With Winnipeg Folk Festival artistic director Chris Frayer tossing around the words “fun” and “varied” to describe the 2016 lineup, it’s no surprise the event’s three headlining artists fit those descriptions.

With Winnipeg Folk Festival artistic director Chris Frayer tossing around the words "fun" and "varied" to describe the 2016 lineup, it’s no surprise the event’s three headlining artists fit those descriptions.

American singer-songwriter Ryan Adams tops this year’s list of performers. He was last in Winnipeg in October 2014, earning a five-star review from the Free Press for his performance at the Burton Cummings Theatre.

Though he’s been to Winnipeg a few times before, Adams is a first-time folk-fest performer Frayer says they’ve been after for years.

"He’s coming with a full band and will be starting his tour from here," notes Frayer.

Ryan Adams</p>

Ryan Adams

Adams has 15 full-length records to his name, and has been making headlines with his most recent release — a cover of Taylor Swift’s entire 1989 album heartily approved by the pop princess herself.

But, Frayer says, in terms of sheer volume of listeners, the folk/reggae/pop duo Milky Chance of Germany is "by far the biggest band we have at the festival."

Though the name may not ring a bell, the hand claps and gravelly vocals of the group’s first single, Stolen Dance, will almost certainly be familiar (and the band did play Winnipeg in May of last year). With more than 250 million Spotify plays for that single alone, and more than 2.5 million monthly listeners on that one streaming platform, Milky Chance’s reach surpasses any other performer at the festival.

Milky Chance</p>

Milky Chance

Adams and Milky Chance are just two of 70 artists lined up to perform during the festival, which runs July 7-10 in Birds Hill Provincial Park.

Three pillars

While set times and stages for individual performances have not yet been released, Frayer reveals the main "pillars" of the festival will be the Bluegrass Situation North on Friday night, Native North America on Saturday night and Loudon Wainwright III Sunday night.

The Bluegrass Situation will take place on the Big Blue @ Night stage for a "festival within a festival" hosted by banjo player extroardinaire Noam Pikelny. He and a collection of bluegrass bands will each play a set; the evening will wrap up with an "album hour jam session" of the Eagles’ iconic Hotel Californiaalbum.

Details are still up in the air for the Native North America performance, but the compilation album Native North America (Vol.1), which contains rare and out of print recordings of aboriginal artists, was nominated for a Grammy Award this year for Best Historical Album. The moment Frayer heard the album and recognized the magic in those songs, he knew folk fest would be the perfect place to celebrate that music. Featured performers will include Willie Thrasher, Willie Mitchell, Duke Redbird and Eric Landry.

Loudon Wainwright III</p>

Loudon Wainwright III

Folk legend Loudon Wainwright III will be receiving the festival’s Artistic Achievement Award Sunday night in the company of his daughters, Martha and Lucy Wainwright, otherwise known as folk duo the Wainwright Sisters. (His son, singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, plays the Centennial Concert Hall with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra this weekend.)

The elder Wainwright is a Grammy-winning folk singer-songwriter and humourist who began his career in the 1960s and has released 26 albums to date.

Must-see performances

Second to Ryan Adams among the festival’s headliners is Seattle six-piece the Head and the Heart, who played the mainstage back in 2012. The indie-folk group has been a concert mainstay since their first release in 2011 and, thanks to some killer appearances with popular acts such as Vampire Weekend, the Decemberists and Death Cab for Cutie, managed to jump from opening-act status to headliner in a matter of months.



Lucius, a five-piece indie-pop outfit, are making the more than 3,000-kilometre trek from Los Angeles to Winnipeg especially to play the fest. Described by Frayer as "NPR darlings" who will be "your new favourite band," Lucius has won over critics from the New York Times to Rolling Stone to the Guardian with its lush pop sound infused with a touch of Americana… not to mention the band members are sharp dressers with excellent hairdos.

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves

Two Canadian songstresses can be included among the most anticipated performers at this year’s folk fest.

Quebec’s Coeur de pirate (otherwise known as 26-year-old Béatrice Martin) had a show in Winnipeg only a few weeks ago as part of Festival du Voyageur, but tickets sold out so fast for the relatively small Centre culturel franco-manitobain performance, many fans were left disappointed.

Despite Martin’s recent surge in popularity, she is by no means the new kid on the block — she has released five albums in the past eight years, two of which have been nominated for Juno Awards for Francophone Album of the Year.

Basia Bulat</p>

Basia Bulat

Similarly, 31-year-old Ontario native Basia Bulat is experiencing a jump in fame long after her 2007 debut release. Twice shortlisted for the Polaris Prize, Bulat has won praise for her lyrics, which address love and life with equal parts sadness and amazement, and are partnered with the unusual accompaniment of an autoharp.

"The new record (Good Advice) is so good and I think she’s just on this awesome trajectory," says Frayer of Bulat.

Another female act Frayer is sure will excite many fans is U.K. folk trio the Staves, which he says the festival has been working on booking for a while.

Martin, Bulat and the Staves are all also scheduled to participate in workshops.

Local contingency

As always, the folk festival is keen on promoting local talent, so a handful of Mantioban artists will be taking the stage, including roots trio Red Moon Road, folk rocker Matt Epp and singer-songwriter William Prince .

Early-bird tickets go on sale Friday. They range in price from $193-$268 for weekend adult passes and $60-$80 for single-day adult tickets.



Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Manager of audience engagement for news

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.