Manitoba’s summer season of festivals is officially underway. Over at Birds Hill Park, the tents are up, the speakers are wired, and one of Manitoba's major destination events, Winnipeg Folk Festival, is ready for throngs of music fans, volunteers, and performers. Running July 7-10, the annual event offers festival-goers three days and four nights of musical discovery, including a stellar line-up of internationally-acclaimed Manitoba talent.
The list of homegrown music acts hitting festival stages features roots trio Red Moon Road, dark folk act The Crooked Brothers, the deep baritone of singer/songwriter William Prince, roots troubadour Matt Epp, folk duo Dan Frechette & Laurel Thomsen, and children's acts Jake Chénier Band and Sand Skyscraper. See the complete line-up
Having the opportunity to get on the legendary festival stage is no small thing for many local acts. Red Moon Road is making its Folk Fest debut this year and for band member Daniel Jordan, it feels like a bit of a homecoming.
“After years of playing festivals across Canada it's exciting to bring what we've learned and developed in that time to the first festival we ever went to,” says Jordan. "We have a whole new level of appreciation for the Winnipeg Folk Festival after playing those other festivals and realizing how many of them were heavily influenced by the Winnipeg Folk Festival in so many ways. Personally, I am always a little more nervous to play to a local audience but I also can't wait to be on stage with some of the acts we get to play with this year, both local and from away. The whole thing really is an honour and we've been looking forward to it for a long time.”
For singer/songwriter William Prince, a double nominee at this year’s Western Canadian Music Awards who is also making his first Folk Fest appearance this year, playing the venerable music institution is pretty big deal, on both an emotional and a career level.
“Playing Folk Fest is incredibly uplifting and validating. A gasp of excitement and a sigh of relief at the same,” says Prince. “It's been a challenging ascent and to be recognized amongst some of the most talented, hardworking musicians, both globally and locally, is truly a dream for me. It feels like my first degree in music. The big one. I used to stare at the posters every year and dream of ways to get on it."
The Crooked Brothers' Jesse Matas has a lifetime of Folk Fest memories, from being a kid in the audience to being a volunteer to being a performer. The trio will kick off Main Stage this year on July 7.
"Winnipeg Folk Festival is one of more influential places I was raised," says Matas. "When I was just a baby, in the early '80s, my mom says she remembers me caked in mud, dancing to Queen Ida and the Zydeco Band. Since then it has been a place of community for me. All members of the band have volunteered many years at the festival and I participated in the young performer's program when I was 17. The festival is just about the best example of so many people, camping and gathering in a rural area, with relatively little environmental impact. Kicking off main stage, the same stage that has blown my world wide open innumerable times, is one of the biggest thrills I can imagine. I'm looking forward to Thursday."
Many of this year’s locals will come together for the popular Manitoba artists’ workshop, which has drawn huge and appreciative crowds every year. Red Moon Road, Prince, and The Crooked Brothers will be joined by Matt Epp, and Dan Frechette & Laurel Thomsen. Presented with Manitoba Music and Manitoba Film & Music, the workshop takes over Big Bluestem on Sunday, July 10 at 4:30PM.
Manitoba’s folk and roots community is internationally-respected and most of the artists that have made a name for themselves on the global stage – like Loreena McKennitt, Fred Penner, The Wailin’ Jennys, The Duhks, Chic Gamine, and many more – have all graced the Folk Fest stage. Many of them see the Winnipeg Folk Festival as a catalyst for the local community and emerging artists. Jordan agrees.
“I think, in part, it has to do with the legacy of the WFF,” he explains. “Young Manitobans grow up going to the WFF, seeing world-class talent and then playing around the campfire afterwards. Then when they decide to enter the professional scene themselves, they get the added benefits of: 1) a highly supportive music community 2) a community that is literally full of homegrown but world-class talent which inevitably sets the bar really high, which is helpful, because it means before you even leave home, you've come a long way to being one of those top-notch artists yourself.”
“We're a family here. The bigger the family, the brighter our community shines,” adds Prince, who cites past Folk Fest performers Scott Nolan and Sweet Alibi, as well as Red Moon Road and recent WFF co-presented Open Mic Night host Richard Inman as some of the local talents who “who strengthen our reputation through diligent touring and quality writing”.
Inspiring and fostering new generations of musicians is something Folk Fest works hard at all year round. As one of Manitoba's largest arts organizations, it offers a variety of specialized programming and training, including its workshop series at the MTS Future First Musical Mentors, Folk School classes, and the Stingray Young Performers Program.
Open to emerging musicians age 14-24, the 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 past festival performers Del Barber, Cara Luft, and Oh My Darling’s Vanessa Kuzina—have gone on to careers in music.
Getting a chance to hear and connect with other performers is a big part of what makes the Folk Fest experience so special, and so inspiring.
“I can't wait to see Lord Huron,” says Prince. “I've been a fan for some time now. I'm playing after Ryan Adams on the Main Stage Friday night. He means a lot to a friend of mine and I respect his grind and authenticity. I'm excited to see more locals. What a great way to check out homegrown talent through the little stages, workshops, and tweeners. It's going to be a blast.”