Must-see Folk Fest workshops Focus returns to special performances, spontaneous moments

Workshops have always been an integral part of the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/07/2018 (1497 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Workshops have always been an integral part of the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

They are magic-moment makers; a curated group of musicians — sometimes friends, sometimes strangers — on one stage playing together, supporting each other, creating something that will only exist for an hour or two. No one knows what will come out of the collaboration, but usually it’s something special.

Festival preview

Winnipeg Folk Festival

● July 5-8
● Birds Hill Provincial Park
● Tickets are $254 for weekend adult passes (not including camping) and $75-$95 for single-day adult tickets. Remaining camping passes are very limited. Tickets are available by calling at 1-888-512-7469, online at Front Gate Tickets, or in person at the Winnipeg Folk Festival offices (203-211 Bannatyne Ave.).

When the Free Press spoke to Winnipeg Folk Festival artistic director Chris Frayer ahead of the lineup release in early March, he noted he would be paying some extra attention to workshops this year, as some of the special projects occurring during the past couple of festivals had pulled some of his attention away.

And with 37 workshops on the books, it would seem he followed through on his promise.

A couple of the workshops are doubling as a celebration of Folk Fest’s 45 years in action. Frayer says the 50th is already in the back of their minds, but organizers felt it was still important to note this milestone as well.

“It’s the 45th this year, and I think it’s conjuring up this idea of it’s an event we don’t want to take for granted. As you see all these other big events going down all over North America, I think people are really realizing how fortunate we are to have an event that’s really been able to stand the test of time and the fragility of the marketplace… it’s kind of a testament to the festival,” Frayer says.

“I think that this year, we wanted to kind of celebrate more the archival aspects… and just simply have a footnote there; that’s why on the poster it says, ‘Est. 1974,’ to just get people to think about the fact it has been around for 45 years and what that means to everyone individually.”

The new and the notable

This year, the Winnipeg Folk Festival has decided to hold 50/50 draws instead of its usual raffle for prizes. There will be a new draw every day, from Thursday to Sunday (though tickets will be sold Wednesday in the campground for Thursday’s draw as well). And at 8:30 p.m. each night, a winner will be randomly chosen and will get half of the pot, with the other half going toward ongoing site improvements to the festival grounds. Ticket sellers will be in green shirts; tickets are one for $5, five for $10 or 20 for $20 (cash only).

This year, the Winnipeg Folk Festival has decided to hold 50/50 draws instead of its usual raffle for prizes. There will be a new draw every day, from Thursday to Sunday (though tickets will be sold Wednesday in the campground for Thursday’s draw as well). And at 8:30 p.m. each night, a winner will be randomly chosen and will get half of the pot, with the other half going toward ongoing site improvements to the festival grounds. Ticket sellers will be in green shirts; tickets are one for $5, five for $10 or 20 for $20 (cash only).

The festival has again partnered with Winnipeg Transit after a two-year break to provide free transit for people wanting to get to Birds Hill Provincial Park. Each bus is fully accessible and the new stop is northbound Memorial Boulevard between St. Mary and Portage avenues, beside the Hudson’s Bay Company downtown building. The full Folk Fest Express schedule is available on the Winnipeg Transit website.

Smoking at festival taverns will no longer be permitted, and the restriction includes anything that generates second-hand smoke. There are no designated areas, so if someone wants to smoke, organizers ask that they step away from crowded areas to do so. Free pocket ashtrays are available at audience services and the taverns.

Elder Mae Louise Campbell is retiring from the festival, so Folk Fest will be working with a new elder this year, Sherry Copenace. Campbell will be honoured for her contributions with the Glass Banjo Award at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Copenance will conduct a public ceremony Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. at the folk school to welcome the Indigenous artists performing at this year’s festival to Treaty 1 territory. The ceremony will also include a traditional round dance, which will be participative for the entire audience.

There are two workshops in the program with non-English titles; if you’re curious what they mean (and you don’t speak Gaelic or Ojibwa), both say “This is a really good workshop” in their respective languages.

One of the special celebratory workshops is the Stan Rogers singalong of 45 Years, which takes place Saturday morning at the Bur Oak stage. Rogers’ son, Nathan Rogers — a folk musician who has spent a lot of time in the Winnipeg music scene — will lead the performance.

“It (45 Years) lends itself well to a singalong, and we found last year with the Bruce Cockburn/Choir!Choir!Choir! singalong, people want that interaction,” Frayer says.

“For a lot of people, it kind of ties back to the power of song and more of a connection to the Pete Seeger era of folk music, which is more participatory, not just being a witness to music or being an audience member, but to honestly be part of it. And I think that’s something that does get lost a bit because the festival gets so large and we have some of our daytime workshops with thousands of people at them, so you want to find those little homier, folkier moments for people.”

We asked Frayer, as well as a crew of Free Press Folk Fest veterans, to single out some of their must-see workshops this weekend, in case you need some help narrowing down your own picks.

— Erin Lebar


Mo Kenney


Jukebox ’74

  • Featuring Micah Erenberg, Mick Flannery, Mo Kenney, Harrow Fair, We Banjo 3
  • Friday, 11:30 a.m., Spruce Hollow

I went and just mined albums from that era and, of course, 1974 is a bounty crop of amazing, really classic recordings of songwriter stuff. Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell came out that year, The Heart of Saturday Night by Tom Waits came out that year, On the Beach by Neil Young came out that year. So I just reached out to some artists to see if they wanted to do this covers workshop and they were totally into it and so everyone is learning songs from this record… ’74 was the first year of Folk Fest, so that one will be really fun.

Note: Other albums to be featured in this workshop include: Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons, Good Old Boys by Randy Newman, Planet Waves by Bob Dylan, Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot and It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll by the Rolling Stones.

Sonically Speaking

  • Featuring Lee Ranaldo, Courtney Barnett, Waxahatchee, Real Estate
  • Friday, 3:45 p.m., Snowberry Field

Mick Flannery

I think this is a really cool combination of artists that are going to be stripped down and playing solo, like Courtney Barnett is going to be solo, Lee Ranaldo will be on his own and Waxahatchee will be on her own and Real Estate will be really stripped down. I think that it’s an edgier aspect of the festival’s artistic sensibilities. I think it takes us to more of an indie landscape. It’s not something we see very often at the festival. And I think it will give people an opportunity to hear these artists play songs differently than they would in their normal set. Also it’s supposed to be kind of exploratory, just by its name, so it’s supposed to be about getting into effects — like what is your trick bag? What do you like to use on stage? Those kind of things. Or, “These are my go-to pedals,” and things like that. I think it will be kind of nerdy and fun.

Old Songs, New Songs

  • Featuring Bahamas, Mappe Of, Gabrielle Shonk, Whitney, Matt Holubowski
  • Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Green Ash

Kacy & Clayton

I think it will probably bring the rootsier side of Whitney out, which is cool. And then Mappe Of, Gabrielle Shonk and Matt Holubowski are kind of three of my favourite up-and-coming, or newer, artists to the festival; they haven’t played the festival before. It’s a simple premise, but I also just love the idea of, “Here’s something I wrote when I was 17 and here’s something I wrote last week.” It’s simple but people respond really well to that; we always get huge crowds for the cover songs stuff and the old songs, new songs ones. People like the deep cuts, they like the B-sides.


Real Estate


Yours to Discover

  • Featuring the Strumbellas, Harrow Fair, Donovan Woods
  • Friday, 4:15 p.m., Big Bluestem

This all-Canadian — more specifically, all-Ontarian — workshop promises to be a stunner. The Strumbellas are a festival favourite; the six-piece is known for their lush, full sound and ability to get fans on their feet, so it will be interesting to see them in a more stripped-down workshop setting alongside Donovan Woods, who is known for crafting some of the most emotion-filled tracks you’ll ever hear, and duo Harrow Fair, who have a classic rock/country lean.

The Kids Are Alright

  • Featuring Mappe Of, Gabrielle Shonk, Mo Kenney, Mick Flannery, Boniface
  • Sunday, 11:30 a.m., Green Ash

Lee Ranaldo

Every artist performing at this workshop is not only an “up and comer,” but can also be considered a festival must-see this year, so why not take them all in at the same time? Plus, with these five performers, you’ll get to absorb all aspects of the folk-music spectrum. Canadians Mappe Of and Gabrielle Shonk have the more traditional folk side of things covered; both artists are delicate but precise in their storytelling and soft in their delivery, and have two of this reporter’s favourite albums released in the past year. Dartmouth-based Mo Kenney and Irish performer Mick Flannery take a more indie-folk and folk-rock path — upbeat and rough around the edges in the best ways. And local singer-songwriter Boniface, well, he’s more indie-pop than anything, but his creativity and distinct style will suit this workshop well.

If It Makes You Happy

  • Featuring Mandolin Orange, Kacy & Clayton, the Lonesome Ace Stringband, Darlingside
  • Sunday, 4 p.m., Shady Grove

Gordon Grdina’s Haram

Kacy & Clayton is one of the best folk acts in this country, so really any workshop they are in is one you should be seeing. The pair of cousins from Saskatchewan are so wonderfully classic in their delivery; it often feels like they’ve been ripped right out of Laurel Canyon in the 1960s or ‘70s, but not in an imitative way. Their work is genuine and that’s part of what makes them so great. Boston-based four-piece Darlingside will likely be the discovery of the festival for many; the group ticks all the boxes in terms of sound, songwriting and performance, and aside from this workshop, they play just one other daytime stage on Saturday as part of the String Stravaganza at Green Ash. And we haven’t forgotten about Mandolin Orange or the Lonesome Ace String Band — both groups embrace the same traditional elements of folk as Darlingside and Kacy & Clayton, with a bit more of a country lean.



Mappe Of


Sonically Speaking

  • Featuring Lee Ranaldo, Courtney Barnett, Waxahatchee, Real Estate
  • Friday, 3:45 p.m., Snowberry Field

A stacked workshop with former Sonic Youth guitarist/songwriter/experimental artist Lee Ranaldo teaming up with rock troubadour Courtney Barnett, Friday night’s mainstage headliner from Australia whose deadpan delivery and wry observations made her 2015 debut full-length, Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, one of the year’s best releases; Waxahatchee, the name used by singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield for her indie-rock solo project; and summery, laid-back New Jersey outfit Real Estate.

I Won’t Back Down

  • Featuring Las Cafeteras, Gordon Grdina’s Haram, Leonard Sumner
  • Saturday, 11:30 a.m., Green Ash


The Green Ash stage will have almost 20 people on it during this sure-to-be high-energy workshop. East L.A. sextet Las Cafeteras specialize in Son jarocho, a regional folk style of Mexican Son from the state of Veracruz; Gordon Grdina’s Harem is 10-piece outfit from Vancouver who offer up a unique take on avant-garde Arabic music; while Winnipeg-based Anishinaabe singer-songwriter/MC Leonard Sumner will add a touch of lyrical prowess and storytelling that should fit in perfectly during any large-ensemble jam sessions.

About Last Night

  • Featuring Lanikai, Five Alarm Funk, Too Many Zooz
  • Sunday, 2:15 p.m., Snowberry Field


Anyone who still has energy to dance in the heat on the final day of the festival should be at this workshop featuring three uptempo acts who are also appearing Saturday at the Blue Big @ Night stage. Lanikai is the new pop project from Winnipeg’s Marti Sarbit, who first showed off her unique vocal talents and songwriting skills to the world as a member of Imaginary Cities. Joining Lanikai is Vancouver’s Five Alarm Funk, whose name accurately describes its sound, while Too Many Zooz is a New York instrumental trumpet/sax/percussion trio that mixes jazz, hip-hop and dance music into its infectious fusion. The group shot to fame after footage of its live performances on subways went viral.





Niigaan Inaabin (Looking Ahead)

  • Feat. nêhiyawak, Archie Roach, Leonard Sumner
  • Friday, 2:15-3:30 p.m., Bur Oak

Archie Roach, a member of the Order of Australia, uses his lyrics to bring attention to the plight of Indigenous Australians.

This collection of performers demonstrates the breadth of Indigenous songwriting voices. Edmonton’s nêhiyawak — Kris Harper, Matthew Cardinal and Marek Tyler — draw on Plains Cree musical traditions and combine them with a modern shoegazey vibe. They were the buzz of Forthwith Festival earlier this year; it will be interesting to see how their sound translates to a folk stage. Folksinger Archie Roach, meanwhile, is a natural Folk-Fest fit; he was scheduled to appear at the festival last year. The member of the Order of Australia uses his lyrics to bring attention to the plight of Indigenous Australians. Anishinaabe singer-songwriter Leonard Sumner, who grew up on the Little Saskatchewan First Nation, released his sophomore album in March. Standing in the Light features personal songs that mix folk-country instrumentation with a hip-hop lyrical feel.

Al Simmons

  • Saturday, 1:15 p.m., Chickadee Big Top

Don’t have kids? Don’t let that keep you from seeing venerable children’s entertainer Al Simmons, because the stress in that description is on “entertainer,” not “children’s.” He’s witty, hilarious and a crack songwriter. He has other slots during the fest, but this one gets you out of the blazing sun and into the fun for 45 minutes.

Concert: Gabrielle Shonk

  • Sunday, 3-4 p.m., Little Stage in the Forest

Though the multi-artist workshops are often the most fun and least predictable, it’s always nice to immerse oneself in a single performer for a bit — and the shady, wooded Little Stage is the perfect place to lie back and enjoy a solo show by Québécois singer-songwriter Gabrielle Shonk. The vocal powerhouse — who was a contestant on La Voix, the Quebec version of The Voice — has a soulful grit to her smooth delivery on her self-titled debut, a collection of folk-pop songs with a vampy bent, which include a handful sung in French.




Celebrating “45 Years” Stan Rogers Singalong with Nathan Rogers

  • Saturday, 11 a.m., Bur Oak

Nathan Rogers

You don’t get much more Folk Fest than a Stan Rogers singalong — but it’ll be extra special when led by his son, Nathan. The late, great Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers is part of the Winnipeg Folk Festival’s DNA, performing at it five times between 1975 and 1982. Every year after his tragic death in a fire aboard an Air Canada plane in 1983, his classic The Mary Ellen Carter has been sung to close out the festival. Nathan is a gifted folk musician in his own right, and his own Folk Festival performance in 2013 was a highlight for this writer.

Memphis in the Meantime

  • Featuring Lilly Hiatt, Amythyst Kiah, 10 String Symphony
  • Sunday, 2:15 p.m., Spruce Hollow

Lilly Hiatt

This workshop features a powerhouse trio of Tennesseans. Lilly Hiatt, the honey-voiced daughter of singer-songwriter John Hiatt, has been shredding on the guitar since she was 12 years old — a point reflected in her latest album, 2017’s muscular rocker Trinity Lane. Hiatt is joined by Amythyst Kiah, a Southern Gothic singer-songwriter with a lush, soulful voice; and 10 String Symphony, the beautifully harmonizing duo of fiddlers/vocalists Rachel Baiman and Christian Sedelmyer. I’d go early to grab a spot at this one if I were you.

Spread Your Wings

  • Featuring Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Wallis Bird
  • Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Green Ash

If you haven’t heard the commanding voice of Julien Baker yet, get thee to Spotify and check her out right now. The 22-year-old Memphis singer-songwriter made major waves with her debut album, 2015’s Sprained Ankle, which she recorded with a friend over a few days. This workshop is a reunion of sorts; Baker’s pal and former touring mate, Phoebe Bridgers — an L.A. singer-songwriter who sounds like Elliott Smith incarnate — is also on the bill, along with the eclectic Irish folk artist Wallis Bird, whose voice soars like her surname.

Report Error Submit a Tip