First time folkie falls in love with festival

On Saturday July 7th, I attended this year’s 39th Annual Winnipeg Folk Festival with some friends of mine at Birds Hill Park.

We really did not know what to expect because we were extremely new to the festival a.k.a “Newbies.”

We picked up the free shuttle bus from Kildonan Park which was coming from downtown, at Portage and York.  It was such a great way to get to the Folk Festival grounds; it was so nice not to worry about traffic or parking.  We waited a bit for the bus because we had just missed the previous bus so my friends and I chatted for a bit and boy, did the time fly.  When the bus arrived the driver was very friendly and had on a great smile.

It was nice getting to the park because it felt like we were miles away from the city. In reality, Winnipeg is only 8 kilometers away. When we got off the bus we basically followed others to the festival gate; this is the way to go, especially when you’re new.

There were some tents set up at the entrance which is where I asked someone for help with where to go; and they were very kind.  We exchanged our tickets for our wristbands and went into another line for baggage check.

My friend was ahead of me when a really friendly volunteer asked her, “Have you ever been here before?” She said, “No, I haven’t, actually this is the first time for me and my friends.”  Well, they got really excited and the volunteer told the other volunteers and we got some cheers thrown our way.

As we headed into the festival grounds we looked around and we happened to see a sign that said information.  We had to go there to get more information about where to go and what to do.  What was nice about the festival was the volunteers were very kind and informative; I guess this is what happens when this festival has been going on for such a long time.

From it’s humble beginnings 39 years ago, the festival’s cumulative attendance now exceeds 70,000 and includes thousands of visitors from outside of Manitoba and performers from across North America, and the world. The organization has more than 2,900 dedicated volunteers who contribute well over 55,000 hours of labour each year to create the magic that is the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

We decided to walk around for a bit to get a feel for things. Everything was nicely laid out and organized.  My friends and I decided that we would go to a venue where there was shade; it was quite a hot day. While we were walking we heard music coming from all directions, which was such an interesting feeling. When we got to the shaded stage, we listened to a blues band from the Deep South. It was so nice listening to them; people were dancing and singing, which made it more entertaining.

My friends and I saw lots of different types of outfits that day. I saw women in bikinis, guys in some really short shorts, we saw tie-dye, guys without shirts, ladies in sun dresses, I saw a pregnant lady with a henna tattoo on her belly, my friend saw a guy with a loincloth wrapped around him, and I also saw a guy in a kilt.  All these people were here to enjoy the atmosphere; the great thing was that everyone was not looked down upon but were all accepted.

At one point throughout the day we headed to the food kiosks and there were so many food choices to choose from; there was Greek food, organic food, coffee, lemonade, pizza, French fries; you say a food and it was probably there.  At one point, I passed Mondragon (an eatery in the Exchange District) and there was a huge line up that I am not even sure how the workers kept up with all the food orders.  In a word: the food was sensational.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival generates $25 million in economic activity and creates 244 jobs for the province of Manitoba. The impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Manitoba is estimated at $14.1 million. The GDP represents the estimated net economic activity generated from this signature Manitoba event.

Some of the highlights for me at this year’s festival included: hearing an artist doing a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s song “So Long Marianne!” I had to scream for joy because that’s my name; I fell in love with this song. Dancing to a rock band and then all of a sudden the power went out but the drummer kept on playing.  Seeing audience members standing up when each performance was finished, (I think this is Folk Festival etiquette). Another highlight was watching the sunset on the Folk Festival grounds. It was so beautiful.

Over the years, the Winnipeg Folk Festival has evolved from a one-weekend event to a year-round arts organization and community asset with folk music at its heart. Today, the festival presents concerts and events throughout the year, supports the community with education and outreach programs, and operates a folk music store and performance space in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District. The Winnipeg Folk Festival is a not-for-profit charitable organization.  You can find out more information and also sign up for the festival’s e-newsletter on their website

I know that I will be going back next year for the 40th anniversary edition of The Winnipeg Folk Festival.  I had a blast this year; it was such an amazing experience.  Folk Fest 2013 here I come!


Marianne Labun


Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I have lived overseas for the past three in half years and enjoyed it tremendously.