Folk fest goes global

Festival celebrates 45 years with notable headliners such as Sheryl Crow and Courtney Barnett


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/03/2018 (1616 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This year marks the 45th edition of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and in the words of this year’s top-billed artist, all folkies will wanna do is have some fun.

That’s right — American songstress Sheryl Crow will be bringing her bluesy pop-rock vibes to the Main Stage at Birds Hill Provincial Park.

In her more than 30-year-career, Crow — a nine-time Grammy Award winner — has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide and served up numerous No. 1 singles, including All I Wanna Do, Everyday is a Winding Road and If It Makes You Happy.

Her newest — and 10th — studio record, 2017’s Be Myself, has garnered largely positive reviews from critics and has been praised for her return to a more blues and rock-focused sound after a string of work that had a distinct country influence.

“I was really excited about Sheryl Crow for a bunch of reasons. We don’t often get an act that is big, big like her, but also just going back and listening to old recordings I listened to when I was in my early 20s, and they are so great,” says folk festival artistic director Chris Frayer.

“I love that she’s a feminist and a democrat — she hits all those marks. And I know it sounds funny, but I totally associate her music with summer.”

Sheryl Crow, who has nine Grammy Awards and 50 million album sales to her name, is one of the festival’s biggest acts ever.

One of the most-anticipated acts of the festival will surely be Courtney Barnett, the Australian indie-rocker who has been blowing minds with her exceptional catalogue of work, including Sometimes I Sit, and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit — which topped numerous Best Of year-end lists in 2015 — and her newest release, Lotta Sea Lice, a collaborative album with Kurt Vile, the former lead guitarist of rock band the War On Drugs.

Barnett is known for her witty, thoughtful writing style and deadpan delivery, which is often closer to talking than singing, and emits the kind of effortless cool that’s hard not to get wrapped up in. This might explain why, in just a few years, she has catapulted from indie darling to mainstream headliner.

“Courtney was a big one. I’ve been a fan since the beginning… I’ve been trying to get her here for at least five years,” says Frayer, adding Barnett is the artist he was most excited to snag and that folk fest will be her Winnipeg debut.

Rounding out the trio of major headliners is Bahamas, who just this week played a teeny-tiny show at the Park Theatre in support of his new album, Earthtones.

Bahamas — the stage name of Toronto-based musician Afie Jurvanen — is a folk fest vet, having played the mainstage multiple times, first in 2009 after the release of his debut album Pink Strat, earning the slot prior to Elvis Costello’s headlining set.

Pooneh Ghana photo
Courtney Barnett

Also earning mainstage status are Ontario-based folk-rockers the Strumbellas, Americana/blues-rock artist Elle King (likely best known for her Top 10 single Ex’s & Oh’s, and non-musically for her appearance on the immensely popular TLC show Say Yes to the Dress) and U.K. folk singer Passenger.

Frayer considers Passenger (the project of Michael David Rosenberg) to be one of the biggest gets for the festival this year. His best-known single, Let Her Go, has surpassed 700 million streams on Spotify.

“I’m really happy with how things turned out this year. It’s quite different from last year, which was more CanCon, but there’s only so many artists we can have back to the festival that have that broader appeal,” Frayer says.

“Also, what I love when I look at this lineup is that it doesn’t look like anyone else’s lineup. In an era of homogenized Live Nation, C3, cookie-cutter events where you see the same headliners all over North America, it’s just nice that we have a totally custom-built lineup for the festival.

“It’s actually curated and is supposed to hit a bunch of marks that people are expecting from us. I really feel we’ve made sure Winnipeg is getting something that no one else is getting. It’s really something that won’t look like anything else that’s out there, from a festival perspective.”

More women topping the bill

Josh Goldman photo

For years, criticism has been shot at festivals of every ilk all over the world for the general lack of gender balance in their lineups, and the folk fest is conscious of that. This year’s lineup is 50 per cent women (36 of 72 acts), and that statistic carries through to the top of the bill — four of the six headlining acts are women or include a female band member, while several more, including Natalie MacMaster and Julien Baker, also appear quite high on the list.

“It’s important to have women represented at all levels. If you book 50 per cent women, but never elevate any of them to top-billing positions, how do you convey to the audience that gender equality is important to you as an organization?” Frayer says.

“Headliners have become more important over the last few years in regards to ticket sales and we needed to reflect that in our lineups and posters, ensuring women are represented throughout has become essential with that shift, as well.”

Elle King

Focus back on workshops

This year, it is a priority to return to the roots of the festival and refocus attention on workshops, Frayer says.

Even though folk fest wasn’t officially participating in formal Canada 150 events last year, there were still semi-related special projects —including the Canada Far & Wide: Grands Esprits workshop — that needed time and attention to put together, and Frayer admits those unique events did distract from nurturing the other workshops the way he typically would.

But this year, things will be different.

“I do try to book bands who are familiar or friendly with each other so it sets the stage for the workshop situation. I think the 35-plus workshops… I think we take them for granted because we’ve been doing them for so long, but they’re all like special projects, and so it is kind of getting back to that,” he explains.

While no scheduling or workshops have been announced, Frayer says he has some fun ideas in the works that will also play up the fact the festival is celebrating 45 years.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival runs July 5-8 at Birds Hill Provincial Park. Ticketing and artist information can be found at

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Manager of audience engagement for news

Erin Lebar spends her time thinking of, and implementing, ways to improve the interaction and connection between the Free Press newsroom and its readership.


Updated on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 10:37 PM CST: Removes Colter Wall from performers list as requested.

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