The highs and lows of Winnipeg Folk Festival

Getting more elaborate and more innovative each year, for many people the Winnipeg Folk Festival is an annual ritual that is not to be missed. I have affectionately compiled a list of highlights and lowlights from this year’s festival. There are aspects of the festival that can be improved upon as well things that should never change.

Highlight: Re-usable plates and compostable cups
In a society where convenience is prioritized over all other options, it is refreshing to witness idealism triumph over consumerism. For a $2 deposit, food vendors served their food orders on sturdy orange re-usable plates. When people were finished eating, they could simply return the plate to a booth that would then refund their $2, or people could keep the generic plate as a $2 Folk Fest souvenir.

A festival program said that an estimated 77, 000 paper plates were kept out of landfills this year due to this system. Compostable cups were also in use and the beer tents had specific reservoirs to put discarded cups so that they could be composted.

Lowlight: Compostable cutlery
Of course, providing meal-goers with compostable cutlery is an amazingly progressive option but there wasn’t anywhere obvious to dispose of the cutlery once it was used. Therefore, most of the compostable cutlery ended up in garbage bags that everyone knows takes years upon years to decompose in landfills. The solution? Carry your own cutlery with you.

Highlight: Finding a new favorite artist every night
I have realized that the Folk Fest musical line up consists of artists who are at the beginning of their careers and artists who are approaching the end of their careers. Musicians who are hot right now will not be seen at folk festivals. That being said, it is a fabulous opportunity to discover new music. My favorite new artists from this year’s Folk Fest are Kinnie Starr, OKA and Delhi 2 Dublin.

Lowlight: Realizing that an old fav’ doesn’t have “it” anymore
Folk festivals are notoriously ideal places to check out artists you have admired for years, and in some cases, who were making hits before you were even around. This was the case with Arrested Development, Jimmy Cliff, and Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles.
They all reminded us that their talent hasn’t waned and each likely garnered a new fan base as well. On the downside, it is disappointing to discover that an artist who you respect no longer has “it,” as was the case with the Levon Helm Band. Helm is famous for his prolific work with The Band and, now that he is in his 70s, it may be time to consider retirement. His voice wasn’t up to the task of headlining Thursday night and it was obvious to everyone.

Highlight: Guys wearing sarongs
The Folk Festival is a place where inhibitions can be let down. The relaxed atmosphere, musical inspiration and diverse crowd allows attendees to express themselves in public in ways that normally wouldn’t be socially accepted. This means seeing lots of guys wearing sarongs. I get it. Sarongs are simple, comfortable and colourful — what’s not to love about them? Plus, it’s just liberating — in more ways then one.

Lowlight: Old guys wearing improperly tied sarongs
Ummm . . . I don’t think I have to elaborate on this one except to say, “I’ve seen too much!”

Highlight: Biking to Birds Hill Park
This year, there was an organized initiative to encourage people to ride their bikes out to Folk Fest. Setting out from Elmwood School, the group left together at a pre-arranged time and their gear was brought to the site by van.

This is a very healthy and environmentally positive way to get to Folk Fest. It is also convenient as campers can then use their bikes to get around the site, see more of Birds Hill Park and get to the beach more efficiently. It was also evident from the massive bike compound that many chose to ride their bikes to the festival on their own volition.

Lowlight: Heavy police presence
Greeting traffic at the entrance of Birds Hill Park on Friday were four police cruisers stopping vehicles. This is not really what people want to encounter as they prepare to get their Folk Fest on. Yes, safety is important — Folk Fest security was renamed safety this year — but how necessary was the heavy police presence? Maybe if the officers wore sarongs with their bullet-proof vests their presence would be less intrusive. Maybe?

Highlight: Socially and environmentally conscious food
The food at the festival was amazing. As a signatory of the Manitoba Food Charter, offering local, organic and fair trade food was a major priority at the festival this year. Notables representing the Winnipeg food scene this year were Mondragon, Casa Burrito, Tall Grass Prairie, Champa Bistro, Common Ground, East India Company and Fresh Café. And backstage, where the volunteers got fed, the food reviews were astounding.

Lowlight: Poor service and whales tails
The only draw back to all that delicious food was the line ups. If you wanted to eat, you had to wait. The good thing is that people are so laid-back at Folk Fest that they didn’t mind. And most didn’t mind either when their orders got mixed up — like mine did — and it took even longer to get food. But what’s with those whale tails? A big slab of fried dough just doesn’t fit the whole Folk fest vibe — even if that slab of dough is local, organic and fair trade.

Highlight: Dancing on the grass in bare feet
I don’t know about you, but this is something I do not do often enough. At Folk Fest, I make up for it.

Lowlight: Tie-dye
I have seen enough tie-dye to last a life time. Please stop making it.

Highlight: Realizing again what a small city Winnipeg is
This city seems too small most of the time, but at Folk Fest, I like running into the most unexpected people. There are reunions, there are romances and there are people you pretend not to see. All in all, the Folk Festival reflects well on Winnipeggers who a vibrant, beautiful bunch.

Lowlight: Leaving the Folk Festival
It is like a collective mourning that hangs over the festival site as the music stops and tents are taken down. Tarps are folded up for another year and it is a long goodbye, knowing that it will be another year before the Folk Festival returns.