Right In Our Backyard

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“I have performed at many festivals throughout Canada, the U.S. and Europe and I can say, I've never come across a festival like the Winnipeg Folk Festival,” says singer Andrina Turenne.

Turenne should know. With her last group, the acclaimed a cappella world music outfit Madrigaïa, she’s performed at a lot of festivals. Between Madrigaïa, funk act Rudimental and a gospel duo with The Duhks’ singer Sarah Dugas, Turenne has also played Folk Fest five times in the last eight years. This year, she comes to Birds Hill with a new band – soulful and percussive vocal ensemble Chic Gamine.

Chic Gamine formed a year ago with fellow former-Madrigaïans (the group disbanded last year) Ariane Jean and Annick Brémault, along with Alexa Dirks and Sacha Daoud. And while the band definitely shares the otherworldly vocal harmonies and world music influences of Madrigaïa, it’s an entirely new musical entity. The quintet’s debut self-titled album, released in June, is completely original material with sparse instrumentation, relying on the four vocalists’ incredible talents as well as Daoud’s inventive percussion.

And they’ll fit right in this year’s stellar festival line-up.

“It's so exciting to be a part of the amazing roster of artists and musicians,” says Turenne. “I've been looking back at all the artists that have graced the stage over the last 35 years and I just can't believe the talent. It's a testament to the power of music here in Manitoba.”

Chic Gamine is just one of several of homegrown acts taking the stage at this year’s festival. Joining them are some of this province’s most innovative talent, both emerging and established. Familiar names like singer/songwriter Cara Luft, internationally-acclaimed rock poets The Weakerthans, and childrens’ acts LuLu and The TomCat, Just Kiddin’ and Al Simmons return in 2008. Newcomers include folky jazz singer/songwriter Ann Walton, energetic folk duo Jacob and Lily, acoustic pop/rock troubadour J.P. Hoe, atmospheric electro group Absent Sound, ghettotech outfit Grand Analog, children’s act The Aunts and Uncles and environmentally educational theatre group Green Kids.

Karla Adolphe, the singer/songwriter/guitarist half of Jacob and Lily, is thrilled to be celebrating the festival’s 35th birthday. She’s also an enthusiastic alumna of the festival’s Young Performers Program, which offers workshops and mentoring for emerging artists with professional musicians, and she credits the program with starting her music career in earnest.

“The Winnipeg Folk Festival is the mother ship of all festival experiences,” says Adolphe. “We have enjoyed playing many different sizes and styles of festival, but the Winnipeg Folk Festival is the most comprehensive music experience we have been a part of. We are honoured and feel very lucky to be a part of such a special year.”

“It means a tremendous amount. This is it,” agrees Hoe, who has spent much of the last year recording his upcoming album The Dear John Letters, as well doing some arena stops opening for Canadian superstar Jann Arden. “Premiere venue, first class audience, and a chance to perform next to acts I truly respect. Just the atmosphere and positive energy [makes the festival] such a refreshing place to be.”
But what makes the Winnipeg Folk Festival experience so distinctive? According to the performers, it’s community.

“The volunteers all make up an incredible community that has a great vibe. The hospitality is incredible. You are one of the family,” says three-time festival performer Tom Neufeld, of award-winning LuLu and The TomCat, part of Manitoba’s strong tradition of kids’ performers.

Adolphe agrees: “We love how accessible the artists are and how much of a community emphasis is placed on being involved at the festival, as a volunteer, performer or audience member you just can’t help but be impacted and involved when you are there.”

The festival continues to foster homegrown talent, as it has done for its 35-year history. The festival experience itself inspires legions of aspiring new artists, and through its initiatives – like the Young Performers’ Program – it helps to develop a growing community of promising talent.

Many of this year’s Manitoba artists have been going to the festival for years, building their own musical histories by experiencing the artists that have gone before them. Veteran artists also have indelible memories from their moments on the Winnipeg Folk Festival stages.

“My favorite memory of performing is the tweener Rudimental did on the Mainstage in 2001,” reminisces Turenne. “The last yellow and orange tones of the sky were fading into the dark blue on the horizon. Moths were flying into our faces as we were singing, but it didn't matter because the moment felt so big for us. I remember the hush of the crowd as we started singing Joni Mitchell's ‘Blue.’ I knew then that I would chase that feeling for the rest of my life.”

Go to The Loudspeaker to download a free mp3 of Chic Gamine's "I Don't Lie" until July 17!

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