Big fun comes in small package

Music festival celebrates five years with diverse lineup, atypical venues


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As the icy chill of January sets firmly into our collective bones, and hibernation begins to feel like a valid option, it can only mean one thing — it’s time for the Big Fun Festival.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/01/2016 (2569 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As the icy chill of January sets firmly into our collective bones, and hibernation begins to feel like a valid option, it can only mean one thing — it’s time for the Big Fun Festival.

The annual five-day, multi-genre music festival was met with understandable skepticsm when it began in 2012, but has since proven the skeptics wrong, successfully enticing Winnipeggers out of their homes in the dead of winter for the past four years.

This year is the festival’s fifth anniversary, and, looking back, artistic director Stefan Braun is pleased to see how Big Fun has expanded from its humble beginnings.

Mozart's Sister (Submitted Photo)

“To be honest, there was no real intention of where it was going, or how far it would go, or what it was,’ says Braun. “Over the past five years I think we’ve grown into the identity that we have and it’s been a very organic change. We’ve never tried to force it to become something that it isn’t. We’ve managed to grow with what the community has given us and the support that we’ve gotten, and we’re just slowly moving forward.’

Big Fun is still a relatively small festival — they have 50 acts over five days in eight venues varying in size from coffee shops to the West End Cultural Centre.

Topping the bill are artists such as indie-rockers Calvin Love and “dirt-pop’ artist Mozart’s Sister, along with Winnipeg roots-blues outfit the Crooked Brothers.

While name recognition of many of the lineup’s other bands is relatively low, Braun is confident those artists will draw attention from festival goers looking for something new.

“We don’t have any massive headliners this year, but I think every act that we’ve booked is of the utmost quality, so it’s gonna be an exciting year,’ he says. “Hopefully people feel the same and we can go on for another five years.’


New venue

This year, the festival has partnered with Raw: Almond, the pop-up restaurant on the river hosted by deer + almond, to create an “intimate and strange’ experience.

“I’m in a fortunate position where I’m the bar manager at deer + almond,’ says Braun. “Since the river (restaurant) started, the chef (Mandel Hitzer) was always like, ‘We have to do something,’ and I always said I had no idea how that would even work.’

But Hitzer was adamant this was the year to pull it off, so nine acts are scheduled to perform over three nights in the space, which was relocated from the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers to a nearby spot on land due to the warm December weather.

Novillero (Submitted photo)

“It’s not going to be the same as being on the river, but it is going to be an incredibly unique experience,’ Braun adds.

Raw: Almond will be closed during Big Fun, but there will be a fully functioning bar and a small amount of food available. The capacity is only 150 people, so Braun suggests getting tickets as early as possible to avoid disappointment.


Bands from far off places

Though the majority of artists playing Big Fun are based in Manitoba, the festival’s reach is expanding. This year, organizers had applications coming in from all over North America.

The band coming the furthest distance is Super Thief, a noise-rock foursome based in Austin, Texas. Guitarist and vocalist Cody Kimbell says they heard about the festival from Winnipeg band Tunic, who they had played with several times.

“You start to build these national (and international) friendships with other bands, which is rad. Our friends help us when we come in town and we help them when they come to Austin. It’s all about building a community that connects the smaller scenes,’ says Kimbell.

But, the question on everyone’s mind is: will four guys from Texas be able to hack the cold?

“I’ve never owned a jacket heavier than my denim jacket until about a month ago,’ Kimbell says. “I don’t think we have any idea what we are in for… We know it’s going to be cold, but we are determined to stay positive and enjoy ourselves.’


Crooked Brothers (Submitted photo)

Reunited and it feels so good

Mod-pop group Novillero made their mark on the Winnipeg music scene beginning in 1999 until they split up in 2010.

The band quietly reformed around a year ago and have played a handful of shows. Their next stop is the Big Fun stage at the Good Will Social Club on Jan. 30.

Despite the breakup, the members of Novillero continued to play together in different projects over the past five years. Because of that, instrumentalist and singer Jack Jonasson says playing together now doesn’t feel different than it did during the first run of Novillero, the only thing that has changed is the amount of pressure they put on themselves to achieve career goals.

“I think the difference now is that we’re all older,’ Jonasson says. “Not that we were doing it because we had dreams of being rock stars, but we had opportunities back then that we tried to make the most of, and things went a certain way, other things went other ways, and then we parted ways, and now we are doing it just because we like playing together and enjoy each other’s company. I just think the songs are too good to not play again.’

The Novillero lineup consists of Jonasson, Rod Slaughter on keyboards and vocals, Dave Berthiaume on drums, Sean Sevens on guitar and Rej Ricard on bass. Grant Johnson, one of the original members who had left the band, will also be back.

“A year ago when we opened for Library Voices, we asked Grant if he wanted to be a part of it and he said yes. It’s been great just getting to re-establish that connection with him,’ says Jonasson. “He’s a big part of any success that we had, and life’s too short for anything but fun and good times.’

For those who have been waiting patiently for Novillero’s return, Jonasson promises despite their advancing age, fans can expect the same raucous live performance Novillero was known for in its heyday.

“They can expect a bunch of old guys trying to act like they’re young guys,’ Jonasson says with a laugh. “If anybody has seen us in the past, it’s a fairly energetic show and even though we’re older, creakier, we still have that same enthusiasm for what we do.’

Big Fun Fest begins on Wednesday and runs until Jan. 31 at various venues. For ticket information and show schedules, visit

Calvin Love (Submitted Photo)

Twitter: @NireRabel



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Updated on Friday, January 22, 2016 1:04 PM CST: adds images

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