Hello Birds Hill Park: Winnipeg Folk Festival Hosts Plenty of Manitoba Talent

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Spending a couple of months on the road playing shows throughout Europe isn't a small thing. A lot of artists and bands would be quite happy to have the opportunity to wow audiences in Switzerland and play to a few thousand(s) in Trafalgar Square. But sometimes it's the stages closest to home that are the most special.

"Playing festivals overseas and throughout Canada have been really wonderful, each one has its own character and magic," writes Oh My Darling's Vanessa Kuzina from a tour stop in Europe. "Our Folk Fest means so much for so many people, the community shines, the surroundings are gorgeous, the music is always amazing, so much to inspire. I could go on and on."

Kuzina's referring, of course, to the venerable Winnipeg Folk Festival, which is arguably Manitoba's biggest musical event of the year. After playing the huge Canada Day London 2011 event in England, Oh My Darling hopped a plane and flew home just in time for the festival. The Western Canadian Music Award-nominated roots/bluegrass quartet, known equally for their traditional fiddle and banjo tunes and their original songs, will be on workshop stages throughout the weekend as well as Main Stage for a coveted tweener spot on July 7. Click here to download Oh My Darling's "Roustabout". 

The festival has inspired countless aspiring musicians for 38 years. Manitoba’s internationally-acclaimed, award-winning folk and roots music community can surely be linked to the opportunities the festival offers, to not only witness some incredible talent live but to interact with world class artists. Many of this year’s Manitoba artists have been going to the festival for years, building their own musical histories by watching (experiencing) the artists that have gone before them. 

"It's a life goal for all of us; there's no doubt that the Winnipeg Folk Festival is a big part of why we all started playing folk music," says Jesse Matas of dark roots trio The Crooked Brothers, who will also play the Manitoba workshop and a Main Stage tweener on July 6. "My mom told me the other day that she remembers me dancing to Queen Ida and The Bon Temps Zydeco band, a little two-year-old, entirely covered in mud. Sharing the stage with some internationally-recognized musicians is quite an honour for us." 

"A few years back, Emmylou Harris was closing the Main Stage with all of her magic and beauty," remembers Kuzina. "There was the most unbelievable thunder and lightning storm happening while she and her band performed. No one moved an inch away from the stage, the thunder and lightning became part of the show and nothing could beat that combo." 

Oh My Darling and The Crooked Brothers are just two of the fantastic local acts at this year's festival and the list is as diverse as Manitoba's much-ballyhooed music scene. This year's line-up also includes internationally-acclaimed soul/pop duo Imaginary Cities, recently honoured with a spot on the prestigious Polaris Music Prize long list; Juno-nominated roots/Americana team Twilight Hotel, who took the trip up from their new home in Austin, Texas; award-winning singer/songwriter Scott Nolan; legendary children's performer Fred Penner; DJs Hunnicutt and Mama Cutsworth; and children's acts Alphabet Soup, Riding Mountain National Park Troubadours, Puppet Folk, and Sand (featuring Twilight Hotel's Dave Quanbury). 

The festival celebrates our homegrown talent once again with a Manitoba-centric workshop, dubbed "So Long Bannatyne, Hello Birds Hill Park", featuring hosts Oh My Darling with Twilight Hotel, Scott Nolan, Imaginary Cities, The Crooked Brothers, and DJ Hunnicutt. Presented by Manitoba Music and Manitoba Film & Music, the workshop takes over Big Bluestem on July 10 at 1pm. 

In addition to Oh My Darling and The Crooked Brothers, three other locals will get tweener spots on Main Stage this year, including Scott Nolan on July 7, Fred Penner on July 8, and Imaginary Cities on July 9. 

The Winnipeg Folk Festival is about more than just five days in July. As one of Manitoba's largest arts organizations, it works year-round offering programming. Centred largely around its downtown venue, The Folk Exchange, the festival offers concerts and regular open mic nights as well as workshops and other training. It also offers the Folk School Tent at the site and runs the specialized training through its Folk Retreat every year. Open to emerging musicians age 14-24, the festival’s 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 Juno-nominated alum Del Barber, a Folk Fest performer last year—have gone on to careers in music. 

The huge presence that the folk festival has on the local music community isn't lost on Kuzina. 

"This is a really exciting time for Oh My Darling, there are so many acts we admire and are inspired by coming to the festival. We feel so grateful to be a part of it all this year and look forward to what the experiences ahead will bring."

Click here to see the complete Winnipeg Folk Festival schedule.

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