Looking back at Folk Fest

Reminiscing about the sounds, the events and the meaning

The annual Winnipeg Folk Fest (WFF) celebrated its 45th year with over 70 bands gracing the nine stages nestled in Birds Hill Provincial Park.

Jam-packed lineups had musicians playing daytime stages starting at 11 a.m. until the main and Big Blue stages kicked off evening programs that continued into the night.

Elle King, Sheryl Crow and Courtney Barnett led a growing shift in WFF’s gender parity programming, with near equal numbers of women and men performing this year. Strong female performers were showcased in themed workshop “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves,” which featured artists Jadea Kelly, Gaelynn Lea, Mo Kenney and Lanikai.

Thursday night saw local folk duo Roger Roger kick off the festival. Aussie rocker John Butler Trio+ and pop singer Elle King headlined a tuneful first night of music at the main stage.

The Big Bluestem stage’s program opened, Friday evening, with performances from Boniface, Real Estate and Rhye. Festivalgoers had to make tough choices that night as the main stage saw another busy night, with the Strumbellas and Courtney Barnett headlining the evening.

The hottest day of the festival, Saturday, saw some equally hot acts grace the stages. Artists such as Bahamas and Donovan Woods may have brought in a diverse crowd, but the 33 C heat also played a factor in the lower attendance compared to other days.

“I’m thoroughly impressed by anyone who managed to get to the festival or their volunteer shifts that day,” said WFF attendee Afton Stewart. “I didn’t even leave my campsite it was so hot.”

Structurally, there were still some issues with the WFF — the bathroom and water lines were often long and overcrowding at the main stage was an issue.

“I was very disappointed that there was often a lack of toilet paper in the porta-potties in the campground as well as massive lines for the bathrooms in the actual festival,” said Natalie Angèle, another festival attendee.

As the temperature dropped at dusk, things sizzled at Big Bluestem during Five Alarm Funk’s packed set.

“You could feel the buzz in the air and everyone had so much excitement on their faces,” said festivalgoer, Kayla Jodi.
“Despite the heat, everyone managed to throw down the best dance moves, crowd surfing and all.”

Too Many Zooz closed out the evening on Big Bluestem, while the main stage saw some relaxing sets from Whitney and Bahamas, before closing out with Indigenous electronic powerhouse A Tribe Called Red, which featured hoop dancers who performed to the fusion of traditional powwow drums and vocals with hip-hop influences.

Workshops, a themed set of musicians consecutively playing on one stage throughout the weekend, allowed for festivalgoers to experience more than one artist per concert. Some of the themed concerts featured headlining artists stripped down to a pure and simple acoustic song as they passed the microphone along the line of performers. Whitney participated in two workshops as an acoustic duo, crooning the typically punchy breakup song “Golden Days” in a haunting melancholic falsetto. The tune was returned to its original full-band poppy state for their main stage show but this workshop and many others presented the opportunity to hear performers experimenting with their sound and styles.

The main stage was the domain of the headlining bands, but the dancing area was quite peculiar as it was off in the right quarter of the stage and audiences agreed it was not the best setup for people that wanted to stand and enjoy the music.

“It’s cramped, people are talking and yelling and the sound isn’t as good as in the middle,” said Jodi. “We’re the folks who are willing to party and the ones that the bands want to see out front.”

However, when nine-time Grammy-Award-winner Sheryl Crow hit the stage on Sunday night she had a majority of the crowd on their feet, belting out classic after classic from “All I Wanna Do” to “If It Makes You Happy.”

Attendees soaked up the sun with Sheryl Crow while being treated to yet another excellent year of music presented by WFF.