Big skies, full hearts, can’t lose After three long years, Winnipeg Folk Festival mainstage ready to welcome locals and legends alike

It’ll be a sweet return to the Winnipeg Folk Festival mainstage Thursday night.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

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

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/07/2022 (263 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’ll be a sweet return to the Winnipeg Folk Festival mainstage Thursday night.

Mainstage schedule

6 p.m.: Sweet Alibi
6:55 p.m.: Cassie and Maggie
7:10 p.m.: Allison Russell
8:05 p.m.: Ndidi O
8:20 p.m.: Bettye LaVette
9:30 p.m.: Tré Burt
9:45 p.m.: Leo Nocentelli

6 p.m.: Sweet Alibi
6:55 p.m.: Cassie and Maggie
7:10 p.m.: Allison Russell
8:05 p.m.: Ndidi O
8:20 p.m.: Bettye LaVette
9:30 p.m.: Tré Burt
9:45 p.m.: Leo Nocentelli

6 p.m.: LADAMA
6:55 p.m.: Allison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves
7:10 p.m.: Fruit Bats
8:05 p.m.: Slow Leaves
8:20 p.m.: Andy Shauf
9:15 p.m.: Ocie Elliott
9:30 p.m.: Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew Remain in Light
10:45 p.m.: Kirby Brown
11 p.m.: The Strumbellas

6 p.m.: Dervish
6:55 p.m.: Richard Inman
7:10 p.m.: Jeremy Dutcher
8:05 p.m.: Clerel
8:20 p.m.: Sudan Archives
9:15 p.m.: Sam Lynch
9:30 p.m.: Japanese Breakfast
10:35 p.m.: Leith Ross
10:50 p.m.: Portugal. The Man


6 p.m.: Madison Cunningham
7:05 p.m.: JJ Shiplett
7:20 p.m.: Bahamas
8:35 p.m.: Ruby Waters
8:50 p.m.: Tash Sultana

Winnipeg trio Sweet Alibi will have the honour of being the performers who bring live music back to the festival’s site at Birds Hill Provincial Park after a three-year hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group — Jess Ray Ayre, Amber Nielsen and Michelle Anderson — say they recognize the significance of the moment when they make their mainstage debut at 6 p.m.

“That makes me more nervous,” Anderson says with a laugh Wednesday afternoon. “I just made an Instagram post saying we all grew up at that festival, we have been going for years. Personally, I was never like, ‘Some day I’ll play up on that mainstage,’ I never thought of it like that.

“Being there and actually doing it and knowing your friends and family and fans are in the audience, it’s so amazing.”

Picking Sweet Alibi as the group to open the festival was a deliberate choice, says festival artistic director Chris Frayer, who had scheduled it for the mainstage in the 2020 festival before it was cancelled.

“We always have a local band kick off the festival. It’s a tradition,” Frayer says. “I know they’re going to be bringing a horn section with them and it’s going to be a bigger show than people are used to from them. It’ll be a special show, for sure.”

Sweet Alibi returned home early Tuesday from long-anticipated concerts in Germany, where the band was promoting its 2022 album, Make a Scene. They were among the fortunate travellers who escaped much-talked-about major airport delays on their 30-hour journey home: Frankfurt to Paris to Calgary to Winnipeg.

“I woke up and my brain reset and ‘Oh yeah, playing folk fest,’ ” Anderson says.

Frayer says he could write an entire book on Thursday night’s mainstage bill alone.

Here’s an abridged version: a chapter could be fashioned about Allison Russell and her emergence in 2021, thanks to her record Outside Child, which earned the Montreal-born roots singer, three Grammy nominations this year. She plays at 7:10 p.m.

Next up is Bettye LaVette, who hits the stage at 8:20 p.m. She has spent a lifetime singing blues and soul but in the last decade she gained greater fame as an interpreter of rock classics, such as the Who’s Love Reign O’er Me and Bob Dylan’s Things Have Changed.

Guitarist Leo Nocentelli winds up Thursday’s mainstage show, a late replacement for another guitar great, Buddy Guy.

Nocentelli, who, along with legendary producer Allen Toussaint, was in the New Orleans band the Meters in the 1960s and ’70s, will perform his album Another Side, a folk-funk album that was originally recorded in 1971 but was buried for five decades prior to its release last year.

He didn’t give the acoustic folk-funk songs much thought after the album was mothballed by the Meters’ record company, and Nocentelli thought the tapes had been lost in the widespread flooding in New Orleans caused by hurricane Katrina in 2005.

They were eventually found in a discarded storage facility in Hollywood in 2018 with other crates of salvaged goods from New Orleans, and in 2021 Nocentelli was able to finally release the album to critical acclaim.

What’s up at Folk Fest

SUPPLIED Kurt Vile will share the stage Friday with frequent collaborators, the Sadies.


The daytime stages at the Winnipeg Folk Festival are ripe for musical discovery. This week’s What’s Up is dedicated to the must-sees before the headliners.

Kurt Vile and the SadiesGreen Ash, Friday at 1 p.m.

Read full story

”(Another Side) shook the entire music industry,” Frayer says. “He’s not a household name but he’s probably the most sampled guitar player in the world.

”Leo’s story is in the same vein as Rodriguez (Searching for Sugar Man) and the Native North America box set that came out and we had them out at the festival to perform live. The music is fantastic but it gets lost. I want people to hear the story again.”

It’s one of three “album hour” shows planned for the folk fest. No. 2 is Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew performing the Talking Heads’ 1980 record Remain in Light on the mainstage Friday at 9:30 p.m.

Harrison was the Talking Heads’ keyboard player on the album, while Belew, who had been in the ’70s prog-rock group King Crimson, played guitar and synthesizer on the record. They’ll be backed by a 15-piece band, Frayer says, which should fill up almost every square inch of the stage.

Frayer hopes one day the Talking Heads — David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Harrison — will reunite, but says Harrison and Belew’s performance on Friday will be satisfying all the same.

”If you’re a Talking Heads fan, you just can’t miss this show,” Frayer says of the set, which is sandwiched between two popular Canadian acts, folk singer Andy Shauf and pop group the Strumbellas, Friday night.

The third album show Frayer’s has arranged celebrates the 50th anniversary of Neil Young’s Harvest, and has Sweet Alibi sharing the Big Bluestem stage Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with Manitoba artists Bobby Dove, Boy Golden, Fontine, Del Barber, JayWood and Richard Inman.

“I have it on vinyl,” Anderson says of the Young classic. “My uncle gave it to me — it was in his collection — so I’ve had it since I was a teenager. I’ve definitely been listening to that record for a long time.”

U.S. rock group Portugal. The Man headlines a Saturday mainstage show that includes Irish folk band Dervish, 2018 Polaris Music Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher, American violinist and singer Sudan Archives and Japanese Breakfast, the Philadelphia pop group fronted by Korean-American singer Michelle Zauner.

Big Blue @ Night

7:30 p.m.: Weyes Blood
9 p.m.: Kurt Vile & the Violators

7 p.m.: Boy Golden
8:10 p.m.: Teke: Teke
9:25 p.m.: Lido Pimienta
10:45 p.m.: Chicano Batman

7 p.m.: Arooj Aftab
8:20 p.m.: Moontricks
9:40 p.m.: Pachyman
11 p.m.: Cadence Weapon

Portugal. The Man, whose members’ activism for civil and human rights matches the folk fest’s ethos, shot to fame in 2017 with the hit Feel It Still and the album Woodstock. The Alaska group brings a new song, What, Me Worry?, which came out last month, to the folk fest.

Australian singer-songwriter Tash Sultana, who, like Sweet Alibi, was on the 2020 folk fest bill, winds up the festival Sunday at 8:50 p.m.

Frayer says folkies — the ones in the audience as well as staff members and volunteers — will be able to shake off three years of rust, but like almost everything since March 2020, everyone at Birds Hill will need to adjust to a new-normal folk fest.

“It’s exceptional that we’ve been able to put together a festival this year, against all odds, and we’re fighting through the forces that be that are out of our control,” Frayer says. “It’s taken a lot out of the organization, but it’s what we love to do and we’re super-happy to be back.

“We just want to get through this and put on a great show and try to take a deep breath on Monday.”

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

If you value coverage of Manitoba’s arts scene, help us do more.
Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow the Free Press to deepen our reporting on theatre, dance, music and galleries while also ensuring the broadest possible audience can access our arts journalism.
BECOME AN ARTS JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.

2022 WFF schedule

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.

Report Error Submit a Tip