Change of key The music will sound as sweet, but fans should be ready for new rules to keep the experience harmonious

It’s been a minute — more than 1.5 million minutes, actually — since throngs of people gathered in Birds Hill Park to celebrate music and community under a wide summer sky filled with dragonflies. The Winnipeg Folk Festival is back for the first time since 2019 and you’d be forgiven for feeling a little rusty.

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It’s been a minute — more than 1.5 million minutes, actually — since throngs of people gathered in Birds Hill Park to celebrate music and community under a wide summer sky filled with dragonflies. The Winnipeg Folk Festival is back for the first time since 2019 and you’d be forgiven for feeling a little rusty.

While the core experience remains unchanged, there are a number of new initiatives and necessary adjustments that have happened amid the pandemic. Managing resources — of both the human and supply variety — has been top of mind for organizers.

“We’ve had to make some changes due to having a bit of a volunteer shortage,” folk fest executive producer Lynne Skromeda says. “We’re making it work and we’re doing the best we can.”

The festival has secured more than 2,000 volunteers, but is still shy of its usual targets. To keep essential services running smoothly, non-essential operations in the box office, parking lot, campground, audience-services tent and elsewhere have been pared down.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Lynne Skromeda (left), executive director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and Chris Frayer, the artistic director, survey the festival site in 2021.

In an effort to minimize cash transactions, many of the festival services and vendors have switched to contactless payment methods. Same goes for ticketing, which means day and weekend passes will have to be purchased online instead of at the box office at the gates.

Despite the modifications, Skromeda hopes audience members are as excited as she is for the homecoming.

“There’s been so much anxiety that we’ve all felt over the past several months, but as it gets closer and closer and starts to feel more real, the excitement is overtaking that,” she says. “The idea of being back in Birds Hill Park with the people we love and the music we love, I think people’s hearts are just going to fill right back up again.”

Keep reading for details of what to expect and how to prepare for the return of the province’s largest summer music event.

The Strumbellas are shown in this undated handout photo. Folk-pop band the Strumbellas return with their new single “Greatest Enemy,” over a year after sidelining their Canadian concert tour as their lead singer struggled with depression. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO – Matt Barnes

Music

With more than 60 artists performing over four days across nine different stages, the folk festival is an embarrassment of riches. You can’t see it all, but with a little bit of pre-planning you can make the most of the musical lineup.

While there will be free fold-out festival guides available onsite, the organization has done away with physical program books this year. The Winnipeg Folk Festival app is the best way to stay abreast of the daily schedule — organizers will also be pushing lineup changes and inclement-weather updates through the app. As in years past, there will be free phone-charging stations set up throughout the festival grounds.

Download the app (from the Apple or Android store) before heading out to the park and spend some time tagging artists and concerts that pique your interest. It will save your selections in the favourites tab and give you a notification a few minutes before showtime. Each artist page has a short bio and a list of every stage and workshop they’ll be performing at during the weekend — this makes it easy to plot out your listening schedule without missing your preferred acts.

There’s also something to be said about going with the flow and approaching the music with less intention. Let your ears guide you from stage to stage. You might just find your new favourite band.

 

Transportation

Getting to the festival is always the first adventure of the weekend. Campers start piling into the campgrounds Wednesday morning and daily commutes will begin the grand parking lot dance that evening.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Regular festival goers are rarely deterred by weather, even the most threatening clouds.

Organizers have made some changes to parking lot operations this year in an effort to get cars in and out more efficiently. Drivers arriving through the west gate (accessible from Highway 59) will be directed into the west lot, while drivers coming in through the east gate (accessible from Route 206) will be lined up in the east. Wherever you came in is where you will have to leave at the end of the night. Keep an eye out for cyclists, pedestrians and traffic volunteers who will be sharing the road during the post-concert rush.

Drivers will also be required to purchase a provincial park pass ahead of time to enter Birds Hill. You must do so online at manitobaelicensing.ca; the printed-out pass has to be displayed on the vehicle’s dashboard for the duration of your stay.

You can also get to and from the grounds by bus. Winnipeg Transit’s Folk Fest Express will be running regularly Thursday through Sunday — visit winnipegfolkfestival.ca for a full schedule. Festivalgoers can hop on in downtown Winnipeg at a special stop on northbound Memorial boulevard between Portage and St. Mary avenues. The bus is free for ticketholders and a one-way trip takes about 45 minutes.

A free shuttle also runs every 30 minutes between the Quiet and Birds Hill Provincial Park campgrounds and the festival site.

While biking to the festival is technically possible, cyclists will face significant roadblocks this year. Sections of the Duff Roblin Parkway, which runs between Winnipeg and Birds Hill Park, are closed due to flooding, and ongoing construction on Highway 59 means bikes will have to mingle more closely with vehicles. Festival organizers are advising attendees to look for alternate ways to get to the park.

 

Food and drink

The festival is a marathon, not a sprint. Staying hydrated and well-nourished will make the multi-day event a much more enjoyable experience.

Folk Fest drinks

The 2022 Winnipeg Folk Festival features a full slate of drink options, many of which are new for this year. Free Press drinks writer Ben Sigurdson held his own folk fest workshop to see what they were like.

BEER

After years of Big Rock dominating the folk fest beer tent, the locals at Little Brown Jug have taken over behind the taps, the same year the entire folk fest grounds have become licensed. The Little Brown Jug Folk Fest Lager is just what you want while hanging near a smaller stage for a workshop on a hot July weekend. It’s pale gold in appearance and brings up-front grainy, grassy and citrus rind flavours to help you beat the heat, and a modest 4.4 per cent alcohol that makes it completely crushable.

Also available: Little Brown Jug 1919 Belgian pale ale, golden ale, hefeweizen and Belgian IPA

CIDER

In addition to working with a local brewery, the folk fest partnered with Winkler’s Dead Horse Cider Co. for their cider offering. The Dead Horse Cherry On pairs Manitoba sour cherries with Canadian apples; it’s deep pink in colour and brings crisp, crunchy fruit in a big way without excess sweetness, and with a dollop of mouth-watering acidity. Five per cent alcohol; great on its own but would be good on the rocks as well.

The 2022 Winnipeg Folk Festival features a full slate of drink options, many of which are new for this year. Free Press drinks writer Ben Sigurdson held his own folk fest workshop to see what they were like.

BEER

After years of Big Rock dominating the folk fest beer tent, the locals at Little Brown Jug have taken over behind the taps, the same year the entire folk fest grounds have become licensed. The Little Brown Jug Folk Fest Lager is just what you want while hanging near a smaller stage for a workshop on a hot July weekend. It’s pale gold in appearance and brings up-front grainy, grassy and citrus rind flavours to help you beat the heat, and a modest 4.4 per cent alcohol that makes it completely crushable.

Also available: Little Brown Jug 1919 Belgian pale ale, golden ale, hefeweizen and Belgian IPA

CIDER

In addition to working with a local brewery, the folk fest partnered with Winkler’s Dead Horse Cider Co. for their cider offering. The Dead Horse Cherry On pairs Manitoba sour cherries with Canadian apples; it’s deep pink in colour and brings crisp, crunchy fruit in a big way without excess sweetness, and with a dollop of mouth-watering acidity. Five per cent alcohol; great on its own but would be good on the rocks as well.

HARD SELTZER

The relatively new Super Fun Beverage Co.— a joint venture between Barn Hammer Brewing Co. (where it’s made) and Low Life Barrel House — has burst out of the gate with four hard seltzers, one of which will be available at the folk fest. The Super Fun Beverage Co. Pear & Elderflower hard seltzer, as advertised, delivers big fresh pear flavours, while the floral and pineapple candy notes linger in the background. Drink this dry, gluten- and sulfite-free, 5.5 per cent hard seltzer well chilled and/or on the rocks. Delicious.

WINE

The folk fest has touted its “completely Canadian lineup of beverages,” and the trio of Bask wines it has chosen sort of fit that bill. They’re made from a blend of “domestic and international wines” and bottled and blended in Canada — which means they could be made mostly of juice from Chile or Argentina or elsewhere. The Bask Cabernet Sauvignon (140 calories/188ml serving, according to the back label) brings dilute cassis and cherry flavours, a touch of tannin and a relatively modest 12.5 per cent alcohol. There are better light, fruity reds out there for the price if you look beyond the Canadian requirement. If you’re drinking the red and it’s hot, toss in a couple of ice cubes. The white or rosé are almost certainly better, and probably more suited to warm-weather folk-fest swilling.

Also available: Bask Rosé, Bask Pinot Grigio

Other drinks of note: Brite Water carbonated water (made at Little Brown Jug), various flavours; Canadian Club & Ginger Ale pre-mixed cooler.

Ben Sigurdson

Bring a reusable bottle and refill it often at one of the many water stations sprinkled throughout the festival site. You can bring your own snacks and meals or plan to purchase food at one of the many vendors — some of which are also posted in the Festival Campground.

Sadly, several longtime food vendors will not be in attendance this year. Sukhothai and Whales Tails have opted out of the festival owing to food costs and travel constraints.

“We’re so gutted about that,” Skromeda says of the absence of the Whales Tails stand, the proprietors of which have been bringing their fried-dough delicacies to the festival from British Columbia for the last 40 years. “They’re not doing any festivals anywhere this summer; they normally travel all across western Canada and they just don’t have the capacity.”

There are also big changes afoot for the festival’s beer gardens. The two main taverns will be operating as usual, but this year, folkies will be able to roam with their foam. The festival has introduced sitewide liquor licensing, which will allow attendees to sip on an alcoholic beverage anywhere on the grounds.

It’s a trend that has been growing among other festivals, Skromeda says, and a decision that was made, in part, as a pandemic precaution to avoid crowded taverns.

The beverage menu has shifted as well, with Winnipeg’s Little Brown Jug taking over from Big Rock as the festival’s main beer supplier.

 

Attire and supplies

By all means, dress in your folk fest best, but don’t forget to dress for the weather. If this spring has been any indication, festival weekend will likely be some combination of sweltering hot temperatures, torrential downpours and outrageous wind. Not to mention a barrage of hungry mosquitoes.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Shade is a hot commodity at the Winnipeg Folk Festival; come prepared.

“We normally ask that people really prepare for the heat… but our site has been incredibly soggy to set up this year,” Skromeda says. “The festival will get wetter if we do get rain, so just be prepared for all kinds of weather conditions.”

In addition to cute and funky attire, remember to pack rain gear and warm clothes (it can cool off significantly at night). Comfortable shoes are also a must — you’ll be walking everywhere and I can tell you from experience, that this isn’t the time to break in a new pair of sandals. I can also tell you, from experience, that rompers and overalls are not the ideal outfit when your only washroom option is a porta-potty.

When it comes to protective provisions, bring bug spray and reapply strong sunscreen often. Thanks to a grant, the festival has added some additional shade structures to the grounds this year. Staff have also planted more than 70 new trees over the last two years, which should make for a shadier future.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Getting into Birds Hill Park will require a park pass available only online.

Make yourself comfortable while you listen. Blankets and short chairs (no taller than two feet) are welcome at all stages and tarps (no larger than 8×10 feet) can be laid down in front of Main Stage. The tarp shuffle is back this year, but festival organizers are cracking down on early-bird lineups. Tarp tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. at the box office and participants won’t be allowed into the parking lot until 8 a.m.

“We’re really taking a hard and fast line this year,” Skromeda says.

Bring everything you need, but try not to overpack. Audience Services will not be offering a bag-check program this year, so you’ll be responsible for lugging your belongings throughout the day. Wagons are a great way for families with young kiddos (and anyone, really) to transport their gear.

 

Camping

The Festival Campground is a mini-city with more than 6,000 temporary residents. It can be equal parts fun and chaos.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Bring everything you need for a weekend of camping.

As with any camping trip, bring everything you’ll need for a weekend spent sleeping in a tent or trailer. If you’re going with a group, it’s a great idea to pool your resources to lighten the load for everyone — you can probably share a camp stove, cooking utensils or other accoutrements. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to drive into your site, so prepare for multiple trips to the parking lot. Again, a wagon is a really helpful tool here.

There is a general store in the campground where you can buy almost anything you might have forgotten and the Birds Hill campground has an even wider selection of goods. The latter also has coin-operated showers; only cold outdoor showers are available in the campground.

Make note of where the campground first aid and wellness station is located in relation to your tent. Keep an eye on your friends, practise consent and be careful not to overconsume.

The campground animator program is another casualty of resource management. There won’t be any large installations or late-night concerts in the campground this year — aside from the sing-alongs ignited by campers.

It can be hard to think about cleaning amid all the fun, but it’s important to be a good temporary neighbour. Keep your site clean and dispose of your garbage and recycling at the designated depots. Leave no trace at the end of the festival, for the good of future park users and full-time animal inhabitants.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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