The Winnipeg Folk Festival kicked off its 40th year last night with a highly entertaining Wednesday night opening concert to the delight of thousands who not only came to hear great music, but to renew old acquaintances, enjoy some beautiful weather and get a look at a newly redeveloped festival site.
Manitoba singer songwriter Del Barber opened the evening appropriately with five simple words. “Hello beautiful people. Welcome home,” he said from his Main Stage perch.
From there, it was four hours of lively, spirited performances from Oh My Darling (Manitoba), The Avett Brothers (North Carolina) and City and Colour (Ontario), along with tweener sets from Tony Furtado (Oregon) and Dan Bern (California).
Over the past four decades, the Festival has grown considerably, becoming one of the premier folk festivals in North America. So, given the nice weather and solid line up, it was no surprise to see such a large crowd coming out to a mid-week opening night.
This did make for a long line of cars on their way into the Festival site that stretched for several kilometres. It took about an hour for patrons to arrive at the Festival’s parking lot. Shuttle buses, however, made quicker time by traveling past the lines along the shoulder and the opposite lane, creating their own unofficial bus lanes. Those on bikes, of course, made the best time.
Once inside, visitors got a peek at the second phase of the site’s $6-million redevelopment that includes a new Festival Village and Tower. The Village is meant to be a gathering place to meet friends, and acts as the hub of key services including information, bag check, food, drink and more. From here, new way-finding posts point you in the direction of all that is waiting to be discovered, and the Tower serves as a landmark to guide you back. There are also two new stages — Little Stage in the Forest and Spruce Hollow.
Since 1974, the Festival has welcomed more than 1.5 million visitors. With the Site Redevelopment Project nearing completion, the event is preparing to host many more generations in the future.
This year being the 40th anniversary has created an air of reminiscence and nostalgia. It has also prompted event organizers to program what promises to be one of the best musical lineups ever offered at this event. If last night’s performances were any indication of the next four days of music, Festival goers are in for a treat they won’t soon forget.
All photos by Noah Erenberg