Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fleeting moment to last forever

Tim Robbins a highlight at fest

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The clouds rolled by and the sun beamed down, the fields dried up and the tarps, finally, rolled out.

With that, the fourth day of the 38th annual Winnipeg Folk Festival surged into sharp focus. It was a day first dampened by rain and a merciful cooling breeze; but that weather soon gave way to a blazing sun and all the melodies, songs and beats.

It was the perfect canvas for the fleeting moments that, somehow, last forever.

Vignettes, for instance, of an easy-rollin' mainstage show; one that sauntered from a solid opening set by Tim Robbins (yes, the actor-director) and his Rogues Gallery band to an ethereal piece from English folk architects Spiro.

Then onwards to a funky set by iconic '70s blues-rockers Little Feat, and after the sun had dropped below the horizon, a percolating dance party by the reunited Funky Meters to send the dancers home.

But the Folk Fest made so many more memories than that.

Take the one just after 1:30 p.m., for instance. When clouds rallied for one final assault on the sun, and the field in front of Bur Oak stage rippled with flying feet and rising fists. The movement came courtesy of the madcap fusion between the Swamp Ward Orchestra, Jaune Toujours and Beats Antique -- three eclectic bands that fluidly found a common beat.

When the jam finally whirled to a stop, fans twirled bandannas over their heads and hollered for more. It will be hard to come by. "If you like what you heard, well, you can't get it in stores," quipped workshop host Marco Calliari.

That wasn't the only big, brash workshop of the day. The biggest by attendance -- and by sheer sound -- came only 30 minutes later, when Canadian supergroup Blackie and the Rodeo Kings gathered singers Ray Wylie Hubbard, Chuck Prophet and Robbins at Snowberry Stage.

For a time, it looked as if mainstage started early. Well over 1,000 fans clustered around the stage, a sea of slightly burnt faces under the searing sun. But the real heat at this show came straight off the stage. The grouping was brilliant, the music raw and rolling. Fat guitar riffs and gung-ho gang performances from the 14 musicians onstage sent the crowd to their feet for one standing ovation after the other.

But one woman wasn't watching what was happening onstage. Instead, Anna-Celestrya Carr stood near the backstage entrance, waiting patiently for the show to end and Robbins to emerge. She hoped the Academy Award-winner would lend his hand to her Men's Banner, a four-year project collecting the handprints of men who pledge to help end violence against women.

In the end, she got what she came for: after signing a few autographs on his way out of the tent, Robbins knelt on the ground while Carr carefully traced the shape of the star's broad palm on the banner.

But though there were bold workshops and big moments, there were quiet beauties, too: the dragonflies dancing over Lucy Wainwright Roche's pristine early-afternoon set of heart-wrenching ballads, for instance.

The same magic might have happened at Big Bluestem when acclaimed British Columbia roots chanteuse Frazey Ford set up shop just before 3 p.m. Unfortunately, Ford's porcelain voice was frequently drowned out by the buzz coming from the nearby beer tent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2011 A14

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