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This article was published 12/7/2015 (2172 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It seems the 42nd annual Winnipeg Folk Festival was the picture of extreme weather this weekend.
After three solid days of unrelenting, sweltering heat, the darkest storm clouds came rolling in just as headliner Wilco was set to take the stage Sunday night. The wind picked up and the skies opened, dropping buckets of water on everyone, making us all remember that being very, very hot is much better than being very, very wet.
Unfortunately, that meant about three songs in, the show was cancelled, sending the masses home from folk fest just a little unsatisfied. The sunny California vibes of many of this year’s performers just weren’t enough to hold on for one last set.
Fortunately, Jenny Lewis managed to squeak out her performance before things took a turn, dazzling with her charm and top-notch musicianship. She’s just a star, through and through.
Ditching her full-length rainbow suit for a similarly fun multi-coloured romper, Lewis was full of confidence and sass as she effortlessly breezed through the first two songs of the night — Rilo Kiley’s Silver Lining and, from her new album The Voyager, Head Underwater.
She produced album-quality vocals at every turn. Particular standouts were With Arms Outstretched, which she performed acoustic with her two female bandmates providing backup, and the final song of the night, Acid Tongue, again acoustic but with the entire five-piece band offering backing vocals. Both accentuated what a true, pure talent Lewis is — her powerful upper register hits hard and her sweet falsetto offers a romantic balance, creating many goosebump-worthy moments.
Certainly the kids in the crowd became fans of Lewis quickly; during Portions for Foxes, massive balloons came flying out in all directions, floating through the air creating a picturesque folk fest moment. If we doled out star ratings for festival shows, Lewis would undoubtedly get five.
Dawes opened the night with a solid set of California folk rock, teeing up a good balance of old and new material.
Sweat marks outlined the knees of his jeans as singer Taylor Goldsmith launched into crowd favourite When My Time Comes a little later into Dawes' set. The steady, anthemic melody provides the perfect vessel for Goldsmith’s towering vocals, hitting their peak during the chorus, in which he wails the title line, achieving an almost gospel effect.
Dawes can always be relied upon to knock out a high-calibre performance, and tonight was no exception. There were a few mind-blowing moments (amazing guitar solo in new track Somewhere Along the Way was definitely a standout), earning the band a hearty standing ovation for its first main stage set.
Sunday daytime roundup
For one of the final solo shows of the weekend, Donovan Woods set up camp at the Little Stage in the Forest. Woods is perhaps the most charming human being at this festival, nay, in the world — his dead-pan humour and blunt honesty pair well with his crop of very sad songs, most of which are about breakups. "That’s why I make jokes in between — I feel like you’re owed a little levity," Woods laughs, admitting fully to his set of downer songs.
They’re not all downers, though. Woods injects some of that humour into a handful of them, most notablly a hilarious nation anthem for Toronto (Oh, Industrious Nation of Toronto) he was asked to write and that nobody in Toronto ended up liking. "Oh Toronto, I like you, love’s too strong," he croons to a crowd hanging on his every word.
Woods’ humour is matched by his skill — he pens lyrics that are witty and affecting while backing them with nimble guitar riffs. He has written songs with and for some big names in music (Alan Doyle was a writing partner; Tim McGraw recorded one of his songs) and it’s no wonder why people are drawn to his work — he’s genuine as a person and as a musician, and was one of my personal favourite artists of the entire folk festival.
Meanwhile, over in the beer tent, many were taking respite from the day’s heat and talking shop over a few cold drinks. Wendy Sjoblöm from Duluth, Min., was enjoying her 10th festival and said she buys her ticket regardless of who’s in the lineup. This year she loved crazy cellist Rushad Egleston — he’s like Robin Willams, she said — and Nunavut’s the Jerry Cans. "They’re so exotic to us they might as well be from Timbuktu."
One of the most anticipated workshops of the weekend was California Dreamin’ at Green Ash Sunday afternoon featuring Steve Poltz as host with Dawes, Jenny Lewis and Jessica Pratt participating. Unfortunately, Jenny Lewis was unable to participate due to issues with delayed flights, so Dustbowl Revival graciously stepped in. And what a great last-minute replacement the band was, keeping everyone’s spirits high as the inevitable heat fatigue set in hard.
Taylor Goldsmith was the lone representation from Dawes, but managed to hold his own beautifully, belting out flawless versions of a handful of Dawes tunes. It was nice to see him in an acoustic, pared-down session before the full band main stage set. Steve Poltz (whose father was born in Winnipeg) was a gem. More than anyone, he evoked the "California sound" with his laid-back, happy jams that painted vivid pictures, inspired in part by his home in the Sunshine State.
Jessica Pratt was a little disappointing, mainly because her lyrics just sounded like mumbles the majority of the time. Perhaps a big stage like Green Ash isn’t the best way to experience her music, which is very quiet and intimate. She creates beautiful melodies and writes stirring words, but all of that got lost in the expanse of the field and the lethargy of most of the audience.
Free Press Folk Fest faves
Favourite mainstage sets
Jenny Lewis (Sunday), Trampled by Turtles (Thursday), Shakey Graves (Friday), Dustbowl Revival (Friday), Arlo Guthrie (Saturday),
Favourite daytime shows
Terra Lightfoot (Friday, Bur Oak), Marlon Williams (Friday, Little Stage), Southern Discomfort (Friday, Green Ash), Made in the Shade (Saturday, Shady Grove), World on a String (Saturday, Buk Oak), We Come From the Land Down Under (Sunday, Snowberry), Donovan Woods (Sunday, Little Stage),
Favourite Big Blue @ Night shows
Shred Kelly (Friday)
The hilarious, uproarious Steve Poltz (Sunday), and Daniel Champagne was a close second (Friday).
Overheard while melting in the sun:
"If I die here, carry my body to Wilco."
Favourite cover song:
Love Me (originally by Elvis Presley) performed by Marlon Williams
Number of dragonflies seen: A lot
Number of dragon costumes seen: 4
Overheard in the beer tent:
"Say hi to them for me" — Father of the sisters in Twin Bandit, asking an interviewer to say hello to his daughters, who he had just seen minutes prior.
Favourite workshop quotes:
"Don’t worry Marlon (Williams), I won’t fart... much." — One of the members of Perch Creek while standing in front of Marlon Williams at the We Come From the Land Down Under workshop (Snowberry).
"I could hear a lot of Blind Melon in your solo, man."
"That’s the grossest thing anyone has ever said to me." — Rushad Eggleston to Blacksmith guitarist Gordon Grdina at the My Favourite Strings workshop (Bur Oak).
"This is not bagpipe weather." — Piper Steve Blake of RURA, turning to show the crowd his sweat-soaked shirt at the Scottish band’s afternoon concert (Snowberry).
"If this don’t get your bell ringing, the clapper is broke." — Blind Boy Paxton, attesting to the joyous nature of Sunday morning’s gospel worshop, Oh Happy Day (Big Bluestem).
You said it, brother: While slowly cooking from the inside out at Green Ash Sunday, a child was overheard yelling "I JUST WANT TO BE COLD!" Amen, kid.
Singing for the sun: As the storm took away any hope of Wilco returning, a crowd gathered in the media tent broke out into song to try and will the rain to stop. The tune of choice? You Are My Sunshine.
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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.