BIRDS HILL PARK — Over the next three years, the Winnipeg Folk Festival intends to spend $6 million on site improvements to make the outdoor event northeast of Winnipeg easier to enjoy.
The plans include three new forest stages, a series of permanent paths and a pedestrian underpass on Festival Drive to prevent motorists from winding up with hippie guts all over their windshields.
While the culling of southern Manitoba’s hippie population is a worthwhile goal, it is not without its problems. For starters, vehicular homicide is illegal. And even the most experienced detailing crew would find it difficult to endure the stench of patchouli-infused entrails — never mind the difficulty involved in cleansing them from the front grill of a vintage Volkswagen bus.
In all seriousness, site improvement is a big deal for the Folk Fest, which took the wise step of capping its paid attendance this year at 14,000 people per day. The Festival Campground has been capped at 5,600 for years, but not all of its denizens are people, in the conventional sense.
It’s part of the price of popularity: If there are no limits on attendance, you eventually risk annoying your core audience and they’ll start staying away.
Many of the facets of the Folk Fest’s improvement plan aren’t overly sexy. This year, with the help of federal infrastructure-stimulus funds, there’s a permanent new summer kitchen / winter tent-storage building backstage, along with new offices made out of old steel shipping-container trucks.
But there are a few moves the festival could make that would be even more spectacular.
Here’s a brief list of suggestions, following an extremely scientific poll of the seven people unfortunate enough to share a bench with me in the beer tent:
1. Create a "medium campground"
The infamous Festival Campground, where revellers party all night, is way too hardcore for anyone who doesn’t enjoy the sound of djembe drums at 4:30 a.m. or the taste of lukewarm Pale Ale for breakfast.
But the Quiet Campground, which insists on no noise after 11 p.m., is a little too mellow for festival-goers who want to kick back by the fire for a drink or two after the mainstage concerts wrap up for the night.
Given the size of the festival audience, there is a bunch of Goldilocks out there looking for that happy camping medium that feels just right.
Their needs could be served easily by the creation of a "medium campground" where partying is permitted until 2 a.m.
Or the whiny yuppies who want to have it both ways could just get back in their SUVs and drive home to Winnipeg for the night. Either way, problem solved.
2. Separate seating areas for hipsters
Put ’em all in one place, and nobody will have to waste any rubber bullets. I am almost serious. Despite all the jokes I’ve made over the years (and perhaps earlier in this column) at the expense of folk-festival hippies, lovey-dovey pacifists in sundresses and sandals are way easier to tolerate than hipsters, who may just be the cultural scourge of our time.
If more than 50 per cent of the clothing and accessories on your body at any given time are intended to be ironic, then you are a hipster. And you are trying way too hard to be whatever the heck it is you are trying to be.
So take off those oversized sunglasses, lose the feather boa and return the way-too-tight Quiet Riot concert T to the vintage store. None of that stuff is comfortable in the 27 C heat and you know it.
3. A didgeridoo moratorium
Despite the pleasant absence of Australian didgeridude Xavier Rudd from the 37th annual Winnipeg Folk Festival, the world’s most phallic and annoying instrument remains too prevalent in Birds Hill Park.
Unless one of your ancestors subsisted on wichety grub and is intimately acquainted with Dreamtime, this instrument is a definite Didgeri Don’t.
Seeing that Folk Fest artistic director Chris Frayer has a lot of pull in Ottawa — last week, a visa for reggae legend Jimmy Cliff was procured at practically the last minute — customs officials could be convinced to prevent all didgeridoos from crossing into Canada in July.
If not, the future festival audience will diminish, and there may not be a point in spending $6 million on all those upgrades.