Hill to be alive with music, again Winnipeg Folk Festival set to make triumphant return after two years of silence

A sign of spring has become a beacon of hope for Winnipeg music fans.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/04/2022 (415 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A sign of spring has become a beacon of hope for Winnipeg music fans.

Folk Fest artists

AHI (Ontario)
Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves (North Carolina)
Allison Russell (Quebec/Tennessee)
Andy Shauf (Saskatchewan)
Arroj Aftab (New York)
Bahamas (Ontario)
Bedouine (Syria)
Bettye LaVette (Michigan)
Blind Boys of Alabama (Alabama)
Bobby Dove (Manitoba)
Boy Golden (Manitoba)
Buck Meet (Texas)
Buddy Guy (Illinois)
Cadence Weapon (Ontario)
Cassie and Maggie (Nova Scotia)
Charlie Cunningham (United Kingdom)
Chicano Batman (California)
Clerel (Cameroon/Quebec)
Del Barber (Manitoba)

AHI (Ontario)
Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves (North Carolina)
Allison Russell (Quebec/Tennessee)
Andy Shauf (Saskatchewan)
Arroj Aftab (New York)
Bahamas (Ontario)
Bedouine (Syria)
Bettye LaVette (Michigan)
Blind Boys of Alabama (Alabama)
Bobby Dove (Manitoba)
Boy Golden (Manitoba)
Buck Meet (Texas)
Buddy Guy (Illinois)
Cadence Weapon (Ontario)
Cassie and Maggie (Nova Scotia)
Charlie Cunningham (United Kingdom)
Chicano Batman (California)
Clerel (Cameroon/Quebec)
Del Barber (Manitoba)
Dervish (Ireland)
FONTINE (Manitoba)
Fruit Bats (Illinois)
Gangstagrass (New York)
Green Fools Theatre (Manitoba)
Ifriqiyya Electrique (Tunisia)
James Culleton Super Fun (Manitoba)
Japanese Breakfast (Pennsylvania)
JayWood (Manitoba)
Jeremie Albino (Ontario)
Jerey Dutcher (New Brunswick)
Jerry Harrison & Adrian Belew (Wisconsin/Kentucky)
Jessee Havey and the Banana Band (Manitoba)
JJ Shiplet (Alberta)
Josh Q and the Trade-offs (Nunavut)
Judy Collins (Colorado)
Kirby Brown (Nashville)
Kurt Vile and the Violators (Pennsylvania)
Leith Ross (Manitoba)
Les Filles De Illighadad (Niger)
Lido Pimienta (Colombia/Ontario)
Madison Cunningham (California)
Moontricks (B.C.)
Ocie Elliott (B.C.)
Pachyman (California)
PIQSIQ (Northwest Territories)
Portugal. The Man (Alaska)
Reuben and the Dark (Alberta)
Richard Inman (Manitoba)
Ruby Waters (Ontario)
Sam Lynch (B.C.)
Sebastian Gaskin (Manitoba)
Shanley Spence (Manitoba)
Sudan Archives (California)
Sweet Alibi (Manitoba)
Tall Tall Trees (North Carolina)
Tash Sultana (Australia)
Teke::Teke (Quebec)
The New Pornographers (B.C.)
The Strumbellas (Ontario)
The Weatehr Station (Ontario)
Tré Burt (California)
Trio Svin (Denmark)
Weyes Blood (California)
Wild Rivers (Ontario)

A list of 65 artists from around the world that will perform at the 2022 Winnipeg Folk Festival — including indie hitmakers Portugal. The Man, blues legend Buddy Guy and a host of Manitoba up-and-comers such as Sebastian Gaskin and Boy Golden — brings a sense of expectation that’s been in short supply since… the last time the folk fest announced a festival lineup.

That annual rite took place March 4, 2020. Sixteen days later, the Manitoba government declared a state of emergency relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news kept getting grimmer and grimmer: John Prine, the Nashville singer-songwriter who was to be one of the 2020 event’s headliners, died from COVID-19 April 6 and on April 14, the festival’s board cancelled the festival.

The board made the same decision a year later, calling off the 2021 folk fest before it even got started.

So excuse the enthusiasm, mixed with a prudent amount of caution, coming from the Folk Fest’s headquarters on Bannatyne Avenue and the Little Brown Jug taproom, where festival officials announced the lineup Friday evening.

”We’re all feeling really excited about being able to get our community back together again at Birds Hill Park. It’s been a long time coming,” Lynne Skromeda, the folk fest’s executive director, says. “I feel really resolute that this is going to happen this year.

“We might have some modifications that will be required along the way… but we’re going to bring people and the music they love back to the place where they want to hear it.”

Supplied Portugal. The Man is scheduled to headline the mainstage on Saturday as the Winnipeg Folk Festival returns to Birds Hill Park.

The festival ends three years of silence July 7 with what promises to be a blues and soul-filled Thursday mainstage lineup that includes Guy, whose 1970 performance at Winnipeg Stadium is part of the documentary Festival Express, Bettye LaVette, whose musical interpretation range from the Who, Billie Holiday and the Beatles, local folk trio Sweet Alibi and Montreal roots artist Allison Russell.

Russell’s become a much-sought after performer across North America owing to her three Grammy Award nominations in 2022 and her song Nightflyer, which she performed at the Grammy ceremonies last week.

”I actually just saw her, I was speaking with her in Austin, Texas, she was about to do Ellen and the Jimmy Kimmel show,” says Chris Frayer, the folk fest’s artistic director.

Folk Fest Mainstage performers

Buddy Guy
Bettye LaVette
Allison Russell
Sweet Alibi

The Strumbellas
Jerry Harrison & Adrian Belew play the Talking Heads album Remain in Light
Sudan Archives
Fruit Bats
Les Filles de Illighad

Portugal. The Man
Japanese Breakfast
Jeremy Dutcher
Andy Shauf
Tash Sultana
Madison Cunningham


Kurt Vile and the Violators
Weyes Blood

Chicano Batman
Lido Pimienta
Teke:: Teke
Boy Golden

Cadence Weapon
Arooj Aftab

While all eyes are on July 7-10, 2022, some acts scheduled to perform at Birds Hill are from the ill-fated 2020 lineup, including the Sunday, July 10 headliner Tash Sultana, the Australian singer-songwriter who did appear on the Folk Fest at Home streaming substitute in 2020, ’60s folk legend Judy Collins and the Oregon-based group Japanese Breakfast, which is part of Saturday, July 9 mainstage schedule.

”Tash Sultana and Japanese Breakfast, their careers have blossomed during the pandemic,” Frayer says. “Most of the bands (from 2020) were keen to come back to the festival this year.”

Headlining Saturday’s mainstage is indie group Portugal. The Man, whose hits include Feel it Still, which recently surpassed the one billion-listen milestone on Spotify.

Folk fest stalwarts, brought up on the likes of Bruce Cockburn, Stan Rogers and Pete Seeger, might roll their eyes at seeing a mainstream act play at Birds Hill, but Frayer says if you scratch below the group’s pop surface, the souls of folkies emerge.

”They’re originally from Alaska and they have their own foundation that works with Indigenous communities,” Frayer says of the 2019 Grammy winners, adding that the PTM Foundation also supports putting musical instruments in schools, mental-health initiatives and accessibility rights for disabled people.

”They’re active in a way that aligns with folk-fest values.”

Supplied Buddy Guy

While Manitoba’s other major music festival, Dauphin’s Countryfest, is offering an all-Canadian list of performers when it returns June 30-July 3, the folk fest has continued its tradition of bringing artists from the United States and around the world, such as Bedouine from Syria, Tunisian group Ifriqiyya Electrique, which is part of the mainstage lineup on Friday, July 8, and Arooj Aftab, who last week became the first Pakistani artist — she sings in Urdu — to win a Grammy.

”We’re a little bit all over the map as usual, because we wanted to to bring all those diverse sounds to Birds Hill Park that people expect every year,” Frayer says.

Big Blue @ Night, the folk fest’s alternative evening stage set up on Fridays and Saturdays, expands to Thursday night in 2022, with Kurt Vile and the Violators and Weyes Blood performing. Los Angeles-based Latino rockers Chicano Batman headline Friday and Toronto rapper Cadence Weapon tops Saturday night’s Big Blue bill.

Supplied Allison Russell

Winnipeg’s Boy Golden, the moniker for Liam Duncan, who earned a folk fest rising star award in 2015 as part of the band Until Red, joins Cadence Weapon on the Saturday Big Blue @ Night lineup, and is among a host of Manitoba artists at the folk fest. Others include Gaskin, the R&B singer and guitarist from Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Inglis roots singer Del Barber and Brandon-based artist Bobby Dove, whose songs hearken back to the traditional country sounds of the past, such as Johnny Cash or Porter Wagoner.

“Bobby Dove is a fantastic artist. They moved here from Montreal to Brandon and quickly became part of the local music scene, just fused right in with what’s going on,” Frayer says.

The ever-changing aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic has folk fest organizers ready to adapt the Birds Hill site and its usual procedures at a moment’s notice, but Skromeda says it’s too early to say whether there will be adjustments three months from now that will directly affect audience members, such as a vaccine requirement or greater distancing between spectators and their tarps.

Supplied Bedouine

What there will be is the same number of stages as in 2019 as well as the Handmade Village and a variety of food vendors.

“Every time I try and say, ‘OK, that’s the way we’re going to do it,’ something happens and we have to change it again,” she says. “Having an outdoor event is easier for people to handle and seeing something like the Bombers have games last summer was also a sign for us that you can get people together and it’s OK.”


Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Supplied Boy Golden
Supplied Judy Collins
Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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