Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

30 Folk Festivals: A year-by-year guide

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THE same math geeks who griped that the real millennium started in 2001 are correct when they argue the Winnipeg Folk Festival will celebrate its 30th "anniversary" next year.

Too bad nobody else thinks that way. If one of the jewels of Manitoba's summer festival season wants to call its 30th year an "anniversary," nobody will complain, thanks to what promises to be one of its most star-studded next weekend in Birds Hill Park

"I sat down after last year and said, 'What can I do for the 30th?' So I looked through all the programs from the beginning," says artistic director Rick Fenton, the fourth person to assemble the talent since Mitch Podolak launched the event in 1974.

"I've been coming here as a fan since 1981, so I knew the history. Not that it's any less awe-inspiring, to fathom how anything keeps going for 30 years without a break."

The result of Fenton's rummage through the archives is a 2003 bill which places performers who appeared at the earliest Winnipeg Folk Festivals alongside acts who made a big impact on later festivals or on the music world at large.

Returning old-timers include guitarist Leon Redbone, bluesman John Hammond and traditional folkies Tom Paxton and Stringband.

The "big impact" types are some of the world's most celebrated musician-activists: Former Boomtown Rats singer and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof from Ireland; England's Billy Bragg; Buffalo's Ani DiFranco; and Saskatchewan-born indigenous music pioneer Buffy Sainte-Marie.

More than 70 acts are slated to play on seven stages during the July 10-13 festival, which kicks off with an evening concert headlined by Geldof on Thursday night.

In honour of the event, we rummaged through some archives of our own to assemble the following guide to the first 30 years of the Winnipeg Folk Festival:

1974 -- Mitch Podolak and Colin Gorrie launch the Centennial Folk Festival at Birds Hill Park in August. The budget is $77,000 and admission is free. Bruce Cockburn, Leon Redbone and Murray McLauchlan headline a 42-act bill, with Winnipeg-born Oscar Brand serving as emcee.

1975 -- Festival moves to late July. The $9.50 admission covers 55 acts. Late CBC broadcaster Peter Gzowski acts as host. First deficit incurred: $27,000.

1976 -- Festival moves to the second weekend in July, where it remains. Admission goes up to $15 for a weekend pass. Attendance hits 22,700, including free tickets.

1977 -- Budget hits $200,000 as the number of acts reaches 65. New attendance record set: 24,000, including free tickets.

1978 -- Festival program lists 144 volunteers. Rain hits hard, attendance drops to 21,000. Pierre Guerin, who later becomes festival executive director, makes his debut as a performer with Quebec Celtic group Barde. Amos Garrett plays electric guitar a la Dylan at Newport in '65.

1979 -- Festival's fame spreads: Four Tokyo journalists attend. Attendance hits 30,000, including comps.

1980 -- Volunteer contingent hits 370, total number of acts rises to 85. Preview concert added Thursday in Old Market Square. Pete Seeger makes his fest debut. Financial deficit is erased.

1981 -- Kids activities and a bluegrass tent added. A liquor ban is enforced at the gate. Nice weather helps the festival claim another record attendance: 35,000, including free tickets.

1982 -- Festival record store Home-Made Music, opens in January. Budget now about $270,000. Little-known Maritime artist named Rita MacNeil sings a song called 90 Per Cent Stoned.

1983 -- Thursday-night mainstage concert is added for 10th year. Weekend pass rises to $38. More than 100 acts booked. Volunteer contingent hits 700 and paid attendance is 27,500. Prior to festival, Podolak gets into public spat with League for Life members after festival considers dropping anti-abortion ad from program.

1984 -- Festival scales back ambitions but adds a bluegrass revue, a feminist slate of performers and more unknown acts. "I think we're going back to what a folk festival should be," Podolak says.

1985 -- k.d. lang and the Reclines make their debut. Landmark change at food concession: Elephant Ears changed to Whales Tails. Rain results in attendance drop to 22,000. Accumulated deficit hits $92,500 by end of fiscal year.

1986 -- In April, Rosalie Goldstein named new artistic director as founder Podolak moves to West Coast. Howard Pawley's NDP government sparks fight at legislature when it gives the fest $90,000 to erase deficit. More rain causes an attendance drops to 16,000. Deficit rises to $170,000.

1987 -- For her debut festival, Goldstein is blessed with good weather for first time in five years. South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo heralds Goldstein's broadening of musical horizons. Back from B.C., Podolak starts up West End Cultural Centre. Festival deficit reduced to $40,000.

1988 -- Festival offices in Osborne Village destroyed in a January fire. Festival relocates to Tache Avenue. Weekend pass is $40. A local bar band called the Crash Test Dummies make its festival debut.

1989 -- Festival buys 264 Tache Ave. Brochure for ambitious 16th event drops the "folk" from the logo; modern acts such as Billy Bragg and Spirit of the West make their presence felt. A buskers stage is added. Weather is good, allowing a new paid-attendance record, 28,500. Event still loses $33,000 and deficit rises to $48,000.

1990 -- Budget now $1.1 million, weekend pass is $55. More than 100 acts booked. Goldstein and board president Jane Graham are among the Canada Day crowd invited to meet the Queen at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. Musicians from the Soviet Union appear for the first time. Rain returns after three dry years. Paid attendance drops to 21,000. Accused of overspending, Goldstein is forced to resign in November.

1991 -- Pierre Guerin hired as new director in May but Goldstein remains in charge of 18th festival. Eclectic 100-act bill features Haitian group Boukman Eksperyans and African singer Salif Keita. Texas country rocker Steve Earle -- suffering from a severe heroin addiction -- cancels at the last minute.

1992 -- Guerin's first festival marks debuts of Ani DiFranco, Barenaked Ladies, Möxy Früvous and soon-to-be-trendy Tuvan throat singers. A $60,000 deficit is retired. Festival remains debt-free to date.

1993 -- Four-day pass is $70. Children aged 5-12 subjected to gate charge for first time. Video screens added at side of mainstage. Number of acts set at about 90. Yet another new record attendance: 30,50O paid.

1994 -- Guess Who singer Burton Cummings makes unannounced festival debut, appearing Friday night with his buddies MacLean & MacLean. A woman is injured when a lighting tower topples in high winds during the final concert. Edmonton festival gains national attention by booking Joni Mitchell.

1995 -- Edmonton announces Elvis Costello booking. Some people question Winnipeg's longstanding policy of avoiding big-name stars.

1996 -- Performers from Sweden, Nigeria, Uganda and the Shetland Islands highlight Guerin's increasing interest in world music.

1997 -- Volunteer continent tops 1,000. Budget hits $1.5 million and a weekend pass costs $99. Several women dance topless throughout the weekend and someone complains to police about males mudsliding in the nude.

1998 -- The 25th Winnipeg Folk Festival, with a lineup featuring Cockburn, Richard Thompson, Jann Arden and Lobos, sets another new attendance record: 36,721.

1999 -- Clean and sober Steve Earle finally plays the Festival mainstage and apologizes for 1991. John Hiatt and the McGarrigle sisters also perform.

2000 -- In his final year as artistic director, Guerin books more world music than ever and tries out an experiment on Thursday night: all 67 members of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra join festival performers on the mainstage.

2001 -- Edmonton CBC Radio programmer and record producer Rick Fenton hired as new artistic director early in the year. Books all-Canadian Thursday night concert starring Sarah Harmer, Cowboy Junkies and Crash Test Dummies, whose set is marred by odd behaviour by singer Brad Roberts. Festival sets new attendance record: 39,801.

2002 -- Festival offices move to heritage digs in newly restored Exchange District office building. Fenton has time to program his own lineup, which includes Nick Lowe, Ian Tyson, Rokia Traore and Nash the Slash, who performs his soundtrack to silent film Nosferatu in the festival campground. For the first time, campground partiers forced to buy weekend passes. Police also raid campground and arrest suspected mushroom dealers. Meanwhile, Edmonton Folk Fest is criticized for not booking enough big stars.

2003 -- Festival remains debt-free, posting its third consecutive surplus ($77,000) on a 2002-03 budget of $2.22 million. Edmonton books Norah Jones but the 30th Winnipeg Folk Festival lands a strong anniversary lineup. Extra video screens and 30th "anniversary" tent added to display videotaped memories and testimonials from festival-goers. Volunteers top 1,750 and weekend passes are $135 for adults.

PHOTO JEFF DEBOOY/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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