The Folk Fest beginner’s playlist

Having been a newcomer to the Winnipeg Folk Festival last year, I arrived at Bird’s Hill overwhelmed and unprepared for the amount of talent I was about to be exposed to. After hours of walking around, scoping and catching bits and pieces of performances from each stage, I was really only able to settle down for one performance — maybe one and a half, tops (yes, I’m that indecisive). This year, I’d love to get the full fest experience and listen to some more. If you’re planning to check out the Fest for the first time this year and are anything like me, I’d bet that you’d want someone to alleviate you from the pains of indecision and throw their own musical preferences at you, wouldn’t you? Well, it just so happens that I have here a completely biased playlist of songs from some of the artists of this year’s lineup — I’ve even listed them by chronological order of performance! You’re welcome!
James Vincent McMorrow – “We Don’t Eat”
One of my favourites from his debut album Early in the Morning, it’s a song that reminds you that life is more than just about the material things (if you’re planning to camp throughout the whole fest, you might need this reminder). McMorrow is a rising folk artist who has been compared to the likes of Ray LaMontagne and Bon Iver — he’s even done the whole “peace out, world! I’m going to lock myself up in the middle of nowhere for a couple months and come back with a painfully beautiful album” bit. Apparently it’s a formula that works. As a festival opener, McMorrow is definitely not to be missed.

Good Old War – “That’s Some Dream”
Sometimes we need to be cheerfully informed that we’re all going to die eventually, “but that’s okay.” Allow this track from Good Old War’s 2010 self-titled album to do that for you! This Philly-based band’s sound has a bit more of a light-hearted, folk-pop feel, which isn’t bad a thing at all. And hey, if being reminded about your own mortality isn’t quite your cup of tea, give their newest album, Come Back as Rain, a listenit screams “summer fling soundtrack!”

Jimmy LaFave – “River Road”
Listening to this song makes me want to wrap myself up in a warm blanket whilst I cry over a campfire. LaFave’s music has that reflective storytelling quality, and he sings his ballads so sincerely that you can’t help (or at least I can’t) but feel compelled to say “I feel that” over and over again. With this year marking his 20th since the release of his first album Austin Skyline, LaFave is a well-seasoned musician deserving of respect.

The Head & the Heart – “Down in the Valley”

Lord, have mercy. This band is easily becoming one of my favourites. There’s something about their sound that reminds me of Dan Mangan — I can almost hear the fest crowd singing along to their music in a cult-like fashion. The band members’ clear vocals harmonize beautifully, and I’m willing to bet that hearing them perform live is going to be an even more jaw-dropping experience.

The Fretless – “Brigitte Mulholland”
I love a good string quartet. I love a good string quartet that describes themselves as a Celtic band with a twist even more. Their music is a blend of classical and folk arrangements with a jovial Irish flavour. And how often do you hear played Celtic tunes played on a cello? Cellist Eric Wright brings in this unique component to the mix and it does not disappoint. Debuting this year, The Fretless is worth checking out.

Iron & Wine – “The Trapeze Swinger”
Probably the first to pop my folk cherry, Iron & Wine’s sound has definitely evolved over the years – singer/songwriter Samuel Beam admits that his most recent album Kiss Each Other Clean was more strongly pop-influenced compared to previous albums. Still, whenever I think of folk music this song is at the front of my mind. When I listen to this meditative track, it reminds me of what I loved about the festival last year and why I’m coming back for more this year. Sitting on the grass and soaking up the sun while being surrounded by great music and great people — to me, that sounds like a perfect way to start off the summer.
The Winnipeg Folk Festival runs from July 4 to 8. For more artists and times of performance, check out the complete schedule at: