Winnipeg Folk Festival Connects & Inspires Local Artists

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Begonia at Winnipeg Folk Festival's Manitoba workshop in 2017
Al Simmons
Ben Stopfel
Dana Lee
Katie MacDonald
Kenzie Jane
Lulu and the TomCat
Mitchell Makoons
Nic Dyson
Noah Derksen
Olivia Lunny
Roger Roger
Taylor Janzen
The Secret Beach
Victoria Turko
Winnipeg Folk Festival

Manitoba’s summer festival season is underway and there's plenty of live music to soak up over at Birds Hill Park. Thousands of music fans, volunteers, and performers are ready to make it home for a weekend of music discovery at one of Manitoba’s major destination events, the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Running July 5-8, the 45th annual festival will host over 70 acts spanning the genres (and maybe creating a few new ones), including a stellar lineup of internationally-acclaimed local talent.

The local artists taking to the stages this year include indie pop act Boniface, soul pop outfit Lanikai, singer/songwriter and MC Leonard Sumner, folk rocker Micah Erenberg, and sibling folk duo Roger Roger. Music legend Al Simmons and husband and wife duo Lulu and the TomCat will grace the children’s Chickadee Bigtop stage. There will be plenty of opportunities to check out some Manitoba acts throughout the weekend, including the Manitoba workshop and the emerging artists from the Stingray Young Performers Program (July 6 at Shady Grove).

Performing on the iconic festival stage can be a big deal for many acts, especially hometown artists. For Leonard Sumner, who performed at Folk Fest in 2015, the experience is a standout.

“As someone who was born in Winnipeg, and being a current resident it feels good to have support from your home territory,” says Sumner. “I’ve been across the country a few times now and Winnipeg Folk Festival is a dream destination for so many musicians and listeners.”

Roger Roger, aka twins Madeleine and Lucas Roger, will be kicking off the Main Stage on July 5 this year after a lifetime spent in the audience and behind the Folk Fest scenes soaking up the inspiration. 

“We’ve both been attending and camping since were in the womb,” say Madeleine. “It’s had a huge impact. We can honestly say that over half of the music in our collections have been purchased over the years at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. There are always so many exceptional acts to fall in love with.”

Lanikai will also be making its Folk Fest debut this year, but for lead singer and songwriter Marti Sarbit, it’s a homecoming; she performed on the Folk Fest stage with indie/pop band Imaginary Cities in 2011.

“It’s pretty exciting that I get the chance to come back,” says Sarbit. “The first time was special because I’d been attending the festival for years having seen so many people I admired on the festival’s stages. This time feels special for a different reason. Mainly because I’ll be playing with my personal project that has taken me some time to build. I feel much more aware this time of how lucky I am to be able to play this festival.”

Many of this year’s Manitoba-based performers will join forces for the popular Manitoba artists’ workshop, which has drawn huge and appreciative crowds every years. This year’s workshop, named “At The Hundredth Meridian”, will bring Roger Roger, Sumner, and Lanikai together with Boniface and Micah Erenberg on the Burr Oak stage at 4PM on July 6, presented with Manitoba Music and Manitoba Film & Music.

Manitoba’s folk and roots community is internationally-respected and many of the artists that have made a name for themselves on the global stage – including William PrinceThe Wailin’ JennysFred PennerThe Weakerthans, Royal Canoe, Begonia, and more – have graced the Folk Fest stage. Many of them see the Winnipeg Folk Festival as a catalyst for the local music community and emerging artists.

“There is a huge benefit to seeing artists up close and personal that you are already influenced by, and discovering many pleasant surprises,” say Madeleine. “Especially in the format of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, where you might see a stage full of people who inspire you work together on the theme of a workshop. It's a really relaxed and human presentation that often makes the listener feel immersed in the show.”

Sarbit agrees. “Folk fest probably had a much bigger impact than I’ve ever been aware of,” she says. “The more I think of it, the more I realize how engrained Folk Fest has become in my life and career in music.”

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, of course, 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 BarberOh My Darling’s Vanessa Kuzina, and this year's act Roger Roger—have gone on to careers in music. 

“The Young Performers Program is really great for young artists to be able to connect with other young musicians, as well as professionals in the music industry,” says Erika Fowler, who will be returning to the Young Performers Program for the first time since her 2014 appearance. “We are able to get access to info about the industry that we wouldn't have access to normally, and what we learn in the program can be very beneficial to our music, as well as to our careers in music.”

Other locals participating in the program this year include Ben Stopfel, Mitchell Mozdzen, Victoria Turko, Katie MacDonald, Taylor Jazen, Olivia Lunny, Nic Dyson, Dana Lee, Noah Derksen, Kenzie Jane, and more.

As alumni of the Stingray Young Performers Program, Roger Roger cites the program as a milestone in their career.

“It was one of the best things we did as a new band looking to take the project to the next level,” says Madeleine. “It gave us experience playing in a festival setting on a workshop-style stage with our peers, and the chance to develop our songs and learn more about the realities of a professional music career.”

For some performers, a highlight of the festival is the opportunity to watch and connect with other musicians, both local and international.

“I’m really excited to reconnect with friends I’ve made through the (Stingray Young Performers) Program, as well as connect with new people,” says Fowler. “I’m hoping that some great friendships and possible collaborations will come from this year’s YPP.”

“I’m excited to see Archie Roach, A Tribe Called Red, Too Many Zooz, Las Cafeteras, nêhiyawak, Donovan Woods, and Sheryl Crow,” says Sumner.

“Being able to watch some of my favourite artists like Feist, Lucius, Andy Shauf, k.d. lang, and so many amazing local artists is a highlight each year,” says Sarbit. “I am always so proud of this festival that we’ve carved out in our own province.”

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