July 23, 2019

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For folk's sake

Weekends don't get any bigger than this one for festival artistic director Chris Frayer, the man who programs the four-day music extravaganza at Birds Hill Park

They are familiar faces at art shows, film screenings, theatre premières and music venues; but how well do you know the people responsible for upholding Winnipeg’s reputation as an artistic city?

In this new series, the Winnipeg Free Press sits down with those working in the city’s arts community to find out what inspires them in and out of the office.

Summer festival season is underway, so we’re kicking things off with Chris Frayer, artistic director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

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They are familiar faces at art shows, film screenings, theatre premières and music venues; but how well do you know the people responsible for upholding Winnipeg’s reputation as an artistic city?

In this new series, the Winnipeg Free Press sits down with those working in the city’s arts community to find out what inspires them in and out of the office.

Summer festival season is underway, so we’re kicking things off with Chris Frayer, artistic director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Chris Frayer's career as an artistic director has become a creative outlet and a major part of his identity. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Chris Frayer's career as an artistic director has become a creative outlet and a major part of his identity. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Frayer, 47, has been immersed in the local music scene since his high school days, when he played bass with a handful of homegrown bands. He hung up the guitar and spent some time working at Greenpeace Canada and New Directions before joining the folk fest founder Mitch Podolak at the West End Cultural Centre.

"I went into Mitch’s office and said, ‘Find me something to do,’" Frayer says. "I think that those social services skills are transferable to event management, because it’s all about consensus building and dealing with human beings."

He later moved on to Jazz Winnipeg and then joined the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2004. His career as an artistic director has become a creative outlet and a major part of his identity.

"I’m so privileged to do a job that is who I am," he says.

Frayer, his wife Miriam Jezik and sons Ivan and Isaac share their Winnipeg home with a chonzer (a bichon frise / schnauzer mix) named Izzy.

Eva Wasney

What exactly does your job entail?

Chris Frayer

I oversee all of the programming for the (Winnipeg Folk Festival), that’s related to our four-day festival in July and then our year-round concert series that takes place at various venues around the city. So, I vet all the talent submissions that come in, I travel frequently to other festivals and conferences to find out more about the artists that are out there. It’s kind of like scouting talent, making offers to agents, dealing with agents and managers and then working through all the artist logistics, like how to welcome them.

Eva Wasney

What’s part of your job that people don’t know about?

Chris Frayer

I don’t get to pick the bands. I don’t get to just say who comes to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. So much goes into it. I build small tours in order to get them here because we are in a geographically isolated area of the continent. So we share with other festivals and I pitch bands to other presenters. The list of acts we have coming to the festival is not as many as the amount I try to get that we just couldn’t make happen. The most common comment we get is, ‘I can’t believe you work on this year-round.’ We’re building a good-sized town for five days essentially and it has to have all the amenities of what a town has. So it does take a ton of planning.

Eva Wasney

What do you get out of your job? What do you enjoy most about it?

Chris Frayer

I love seeing fellow music fans getting swept up watching music. I’m relatively impulsive, I like seeing the fruits of our labours happening all the time. It’s very tangible for me, whether it’s a concert or the festival, you see the end product of your hard work and you see other humans enjoying it.

Eva Wasney

Do you stay out at the festival all weekend?

Chris Frayer

I stay at the Fairmont, because that’s where the artists are.

Eva Wasney

Does the family come out to the festival?

Chris Frayer

The family camps in Birds Hill with my sister-in-law and her family. They have a little crew that they hang out with and they’ve been doing that ever since I started here. It’s tough, because we don’t get to enjoy the festival as a family — that’s something everyone (who works for the folk fest) shares is familial neglect because you’re torn in a bunch of different directions. It’ll be nice one day when I can just come and enjoy the festival.

Eva Wasney

Do you have any post-festival rituals that you do?

Chris Frayer

I don’t know. Sleep? I try to take care of myself during the festival quite a bit. The amount of adrenaline that goes on during that event is really unique. I don’t drink for very much of the event, but you can feel hungover just from the stress of everything.

Eva Wasney

In the work you do, you meet a lot of famous people. Who’s the biggest celebrity that you’ve ever met?

Chris Frayer

Amy Schumer. I have such a good photo of me and her because she’s such a ham and she’s so gregarious. We were standing at a side stage at Bonnaroo (a music festival in Tennessee) in 2012 and we were watching The Shins together.

Chris Frayer with Amy Schumer at the 2012 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. (Supplied photo)</p>

Chris Frayer with Amy Schumer at the 2012 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. (Supplied photo)

Eva Wasney

What’s your favourite thing to do in the summer in Manitoba?

Chris Frayer

I like going hiking, I just like being outdoors and being athletic. Our favourite place to go camping is Big Whiteshell. We travel quite a bit as a family and so wherever we go we like to go hiking in the morning. That’s kind of it, I guess I’m not that complicated... I’m also a big food nut, so when we travel we like to try out new restaurants.

Eva Wasney

You mentioned you’re a big food person, do you have any dishes you like to cook at home?

Chris Frayer

Probably Pad Thai, because we still struggle to make it well. There’s something elusive about it. Lately, we’ve been making a lot of potato pancakes because the kids like to eat them. I’m a foodie more when it comes to going out to eat. In town, we love Clementine and Deer and Almond, Viva for Vietnamese. It’s tough to pick, I have a ton of favourite spots.

Eva Wasney

What is the last good movie you saw?

Chris Frayer

It’s called Satan and Adam and it’s on Netflix. I found out about it because a friend of mine was watching this music documentary on Netflix and there’s a scene in it where they mention the Winnipeg folk fest... Satan and Adam is a great handle — especially for a blues act — and I remember seeing them at the 1995 Folk Festival.

Eva Wasney

In the same vein, do you have a good book that you’ve read recently?

Chris Frayer

I’ve got Jeff Tweedy’s Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), that’s a memoir of his work that I got from my wife for Christmas. (Also), Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse by Freddie Morin and David McMillan.

Eva Wasney

Do you listen to any podcasts?

Chris Frayer

I do, I listen to Marc Maron’s WTF. I love it, I love his interview with Jane Fonda. I don’t know if you know how funny she is, but Jane Fonda is just, like, shatteringly funny on it. My wife and I listen to Amy Schumer’s podcast, 3 Girls, 1 Keith. Occasionally I listen to Bury the Lede (which is produced by the Free Press’s Jen Zoratti and Erin Lebar).

Eva Wasney

This might be a tough one for you to answer, but what’s a song you can’t get out of your head right now?

Chris Frayer

Probably Ocean Man by Ween because my 10-year-old sings it all the time because they used it on Spongebob. I’m a huge Ween fan. I love Slow Burn by Kacey Musgraves right now. Gold Rush by Death Cab (For Cutie), I’ve probably listened to that 100 times. (And) Harmony Hall by Vampire Weekend, I love that record so much.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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