Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Music fills the park and delivers magic

It's action off the mainstage that makes festival unique

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Even if you weren't near a stage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival Friday, there was a chance you were hearing music.

Whether it was drummers at the campsite, guitar players in the parking lots or on trails or the official wandering minstrels, it was impossible to escape music.

Not that you would want to.

The nightly mainstage is where the biggest names usually play, but it's the daytime workshop and concerts that provide the musical magic the folk fest is known for.

The seven day stages were filled with a wide-ranging hodgepodge of styles with a little something for everyone from the old time Dixieland jazz and swing of New Orleans institution the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to the cutting-edge world beat sounds of Omar Souleyman and Ganga Giri to a host of roots, bluegrass and singer-songwriters.

And if there were any lulls in the schedule, there was a chance you might have seen the 10-piece Wandering Minstrel Troupe who travelled every corner of the site performing bluegrass, roots, swing and rockabilly.

"We're just going around jamming and making people happy," said coordinator Jaxon Haldane, 35, a longtime member of the Winnipeg music scene.

"The other cool thing is we inevitably pick up people who want to jam with us as we wander around. We had Al Simmons play with us for about 15 minutes today, so it ends up being collaborative and organic," says Haldane, who is moving to Oklahoma City soon to study communications.

He'll be back for next year's festival, though, just as hundreds -- and perhaps thousands -- of Winnipeg expats do every year.

Two of those people were Darryl Chornenki and his partner Dale Kwamsoos who returned home from a winter in Southeast Asia to visit family and attend the festival.

They were cooking for local performance group Element Sircus who had a giant tent in the campground and organized a daily parade through the site at 5:30 p.m. led by the Flaming Trolleys Radical Marching Band.

"It's like the old circus days when the parade would go through the town and get everybody to go to the circus. Everybody loves it and people just join in and become a part of it," said Chornenki, 63, who created a carousel costume out of a backpack, a bicycle tire, rubber dolls and cloth.

The parade was just one of the unique touches that makes the campground experience an integral part of the folk fest for many people. This year there is a trading post modeled after a circus sideshow tent; the famous Castle Boys built a city block façade complete with a library, diner, barber shop and grocery store; the Juke Joint Hideaway has live acts playing on a stage nightly; and the Vinyl Village lounge had a sing inviting people to come and jam.

The music site has its own vibe as people gather throughout the giant field to watch music, hide out from the sun and socialize in the beer tent, buy albums at the music store or hang out in the children's area where kids rode a trapeze, participated in a tug-of-war game or made arts and crafts.

Fred Penner attracted a large crowd of children and adults to his set at the Chickadee Bigtop and had the entire field singing along to The Cat Came Back later during a main stage "tweener" appearance following a set by up-and-coming Texas singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz who played for more than 10,000 people. As of 5:30 p.m., 12,600 people had walked through the gates. Wednesday and Thursday night mainstage shows attracted 11,400 and 10,900 respectively.

Vancouver singer-songwriter Dan Mangan proved all his acclaim and buzz-status is well deserved with a fiery set of hard-rockin' material that wasn't afraid to delve into the political side of the spectrum on Post-War Blues, which deals with mental health issues returning soldiers have to deal with.

"It's always the same governments that want to send out kids over there and don't want to take care of them when they come back," he said.

Over at the Big Blue @ Night stage, Syrian electronic artist Souleyman -- who looked like Father Guido Sarducci wearing a keffiyeh -- had a few hundred people dancing to his mixture of traditional Middle Eastern music and Arabic lyrics with club-worthy beats.

Back at the mainstage, Canadian songstress k.d. lang had the crowd in awe as she and her five-piece band, the Siss Boom Bang, offered up some tasty twangy cuts off their new album, Sing it Loud, along with show-stopping versions of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (which earned her a standing ovation) and Neil Young's Helpless.

It's been said before, but it's worth saying again: lang has one of the best, most pure and powerful voices in music.

Louisiana roots queen Lucinda Williams possesses her own set of mighty pipes, but her voice is grittier -- a perfect match for her ragged Americana and raunchy heart-breaking ballads.

Williams was about halfway through her set -- featuring music off her new album Blessed and older favourites like Car Wheels on a Gravel Road -- when press time hit. Jamaican reggae legends Toots and the Maytals were scheduled to end the night.

The action continues today with a full slate of music starting at 11 a.m. Tonight's mainstage lineup includes roots group Tim Robbins (yes, that Tim Robbins) and the Rogues Gallery Band; British folk group Spiro; Ontario world music artist Mighty Popo (replacing Tinariwen); southern boogie-rock veterans Little Feat; and New Orleans funk group Funky Meters.

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

more festival coverage g7

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2011 A15

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