42 years ago my mother brought me to a little festival out at Bird’s Hill Park. I was only 10-years-old at the time but I still have vivid memories of the fun and excitement I experienced.
This was the first Winnipeg Folk Festival, started by Mitch Podolak, Colin Gorrie and Ava Kobrinsky to celebrate Winnipeg’s Centennial in 1974.
The festival has grown immensely over the years and has attracted folkies from all over the world. With attendance in some years reaching 80,000 over the course of a weekend, the festival was a four day event until 2009 when organizers started a day earlier on Wednesday evening with Elvis Costello headlining.
This year the Winnipeg Folk Festival is back to a four day stint starting on Thur. July 9.
With 69 performers on 10 stages including a main stage, this year’s festival will see Arlo Guthrie performing his epic album Alice’s Restaurant, which he released 50 years ago.
The daytime stages feature workshops and themed performances by various musicians who perform solo pieces as well as jam with other musicians on stage who they might not otherwise play with.
One past performance that stands out for me is when East Indian musician Vishwan Mohan Bhatt jammed with country lap steel guitar veteran Jerry Douglas a few years ago. Certainly there have been many other magical moments on those stages over the years. You never know what’s going to happen.
It’s not just folk music happening at the Folk Fest, you’ll also hear bluegrass, Celtic, world, blues, roots, Indie folk, Americana, folk rock, gospel, old time, French Canadian, contemporary singer-songwriters, and children’s performers.
There are 17 main stage acts this year starting off with local Winnipeg band Mariachi Ghost with their Mexican Latino grooves and always entertaining stage show Thursday evening and ending off with Wilco on Sunday. Other main stage acts include Arlo Guthrie, Steeleye Span, Shakey Graves and Nahko and Medicine For The People.
In the children’s area, in addition to arts and crafts and activities for the little ones, they also have their own stage, The Chickadee Big Top, where world class performers entertain the young and the young at heart. Children’s favourite Lulu and the Tomcat will be one of the acts on stage this year. Last year saw Arlo Guthrie’s daughter performing some of her grandfather Woody’s songs.
There are lots of food vendors on site selling a variety of meals with an emphasis on local, organic and fair trade ingredients, which are served on reusable plates. As well, artisans will be selling their unique wares in Hand Made Village. There is also a music store which will be selling a wide variety of music .
Three campgrounds are not far from the festival site. There is a quiet campground and the provincial park campground, as well as a festival campground for the partiers. The festival campground will be open 8 a.m. July 8 and the quiet campground opens up 8 a.m. July 9.
I volunteered for years in the festival campground as campground security and it was quite interesting to see this tent community grow over the weekend. With evening campfire sing alongs and good vibes, I don’t recall any major problems in all the time I spent doing campground security.
Campers are encouraged to make theme camps. Times Change(d) will have a live music tent in the campground this year. In previous years there was a group called the Castle Boys who actually built a castle one year and a barn another where they had late night barn dances each night. The Flaming Trolleys Marching Band will be back this year where they usually parade through the campground.
Free shuttle buses transport campers to and from the festival site every half hour.
Another interesting community that suddenly appears during the Festival is the army of 3,000 volunteers who help run the event. Doing everything from cooking for musicians, staff and volunteers, to assisting concert goers, the volunteers are a big part of the festival.
One of the nicest experiences at the festival is at the end of the event when everyone sings Amazing Grace. It’s also kind of sad too, as once you start singing, you’re struck with the realization that this fun filled weekend is over for another year. Oh well, it’s only another 361 days until the next one.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer
For more info check out the Winnipeg Folk Festival website.
Originally published in The Uniter