The tents are up, the mics are out, and the Year of Music celebration continues with one of Manitoba's major destination events, the venerable Winnipeg Folk Festival. Running July 9-13 at Birds Hill Park, the 41st annual event offers audiences three days and five nights of musical discovery, including a stellar line-up of internationally-acclaimed Manitoba talent.
The list of homegrown music acts hitting festival stages features emerging alt-country act The Bros. Landreth, acclaimed singer/songwriters JP Hoe, Cara Luft, and Ruth Moody, soul/pop darlings Chic Gamine, 2014 JUNO nominees Little Miss Higgins & The Winnipeg Five, and roots trio Sweet Alibi. The always-strong local children's acts include another 2014 JUNO nominee, Marie-Claude, plus favouries Aaron Burnett and Mr. Mark.
Having the opportunity to get on the legendary festival stage is no small thing for many local acts.
"We are so excited to be a part of our hometown festival," says Amber Quesnel of Sweet Alibi, which makes its Folk Fest debut this year. The trio first album, We've Got To, recently earned a Western Canadian Music Award nod for Roots Duo/Group Recording of the Year. "We have been attending the festival for years and have been so inspired by all the great artists we have seen there! So happy and honoured to be a part of it now."
"It's quite literally a dream come true. No exaggeration at all," says The Bros. Landreth's David Landreth, who will open the festival Wednesday on Main Stage."When Joey and I started this band we set down and made a 'maybe some day, but who are we kidding' kind of checklist. One of the points on that list was playing the Winnipeg Folk Festival."
Landreth, along with brother Joey, has been going to the festival since childhood, volunteering with their father as stage hands on Main Stage when they were teenagers. And while the brothers have played the fest backing up the likes of Imaginary Cities, Del Barber, and Oh My Darling, this will be the first time with their own band; a band that has been generating buzz since the 2013 release of its WCMA-nominated debut, Let It Lie, including a recent deal with U.S. label Slate Creek Records.
"The whole experience is markedly unique when it's your songs that are being sung," he says. "It's going to be a hoot and we're all beside ourselves to be opening the fest and sharing the stage with Amy Helm and Bonnie Raitt!"
Chic Gamine is also slated for the Main Stage on Thursday, along with shorter Main Stage sets from Cara Luft (Thursday), JP Hoe (Friday), and Sweet Alibi (Sunday). Luft will also be part of Sunday's famed finale.
There are plenty of chances to see local talent on workshop stages throughout the weekend, including the always popular Manitoba artists workshop that draws a crowd that numbers in the thousands every year. Friday's "Moody Manitoba Morning" workshop at Big Bluestem, named after Boissevain singer/songwriter Rick Neufeld's hit from the late '60s, features Chic Gamine, JP Hoe, Sweet Alibi, The Bros. Landreth, and (naturally) Ruth Moody. Check out the daytime stages schedule
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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 runs the specialized training through its Folk Music Camp 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. Participants this year include Blue Rubies, Rhia Rae, Sc Mira, Until Red, Young Folk, Adam Hanney, Cassidy Mann, Ila Barker, Ryan Van Belleghem, and many more. Several participants from its Young Performers Program—including 2014 festival performer Cara Luft—have gone on to careers in music.
"Way back during my first time at the festival (2001 I think) I was in a workshop with Toshi Reagon and her band Big Lovely," remembers Luft. "I was pretty young, a bit nervous, and they were so welcoming to me. They kept saying I was a rock star, and yelling stuff like 'you go, girlfriend! You rock!' It was so funny, and actually really sweet. They kept at it off stage whenever I'd see them around the site, they'd give me hugs and tell me I was welcome to come visit them in NYC. Truly made me feel part of the greater music community."
This year's participants will take over Shady Grove on Friday for a day of performances. Check out the YPP schedule
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For many Manitoba artists, there's something special about the local community, due in no small part to having a world class festival in your own backyard. No matter the genre, many local artists have spent time in the grass in front of a workshop, strumming a fireside guitar in the campground, and witnessing the incredible wealth of talent on stage.
"We feel so much love from our fellow artists at home," says Quesnel. "We often find time to meet each other on the road which always helps make us feel more at home wherever we are."
"I've never seen a community of musicians like it anywhere else in the world," says Landreth. "Not Nashville, not New york, not Toronto, not anywhere. The community on a whole is so encouraging and supportive. Among artists there is a strong sense of collaboration. It's a really special thing to be a Manitoba musician. When we're out travelling it's something that most Canadian artists comment on. How many times have we heard: 'Oh, you're from Manitoba?... Must be nice!' and it really is. It's the best."