BIRDS HILL PARK -- The Winnipeg Folk Festival was treating first-time festival-goer, comedian Kevin McDonald, pretty, pretty good.
"It's good. I like the word good and it's a word I've been hearing a lot so far," McDonald said while watching jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and his band offer their take on the music of John Lennon.
"I like the music," said the mainstage host. "And I like outside. I like music outside. And I like people. I like people listening to music outside."
The brief exchange of words was deadpan and humorous, but McDonald, a member of comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall who calls Winnipeg home these days, perfectly summed up the Thursday-night show at Birds Hill Park: people listening to good music outside and having a good time doing it.
The second day of the 39th annual mini-Woodstock featured a broad range of music, from the harmony-driven folk of Good Old War to the hip hop of Somalia-born, Toronto-based K'Naan.
As the music played, neo-bohemians, grizzled festival veterans and children danced side by side while thousands of others soakedup the atmosphere on tarps or gathered with friends under the shade of the beer tent.
Among the locals quaffing overpriced Big Rock products was Robin Esrock, co-host of the OLN travel show Word Travels, who was in town to take in the festival as part of its inclusion in his upcoming book, The Great Canadian Bucket List: 120 Things to do in Canada Before You Die (Manitoba has eight do-before-death items). The affable South African-born TV personality had already visited the polar bears in Churchill, spent the day at Grand Beach and taken the Hermetic Code guided tour, and was planning on camping overnight to fully appreciate the festival.
"It's the only folk festival represented in the book," the 37-year-old said. "It's the granddaddy of them all. The campground is like Burning Man, Burning Man of the Prairies."
The campground was abuzz with activity Thursday afternoon as the barely dressed crowd enjoyed the sun or just hunkered down in any shady spot they could find.
The site was filled with numerous examples of creativity, including a T-shirt-making arts and crafts tent T-Shirt Remix, a hammock village, a children's area and many colourful tents, people and art installations.
A crew of roots musicians hung out at the Juke Joint Hideaway while a hundred or so metres away, the Castle Boys had erected a giant Mayan pyramid that resembled Chichen Itza. (It was like the Times Change(d) and Pyramid Cabaret got even closer than they are in Winnipeg.)
The best tour of the campground was conducted by the Flaming Trolleys marching band, who led a parade through the site just before mainstage entertainment started at 6 p.m.
Good Old War opened the evening with a mellow set of harmony-driven folk with a reggae vibe before Frisell and his band of pros -- Tony Scherr, Greg Leisz and Kenny Wollesen -- paid tribute to the late John Lennon, serving jazzy instrumental versions of classics such as Come Together, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away and Strawberry Fields Forever.
British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg offered some astute political observations during a set that was both thought-provoking and romantic.
"The enemy of all of us who want to make the world a better place is not capitalism or conservatism, but cynicism -- our own cynicism," he said during a rollicking set that include Sexuality, Waiting for the Great Leap Forward, There is Power in a Union and the Woody Guthrie songs Ingrid Bergman and Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key.
The set had people singing along. Two-year-old Scarlett Lloyd danced and ate kettle corn.
"I want a fast one," she said, just before getting her wish with All You Fascists.
Scarlett was joined by hundreds of people when Los Angeles Latin-funk ensemble Ozomatli took the stage and got the dance party started just before press time.
The festival kicks into high gear today with seven stages, beginning at 11 a. m. Tonight's mainstage lineup includes Malian singer-songwriter Sidi Touré, East Coast bluesman Matt Andersen, folktronica artist Beth Orton, Texas country-rocker Junior Brown and 11-member blues ensemble the Tedeschi Trucks Band (featuring guitar wizard Derek Trucks).
-- with files from Jill Wilson