate in it at a performer level.”
Klaverkamp, who claims to have quit jobs in order to volunteer at the festival over the past 17 years, isn’t fazed by the idea that his band’s music isn’t exactly folk. He points out that Folk Fest has a history of presenting genre-defying music and pushing the boundaries of what is traditionally called “folky.” The Firefly Palace, which hosts everything from rock to experimental video pieces, is a welcome outlet that perfectly expands the definition of Folk Fest and appeals to a new generation of audiences. The Hummers will take over the tent for the Sunday night, along with Toronto chamber pop act Final Fantasy.
Of course, The Hummers, Mayes, and Nathan aren’t the only local on the bill this year. For music-hungry fans, the festival is a natural place to connect with Manitoba music. This year’s schedule boasts over a dozen local acts, including a coveted Thursday night Main Stage spot for internationally acclaimed, Grammy-nominated act The Duhks.
Joining them are energetic country/folk outfit Johnny Cajun, bluesman Brent Parkin, and singer/songwriters Lindsay Jane and Ted Longbottom. Several of Manitoba’s top childrens’ performers, including Juno-winner Fred Penner, bluegrass artist Aaron Burnett, youngsters The Magic of Jen & Zac, and Puppet Folks, round out the bill.
Folk Fest is one of the strongest supporters of homegrown talent, not only booking the bands but helping them to develop before they ever step on the stage. Through initiatives like the Folk School, Folk Retreat, and the Young Performers’ Program in particular, Folk Fest has fostered a community of burgeoning talent.
But perhaps more than anything else, it’s simply the Folk Fest experience that inspires people to pursue music, if Mayes and Latimer are any indication.
“It's pretty wild to look at the way things have unfolded since then... from teenage campground strumming to Main Stage this year,” Mayes says. “What a ride.”
Article reprinted with permission from www.winnipegfolkfestival.ca.
Click on The Loudspeaker below to download a free mp3 of The Duhks' "Down to the River" off its Juno-nominated album Migrations from Sugar Hill Records.