Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gimli music fest celebrates 40 years with old friends, new acts

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Len and Karen Vopnfjord wrote an Islendingadagurinn theme song 40 years ago, but it didn't really become the "official" theme song until the lyrics were printed on a shirt.

"To be honest, I don't know when they made it the official song. It's on a shirt, though, so it must be true," Len says with a laugh.

"There was no official theme song for the Icelandic Festival 40 years ago, so we just wrote one," his wife, and musical partner, Karen says during a phone interview earlier this week during a pit stop on their way to Gimli for Islendingadagurinn.

The Vopnfjords are scheduled to perform Sunday at the Alternative Folk Festival in Gimli Park, an event they started 40 years ago and at which they served as programmers, performers and MCs for more than a decade.

There wasn't a lot of money for performers back then, but most musicians were happy to play, sell some merch and attend a free all-night party on a Lake Winnipeg island, the couple recalls.

"It got to be almost a family thing," Karen says.

One of the members of the extended family was Tom Jackson. The first time the Vopnfjords tried to get the singer to perform at the festival, they couldn't get in touch with him no matter how many times they phoned the Royal Albert Hotel, where the young musician was known to hang out.

Instead of simply giving up, they printed his name on posters and announced it on radio ads in the hope he would see or hear his name and attend.

He did.

"We were flying by the seat of our pants. We really wanted him to come out, so we went ahead and put his name on the list, but he showed up at the right time. He was young and very, very happy to be there," Karen says.

"We didn't know there were any real ground rules for putting on a festival," her husband added.

The booking has been streamlined and everyone on the event poster has been notified. The 40th annual Alternative Folk Festival at the Gimli Park Mainstage features the Vopnfjords, the Reverend Rambler, Sweet Alibi, the Vopnfjords' son, Lindy, Del Barber and Dry Bones. The entertainment begins at 6:30 p.m. and runs until midnight.

With the founders kicking off the event, one of Manitoba's newest acts will end the night.

Not that Sunday's headliners, Dry Bones, are newbies. The trio is a supergroup of sorts, featuring the talents of Leonard Podolak, Nathan Rogers and JD Edwards who got together last year for some jamming sessions and have since wowed crowds from Australia to Birds Hill Park.

The trio first got together about 18 months ago and landed a few festival gigs in Western Canada last summer.

"We had no booking agent, no manager, no record, no repertoire, no anything -- just our reputations and some good will. That's how folk music works," Podolak says.

Things shifted into high gear this past spring when an Australian festival Rogers was booked to play asked him to bring a band. The trio applied to more festivals and landed some mid-week shows and house concerts to turn their trek Down Under into a full-fledged five-week tour.

"What I think has been so great about Dry Bones is trying to break down the wall between ourselves and the audiences. It's not just the songs; it's Nathan's funny antics and the passionate storytelling of JD. The whole evening is the show," says Podolak, 37, who has been a regular on the local scene for the past two decades, in groups such as the Duhks and Scruj MacDuhk.

Local audiences finally got their chance to see the Dry Bones when they played this year's Winnipeg Folk Festival. And those barrier-breaking performances? Perhaps you caught the group's Sunday evening tweener set when Rogers jumped off the stage onto a bass rig on the ground and ripped his shirt off while singing, showing off a bit of a wild side people might not typically associate with the son of folk icon Stan Rogers.

As a trio, each member has talents he brings to the musical equation, but the roots/folk-rock outfit -- featuring Rogers and Edwards on guitar, Podolak on banjo and Gilles Fournier joining in occasionally on bass -- is trying to switch things up by giving each member a chance to take the lead to see how it sounds best.

"Nathan wrote a brilliant song and said, 'JD I wrote this song, I love this song and I love singing this song, but I want to hear you sing it and I want you to give me a song that you wrote that I can sing,'" Podolak, says about The Turning, available on a 10-track album the band recorded quickly as something to sell at live shows.

"It's a kick-ass group and the record is funny. Too bad we didn't do it after playing 50 shows together," he says.

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

Rock like an Icelander

Friday, Islendingarock, Harbour Stage, 7:30 p.m.

Little House

Happy Unfortunate

Cannon Bros.

Saturday, Children's Entertainment, Harbour Stage, 3 p.m.

Christopher Cool

Saturday Nite @ The Pier, Harbour Stage, 8 p.m.

Hey Pilgrim

Mise En Scene

The Noble Thiefs

Sunday, Gimli Alternative Folk Festival, Gimli Park Mainstage, 6:30 p.m.

The Vopnfjords

The Reverend Rambler

Sweet Alibi

Lindy

Del Barber

Dry Bones

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2012 E7

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