For the second year in a row, I was fortunate enough to attend the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Many of the things I wrote about in last year’s post still hold true – it’s simply a fantastic music festival.
I think my experience at the festival is probably atypical. First, I was there by myself. Festivals are, by their very definition , festive, yet it’s a little hard to get in the mood when you’re alone. I’m not looking for pity – it’s just a fact. I’m sure if I was there with friends, or my family, the whole experience would be even better. Second, I was there primarily to advance plans for next year’s festival of Prairie artists. As a result, I was a little more focused on a smaller group of artists and didn’t wander from stage to stage as much as I might under different circumstances.
I was a big fan of several new initiatives at the WFF this year. Free WiFi backstage and by the Main Stage was very helpful, the second beer tent by the Big Bluestem stage offered a welcome respite during the heat and shelter during the brief rain showers, and new artists like the Zero Gravity Circus helped round out the programming.
Highlights for me included:
– Del Barber, a talented young singer-songwriter from Manitoba. If you’re in Ottawa, you’ll have the chance to catch him at Raw Sugar on August 22 and up at the Blacksheep on September 17;
– The first public performance of Jim Bryson and The Weakerthans;
– The tribute to 90-year old folk icon Oscar Brand was touching. Oscar is a living legend, and reading his bio makes you wonder how one man can do so much – he’s a singer-songwriter, radio host, and was the inspiration for Oscar the Grouch. The Duhks’ performance of The Winnipeg Whore was suitably bawdy.
– Meeting John K. Samson, lead singer of The Weakerthans and Winnipeg’s unofficial Poet Laureate. John was everywhere during the festival – performing, hosting workshops, mentoring musicians in the Young Performers Program. The fact that most people sitting around me were mouthing the words to every one of his songs is a good indication of his stature in the ‘peg;
– The Swell Season’s performance on the main stage Friday night. I will admit to getting a little verklempt when Glen Hansard launched into Leave;
– The thousands of dragonflies who swarmed all over Birds Hill Park and (mostly) kept the mosquito population at bay.
Konono No. 1 (AKA L’orchestre folklorique T.P. Konono Nº1 de Mingiedi) was my favourite discovery of the weekend. The collective from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with their take on electro-traditional Congolese dance music, was simply stunning. I’m a sucker for thumb piano, so any band that features three of them (called likembés) is off to a good start with me. Here’s a short clip.