Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Four strong decades: The Winnipeg Folk Festival

Folk Fest turns 40 this year, but it's far from over the (Birds) hill

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It was to be a one-off, free weekend of outdoor music at Birds Hill Park to help celebrate Winnipeg's 100th anniversary.

Bruce Cockburn would be there with his "warm blend" of folk, jazz and blues, as would Sylvia Tyson with her "bristling vitality," along with neo-vaudeville crooner Leon Redbone and 50 or so other folk musicians from around the world.

Winnipeg's Centennial Folk Festival, billed as the largest event of its kind ever held in Western Canada, was designed to appeal to all ages and musical tastes.

"This weekend you can hear music of the Southern Appalachians, of the Canadian Prairies, of the New Orleans Honky Tonks, of the Big Cities, of the Irish revolutionaries, of the east coast fisherman, of farmers and hoboes, rich men and fools and of many of the people that make this world what it is," co-directors Mitch Podolak and Colin Gorrie wrote in the festival program.

That little hootenanny -- which drew a reported 22,000 fans over three days -- of course, grew up to become the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Now one of the largest outdoor music festivals in North America, in 2011 it attracted a record paid attendance of 59,324 visitors.

"People getting off on music, mellow Manitoba sunsets and other people," was how a Winnipeg Free Press reporter described the inaugural event on Aug. 12, 1974.

Some things haven't changed.

But when Tyson and Redbone return to Birds Hill Park this year (July 10-14) to help the Winnipeg Folk Festival celebrate its 40th birthday, they'll be joined by 70 or so bands and singer-songwriters from as far away as Belize and Mali.

And let's just say the "folk" umbrella has expanded into a colourful, multicultural canopy encompassing everything from bluegrass, blues and gospel to funk, Sufi electronica and sci-fi folk.

"That's definitely a genre that didn't exist in the early days of the festival," artistic director Chris Frayer says of the latter. Patrick Watson, a Quebec musician whose band is famous for using unusual objects (like bottles, bicycles and spoons) to make music, plays the mainstage this year, as does Australian ska and jazz band the Cat Empire.

"It used to be singer-songwriter protest songs," says Frayer. "A lot of the world music wouldn't have been at the festival for a long time. But as our country has become older, our immigrant community has become older, too. We have a lot of music that we used to have to bring into the country right in the country,"

In addition to featuring artists from Denmark, Mexico, England, Africa, Australia and all across North America, this year's folk festival will also see Belize, Honduras and Iran represented for the first time. World music aficionados can groove to Danny Michel & The Garifuna Collective, Aurelio & The Garifuna Soul Band, and Niyaz Omara "Bombino" Moctar, a young Tuareg musician and songwriter from the sub-Saharan country of Mali, will also bring his electrifying, Jimi Hendrix-infused guitar wizardry to the Manitoba forest.

But being the 40th anniversary, the Winnipeg Folk Fest's 2013 lineup will pay homage to its acoustic, singer-songwriter "folkie" roots and trace its evolution over the decades.

Frayer, a self-described "festival brat," who hasn't missed the Birds Hill event since 1984 -- he's been at the artistic helm since 2004 -- says one of his working themes when putting together this year's lineup was "connecting generations."

"We've been looking for ways to tie the festival back to its early days and trying to represent every decade of the festival through the program," he says.

Canadian folksinger Sylvia Tyson, folk ensemble Stringband and Pennsylvania jazz-ragtime-blues singer Leon Redbone have the '70s covered. Winnipeg poet, raconteur and frequent host Peter Paul Van Camp is even coming out of retirement just to help the festival celebrate its big 4-0, Frayer says.

American master instrumentalist David Lindley and folk-rock duo Indigo Girls, meanwhile, are a nod to the '80s.

Other singer-songwriters, acclaimed and obscure alike, include Dan Bern, David Francey, Hayes Carll, Jason Collett, Martin Sexton, Rose Cousins, Serena Ryder, the Avett Brothers, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Flatlanders (Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock), Whitehorse and Xavier Rudd.

Blues, funk and soul fans will get their fix courtesy of Dr. John & The Nite Trippers, Ken Whiteley & The Levy Sisters and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Manitoba artists will be represented by Del Barber, Oh My Darling, Madam Diva, Seanster and the Monsters, the Magnificent 7s, and the JD Edwards Band.

Then there are the artists who grew up musically at the festival, such as Rudd and Ryder.

"They started when they were smaller, unknown acts and they've grown in to headliners," Frayer says. "That's one thing we pride ourselves on; we develop our own headliners within our own festival culture."

The 2013 lineup is about 95 per cent complete, he says. And as much as it's a retrospective of where the festival has been, it also reflects the ongoing mission to bring lots of new artists through the door.

Many of them are young musicians armed with guitars, banjos, mandolins and an old-time sound.

"A lot of folk music is definitely having a revival," Frayer says. Frank Fairfield, for example, hails from Los Angeles and is in his late 20s but plays old-fashioned "hillbilly" music and wears tweeds and grandpa shirts and uses hair oil.

For the Winnipeg Folk Festival's full 2013 lineup, go to www.winnipegfolkfest.ca

carolin.vesely@freepress.mb.ca


1974 main stage acts:

Eagle Creek Band, Liam Clancy, Eric & Martha Nagler, John Allen Cameron, Bruce Cockburn, Stringband, Allan Mills, Jean Carignan, Booker White, Michael Cooney, Humphrey & the Dumptrucks, Mike Seeger, Oscar Brand, Lou Killen, Murray McLauchlan, Rick Neufeld, Tommy Makem, Sylvia Tyson, Fraser & Debolt, John Hammond, Ryan's Fancy, Angel Arsonault, Raffi, Shirley Eikhard, Roosevelt Sykes, Leon Redbone, Mimi Farina, David Rea, Original Sloth Band, Len Udow

2013 main stage acts:

Wednesday: Oh My Darling, the Avett Brothers, City and Colour

Thursday: Sara Watkins, Indigo Girls, Josh Ritter & The Royal City Band, Serena Ryder, Colin Meloy (of the Decemberists)

Friday: Nathan Rogers sings Stan: The Rogers Legacy Continues, Lindi Ortega, Danny Michel & The Garifuna Collective, Patrick Watson, the Cat Empire

Saturday: Habadekuk, Whitehorse, Martin Sexton, Dr. John & The Nite Trippers, Galactic

Sunday: The Blind Boys of Alabama, the Flatlanders, Xavier Rudd

Tickets:

Early-bird tickets for the Winnipeg Folk Festival (July 10-14) go on sale today at 11 a.m. at the Folk Festival Music Store or through Ticketmaster, 1-888-655-5354 or online at Ticketmaster.ca. Limit of four per person. The price of a five-day pass has increased this year by $9, to $215 for adults, $125 for youth/senior and $13 for children ages five to 14.

New this year is the five-day share pack ($275 for adults, $200 for youth/senior and $13 for children), which contains one ticket for each day. It's a $60 saving over buying individual day tickets.

Day tickets are $55/$40/$5 for Wednesday and Thursday and $75/$55/$8 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Ticket prices go up on May 1.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2013 G1

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