Folk Fest, putting the Work in workshop

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It was another whirlwind weekend of fantastic music, running into all sorts of friends and acquaintances, and drinking beers out doors. The Winnipeg Folk Festival is always over too quick and after losing Saturday this year to the crappiest weather in Winnipeg July history, the end of the day Sunday felt like it came even quicker. Maybe not so for the staff and stage crews who had to deal with all that.

For me and many music nerds like me, the workshop stages are the true heart of the festival and hold the key to what we call festival magic. Of course, these are called Daytime Stages now and feature a mix of straight up concerts, and themed multiple-act performances. But we still call them workshops. Even in the early days, these were rarely workshops in the teaching and learning sense. But the "workshop" label allows artists to talk freely about their music, and enjoy a certain casualness.

This year, I saw some fantastic music on the workshop stages, and it seemed to be the indie rock acts that took the collaborative possibilities of the workshop setting to it's furthest extreme. Maybe it's because these acts have done fewer folk festivals and have a romantic idea of the festival workshop that they were so willing to shout "everybody join in on this one, key of E."

Calexico was masterful in every workshop that I saw and the addition of harmonized trumpet in the choruses of The Weakerthans songs was almost too joyful to handle. The Acorn and Apostle of Hustle also joined Calexico on stage in a similarily fantastic workshop. It was so apparent that all of these acts are fans of one another and the camaraderie and good will provided the needed foundation that the best festival workshops are built on.

This only broke down when the eagerness of the musicians outpaced their ability to quickly pick up and perform a song that they didn't know. Hayden stopped one his songs after the second chorus when the mess of wrong chords being played on stage got to be too much for him to handle. He got picked on a bit for this, but I thought "good for him," sure workshops are about collaboration, but not at the cost of the music being bad. Strangely, it was those who were having the most trouble who were the most eager to jump back in.

The highlight of the indie rock workshops, for me, was on the "I Hate Tucson" workshop (nobody does), when Calexico front man Joey Burns picked up a lyric sheet from in front of The Weakerthans' John K Sampson, and began singing a made-up melody to their collaborative made-up finale song. The crowd quickly caught on, this was a workshoped and truly new version of "I Hate Winnipeg."

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