The Winnipeg International Jazz Festival is celebrating its 30th annual festival with a diverse lineup of legends, up and comers and artists who are sure to be future favourites.

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The Winnipeg International Jazz Festival is celebrating its 30th annual festival with a diverse lineup of legends, up and comers and artists who are sure to be future favourites.

Chicago-born rapper Common tops this year’s list, and will play the Centennial Concert Hall June 20. The Grammy-, Golden Globe- and Academy Award-winning performer has been creating music for nearly 30 years, and in that time has also added actor, activist and philanthropist to his impressive resumé.

Singer Bobby McFerrin (Gregory Bull / The Associated Press)

Singer Bobby McFerrin (Gregory Bull / The Associated Press)

"We’re really excited about his show; as a cultural figure, as a musician, as an actor, as a writer, I think there are so many different ways that he’s impacted culture over the last 20 years, so it feels like a really good fit in that sense," says Jazz Fest artistic direcctor Michael Falk.

Another Chicago rapper has earned jazz fest headlining status — 27-year-old Fatimah Nyeema Warner, better known by her stage moniker, Noname. She plays at the Burton Cummings Theatre June 19.

Warner, who is also a poet and producer, has been rapping and performing slam poetry for almost a decade and gained a larger following after appearing on the track Lost on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtape. She released her debut mixtape, Telefone, in 2016, and her debut album, Room 25, last year. Both were met with widespread critical acclaim.

"She’s smart, crafty, witty, funny; I saw her in New York back in January and just loved the show. We’ve been trying to lock her in for a couple of years and it all fell into place this year. I think in terms of lineage, having Noname and Common at the same festival is really great," says Falk.

Likely the most recognizable name on the bill is Bobby McFerrin. The Don’t Worry Be Happy hitmaker and 10-time Grammy Award winner is often cited as one of the world’s greatest a capella singers, and will take the stage at the Burt June 23.

New Orleans funk and jam band Galactic, as well as Canadian pop duo Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine (of The Launch fame) round out the group of headlining artists. Galactic plays the Burt June 21 and Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine are at the Garrick June 22.

"I feel like we accomplished a really good balance of jazz and jazz-adjacent. Even with stuff like the hip hop, or with Bobby and Galactic and Elijah and Jamie, it all feels like it’s part of the same world, different spokes of the same wheel. And I feel like that’s a really hard thing to accomplish," says Falk.

Noname will play the Burt June 19. (Kristen Norman / Chicago Tribune)

Noname will play the Burt June 19. (Kristen Norman / Chicago Tribune)

"We’re a little bit at the mercy of what’s available to us, who’s in the area and what we can afford and all that stuff. So it did require a bit of extra grit and patience this year, but I feel like it’s a really great cross-section of music."


One massive change to the festival this year is its six-day run, June 18-23, rather than the usual 10 days. The logic behind this is simple: having a festival that lasts 10 days comes with a lot of challenges, and it’s hard to keep people engaged for that amount of time, so, making it shorter and packing in the programming makes more sense, organizers say.

"What we figured was, why don’t we just fold the festival in on itself and make it hit a little harder and have a little bit more energy throughout a shorter time period so people can immerse themselves in the festival a little bit more," says Falk.

"In the 10-day festival model, no one is taking 10 days out of their life to explore everything we’ve programmed. I think we’re definitely wanting to move toward a model where we can provide a more engaging music discovery process for people, and part of that is shortening the festival."

Museum opening event

Jazz fest had already announced its plans for a massive opening night party on June 18 as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations. The "immersive, multi-stage concert event" at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will feature performances by American jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, saxophone ensemble Joshua Redman Quartet, composer and drummer Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, Laila Biali — the Canadian singer and host of CBC’s Saturday Night Jazz — Montreal-based vocalist Dominique Fils-Aimé and composer/singer-songwriter Beverly Glenn-Copeland, as well as a handful of local artists. Stages will be set up throughout the museum and attendees will have access to the galleries during the event.

Elijah Woods (right) and Jamie Fine. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

Elijah Woods (right) and Jamie Fine. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

"It’s kind of like a festival within a festival," explains Falk, noting this event is unlike anything done in Winnipeg in the past.

"We’ve been thinking long and hard about to present those kinds of artists in a way that is feasible for us and in a way that is interesting to our audience that can provide an engaging experience in a new space, and I think the museum provides a lot of great synchronicities for us. Obviously jazz has a long history intertwined with civil rights and human rights."

More information on the JazzFest x CHMR event, and to buy tickets, visit


This year, jazz fest has partnered up with the folks at RAW — a collaborative architectural design, art and community-based organization likely best known for its hand in creating the pop-up restaurant on the frozen river, RAW:Almond — to create a new venue space in St. Boniface, in the Parc Elzear Goulet on Taché Avenue. The RAW team is designing the space just for the festival, and much of the planning has been centred around creating beautiful acoustics. The capacity will be 80 people, and it will host both early and late shows from artists such as rapper/musician/slam poet Saul Williams, local electro-soul artist Rayannah and shoegaze band Living Hour from June 19-23.

The space will also be licensed, and will serve the festival’s as-of-yet unannounced custom cocktail.

Israeli trumpeter Itamar Borochov (Jaka Vinsek)

Israeli trumpeter Itamar Borochov (Jaka Vinsek)

Birthday bash at Old Market Square

On Sunday, June 23, jazz fest is hosting a birthday bash to remember, featuring a collection of international artists who would typically be performing at ticketed, mid-sized venue shows, but are performing for free in Old Market Square instead.

Dubbed the New Legends night, the lineup brings together U.K.-based psychedelic group the Comet is Coming, drummer and rising star Makaya McCraven, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, Danish group the Jakob Bro Trio and Israeli trumpet player Itamar Borochov, as well as a few Canadian artists.

"What we are giving away on the free stage is unprecedented... we are essentially giving away four concerts in one night as our birthday bash," says Falk.

"These are the kinds of artists we get really excited about in the office, and everything just lined up... so, we thought, ‘Do we put four concerts competing against each other or do we just give it away to Winnipeg for a night?’"

Tickets to all shows go on sale April 10 at 10 a.m. at or at the Jazz Winnipeg office (007-100 Arthur St.).

Twitter: @NireRabel

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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.