Winnipeg Folk Festival Inspires New Generations of Artists

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Boniface at the 2018 Manitoba workshop at Winnipeg Folk Festival (Photo: BNB Studios)
Living Hour
Seanster and the Monsters
Taylor Janzen
Winnipeg Folk Festival

Manitoba’s beloved summer festival season is in full swing and the Winnipeg Folk Festival and its thousands of fans and volunteers are ready for four days of live music in the great outdoors. Running July 11-14, the staple boasts artists from across Canada and the globe, and, as always, local performers have a strong presence.

The 46th annual festival provides a weekend of entertainment, but also inspiration. The workshops and concerts at beautiful Birds Hill Provincial Park are gathering place for music fans, but also a catalyst for future musicians. Fostering new generations of artists and supporting up-and-coming young talent is something Folk Fest takes seriously, exemplified through the Stingray Young Performers Program (YPP), which celebrates two decades this year. 

The list of homegrown music acts hitting festival stages features JUNO-winner William Prince, indie pop powerhouse Begonia, avant-folk artist Christine Fellows, dreamy shoegazers Living Hour, roots act Jesse Matas, singer/songwriter Taylor Janzen, soulful singer Roman Clarke, and children's act Seanster and the Monsters. There will be plenty of opportunities to check out some Manitoba acts throughout the weekend, including the Manitoba workshop (July 13 at Green Ash) and the emerging artists from YPP (July 12 at Shady Grove). Check out which Manitoba acts are playing where and when at this year's festival

Our Folk Fest has been a blueprint for music festivals across Canada and the U.S. and beyond, from the way it creates workshops to its volunteer structure. Performing on the venerable festival stage can be a major moment for many acts, especially hometown artists. For Janzen, a YPP alum a who kicks off main stage on July 11, the experience is a standout.

“Getting the opportunity to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival means so much to me,” says Janzen. “I've always wanted to be a part of the lineup ever since I started playing music. To be able to kick off the main stage is so exciting. And very scary. But mostly exciting.”

Sam Sarty of Living Hour, who will be hitting the Big Blue @ Night stage on July 12, recognizes impact of the festival on local music communities but also the importance of the land itself.

“It’s a large festival that’s helped put Winnipeg on the map as a spot to come and spend time, perform, and cherish. The site is massive, and on Treaty One territory. It’s important to respect and remember the land that we perform on and not forget that while visiting,” says Sarty. “Winnipeg’s art and music scene is thriving and we are constantly challenging ourselves, supporting one another, and fostering community and care. The festival has the capability and resources to showcase these local talents further to festival goers. The festival being so big attracts larger world renowned acts that otherwise wouldn’t come to Winnipeg. It’s a celebration of growth and expression and I’m happy to be a part of it respectfully on the land.”

Seanster and the Monsters will return to the Chickadee Big Top this year to share its brand of “kindie” (kid + indie) music. The award-winning quintet is part of a long line of artists creating and sharing innovative music for the little ones and building new generations of festival-goers in the process.

“Manitoba always punches above its weight, musically speaking. Kindie Music is no exception,” says Seanster himself, Sean Hogan. “We have such a strong group of people making amazing music that is renowned around the world. Having a signature event like Folk Fest dedicate as much energy as they do to children makes a huge difference in the development of the industry. It helps us hone our craft, meet other kindie folks from far and wide, and helps us pay the bills! I often say that the success of the festival is, at least in part, due to the dedication to making it a family event.”

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 “So Long Bannatyne, Hello Birds Hill Park”, will bring Janzen and Living Hour together with Boniface and Fellows, Matas, and Clarke on the Green Ash stage at 11:30AM on July 13, 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 Prince, The Wailin’ Jennys, Fred Penner, The Weakerthans, Leonard Sumner, Royal Canoe, The Small Glories, 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.

Inspiring and encouraging emerging 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 year-round workshop series In the City, Folk School classes, Folk for Families, and, of course, YPP.

Open to emerging musicians age 14-24, YPP 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, Oh My Darling’s Vanessa Kuzina, last year's main stage opener Roger Roger, and this year's main stage opener, Janzen, who has had nods from music media behemoth Rolling Stone and a coveted SXSW showcase spot this year—have gone on to careers in music.

“I think it's important because it gives young artists a safe space to gather and connect and just play music together. The connections I made helped me get a lot of my first shows in Winnipeg and helped me feel more at home in the local scene,” she says, noting that she’s stayed connected with many people she met through YPP, including two of her current band members.

Janzen’s advice for folks taking their first songwriting steps: “There is nothing better than total honesty. People connect with you when you're honest in your writing. Even when it's completely terrifying.”

Other locals participating in the program this year include Cole Shway, Erika Fowler, Heidi Wright, Jamboree, Kira GregorySophie Stevens, Tuva Bergstrom, Victoria Turko, and more. As YPP celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year, catch past participants Roman Clarke, Jesse Matas and more commemorating 20 years of the Stingray Young Performers Program at 11AM at Shady Grove on July 14. Check out Kira Gregory's Song of the Week

In addition to sharing their music and connecting with audiences, many performers find an important highlight of the festival is the opportunity to connect with fellow performers and soak up some more inspiration.

“Definitely performing, wearing closed toed shoes (a newfound summer revelation), sitting on a blanket, seeing Death Cab For Cutie, Mdou Moctar, Cass McCombs, Snail Mail, Car Seat Headrest, maybe finding a spot to swim, feeling the sun on my skin, connecting with people and letting my phone die; I might even try to set up a hammock I’m borrowing,” says Sarty.

“I'm so excited to see Julia Jacklin. Her new record is incredible and has been so inspiring to me,” says Janzen.

“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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