The tents are up, the banjos are tuned, and it’s time to soak up live music in the great outdoors as the Winnipeg Folk Festival makes its triumphant return to Birds Hill Park, July 7-10.
Boasting a genre-smashing lineup of artists from across the globe and plenty of marquee names, this year’s fest also spotlights the local music community’s deep roots, featuring over two dozen Manitoba-based performers.
Nurturing those roots is at the heart of Folk Fest, and the STINGRAY Young Performers Program has been a big part of that vision. Hosting upwards of 30 young musicians aged 14-24 for day-long creative mentorship with festival performers, YPP has been a jumping-off point for countless local artists, including alum Jessica Ayre from roots-pop outfit Sweet Alibi, who have a coveted spot on Main Stage opening night.
"Just connecting with other artists and mentors is so valuable,” says Ayre. “You get better when you surround yourself with people that you look up to and that are more experienced. Some of the most valuable advice that we've gotten is from people that are already doing it.”
This year’s crop of YPPers will share their music and collaborations at the Shady Grove stage all day on July 8, including up-and-coming musicians Alèxa Marinelli, Cec Lopez, Cohen Sieg, Emily Arsenault, Ethan Lyric, Gillian Hayek, Jace Bodner, Jenn Machado, Lev Snowe, Mitchell Makoons, Sam Singer, Sophie Stevens, STELLAR, and Tuva Bergstrom. Check out Ethan Lyric's Song of the Week
Volunteering has also been a core community-building part of the festival during its 50+ years, with many local artists making a start behind the scenes before making their way onto stages. First-time festival performer Jeremy Haywood-Smith, aka indie-alternative project JayWood, has volunteered in earlier years, offering a unique perspective and the confidence to turn up the volume.
"What Folk Fest has that maybe some other festivals don't have is a built-in crowd and some roar,” says Haywood-Smith. “I hear a lot of people say that they have a Folk Fest group that knows exactly what to do. Our set is at 1:15PM on Friday and at first we thought of playing a quiet set to fill up the time and to ease people in, but we decided to play a very loud and energetic set instead.”
Honouring icons from the workshop stage is a long-held Folk Fest tradition, with performers sharing their special takes on well-known tunes. This year, Manitoba-based artists will nod to a one-time Winnipegger at Neil Young's Harvest 50th Anniversary Celebration.
"We have an all-local lineup on stage and the band will be backing up all of them,” says workshop host Liam Duncan, aka country outlier Boy Golden, who also plays Big Blue @ Night on July 8. “It’s been a lot of fun learning the tracks and some of those tunes on Harvest still feel so relevant right now, especially ‘Alabama’, so I'm excited for that.”
Other homegrown acts on stages throughout the weekend include Americana troubadour Bobby Dove, singer/songwriter Del Barber (who does double duty as a YPP mentor), indie pop artist FONTINE, children’s entertainer James Culleton, family folk Jessee Havey & the Banana Band, singer/songwriter Leith Ross, Francophone family artists Madame Diva et Micah, folk/country baritone Richard Inman, multi-instrumentalist R&B singer/songwriter Sebastian Gaskin, bluegrass band The Stanley County Cut-ups, Hoop dancer Shanley Spence, laid back crooner Slow Leaves, Ukrainian-descent folk-punk group ZRADA, plus expat Allison de Groot (performing with Tatiana Hargreaves).
The festival will also pay tribute to its legendary founder Mitch Podolak with Mitch's Sunday Feast on July 10 hosted by Mitch’s son Leonard Podolak along with Al Simmons, Allison De Groot, Andrina Turenne, Daniel Koulak, The Duhks, Fred Casey, Hugo Torres, Kate Ferris, Nathan Rogers, Nicky Mehta, Rodrigo Munoz, Scott Nolan, and Tim Osmond and Jeremy Penner.
The artists are excited to feel the energy coming from the audience and fellow performers, who have been eagerly waiting to return to Folk Fest’s storied fields.
"People have been waiting a long time for this and it’s just going to be a special energy to be around," Ayre says.
"What I am most excited about Folk Fest this year is how many of my friends and community are playing,” says Duncan. “Literally, it seems like all me friends are going for the first time in years.