The snow sculptures are taking shape on prominent street corners; the low-lying signature tuque et botte carvings dot boulevards down Provencher. In two days’ time, those unmistakable ceinture fléchées and festive, burly beards will abound.
“I love the idea that in 1969, a couple people got together and they were like, ‘it’s really cold in the middle of winter, let’s throw a party,’” remarks Festival du Voyageur (FdV) artistic producer Julien Desaulniers.
Forty-five years on, the FdV is bigger than ever. “It’s fun that Winnipeggers are embracing winter, coming together [ . . . ] that anglophones are open to checking out music they may not fully understand.”
Now in his second year with the FdV, Desaulniers’ taste in music and experience in the local music scene (former lead singer of Les Voyous) shines through. This year’s FdV is being billed as a music festival first and foremost, with upwards of 100 local music makers slated to play—more than any past year, more than any other local music festival—which is something Desaulniers says is unprecedented.
“I had a lot of support from the team [in my first year with the FdV], which was nice. But this year, I sort of have the full-fledged licence and a little more freedom to choose the bands I want, and go in the direction I want to go.”
It will be the second year strumming and shaking up the FdV stages for The Noble Thiefs (TNT). “Playing at Festival last year was a great experience for us. The French community in Winnipeg as a whole has been very important for us since our start four years ago,” says TNT frontman Myron Dean.
“For the Winnipeg scene, having Festival is incredibly important. The unique backdrop, considering that it is in the winter, coupled with the rich French heritage, makes Festival something that we are proud to be a part of. Not to mention, since there are a lot of French music lovers who go to festival, this is a great show to showcase who TNT is and what we are about.”
The frenetic foursome plays at 10:45 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16 at La Prairie Tent.
For fiddling phenom Sierra Noble, the FdV is her “favourite festival on the globe.”
“Festival has been a part of my whole life; it has a huge place in my heart,” Noble tells the Manitoban. “I first played fiddle at Festival when I was eight years old with The 40 Fiddling Fanatics. I was 12 when they gave me my first solo show [ . . . ] Oddly enough, whenever I miss a year, somehow everywhere I go I smell the woodchip floors, and heat-blowers, and cold, crisp air… it’s like the spirit of Festival is rubbing [my absence] in my face!”
At only 23 years old, this will be Noble’s 16th year playing the festival. Treat your valentine to a night out with Noble on Feb. 14 at 9:00 p.m., as she plays the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain (340 Provencher).
Pea soup for the bearded soul
Pea soup was considered a dietery staple of the voyageur. In its third year, the FdV pea soup competition will take place on the final afternoon of FdV at 1 p.m.
“We get together a bunch of restaurants from across the city, mostly from St. Boniface, and we have them make their version of a pea soup: some go traditional, some go a little out of the box,” says Desaulniers. There is a people’s choice category, too, wherein patrons pay for a taste of 10 choice pea soup selections, and even a “top chef” category with a panel of celebrity judges, including: Bartley Kives (Winnipeg Free Press), Mike Green (Masterchef Canada), Dunja Kovacevic (Ciao!), and Eric Plamondon (La Maison Des Artistes).
All told, 10 local eateries will go toe-to-toe, including Le Garage Café, Shawarma Kahn, Purple Hibiscus, and more. Once you finish slurping down all of that inventive pea soup, why not take in some of the weird and woolly facial hair action in the 32nd annual beard-growing contest.
“We have more people than ever participating [in the beard-growing competition],” notes Desaulniers. Contestants in the “Clean Shaven” category received a shave in early December at Le Garage; the most impressive two-month growth will win.
The “Wild and Woolly” category invites seasoned beardsmen to showcase their years-old flow, and this year, a category for the folliclly challenged: “In order to make it a little more inclusive, we’ve created a category for women with the ‘Open Category.’ Anyone who can’t grow a beard can build one and enter for a chance to win.”
Festival du Voyageur takes place from Feb. 14-23 in St. Boniface.