Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 10/3/2017 (1175 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
July 1 marks Canada’s 150th birthday, and the Winnipeg Folk Festival is celebrating with a lineup chock full of CanCon goodness: City and Colour, Feist, Barenaked Ladies, Bruce Cockburn and Daniel Lanois all top this year’s bill.
Acoustic folk artist City and Colour, the alias of former Alexisonfire guitarist Dallas Green, has seen immense success since his debut release Sometimes in 2005. His first four albums have all gone platinum in Canada, and his latest effort, 2015’s If I Should Go Before You, peaked at No. 1 on the Canadian charts.
Polaris Prize-winning indie-pop artist Leslie Feist was part of indie-rock "musical collective" Broken Social Scene at the same time she was developing a burgeoning solo career. The Nova Scotia-born songwriter, who performs under her last name, has collected her fair share of Junos, being named Artist of the Year more than once. It’s been five years since her last release, and rumour has it Feist is preparing to release a new record this April, as she and Broken Social Scene have been booking festival gigs left and right.
Barenaked Ladies and Bruce Cockburn hardly need an introduction — both artists have been mainstays on the Canadian music scene for decades. Barenaked Ladies also have new music about to drop, a record the Toronto pop act made with a cappella group the Persuasions, and Ottawa folksinger Cockburn was recently named the host of the 2017 Junos Songwriters Circle.
Lanois might be better known as a producer than a performer: the Quebec native has worked with some of the biggest acts in music throughout his 40-year career, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson. This year marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most iconic albums he produced, U2’s The Joshua Tree, which won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. As a musician, Lanois has released more than a dozen solo records since his bilingual debut, Acadie, in 1989; his most recent album is 2016’s Goodbye to Language.
The other two acts confirmed for 2017’s mainstage lineup include Albuquerque indie rockers the Shins, and American alt-country/folk darling Brandi Carlile , who are both folk fest first-timers (the Shins last played Winnipeg in 2001 on a tour for their debut album, Oh, Inverted World).
"Being the Canada 150, we wanted to celebrate by having some bigger Canadian names like Feist, City and Colour and Barenaked Ladies. Similarly, we wanted people like Brandi Carlile who are totally activist-oriented and who haven’t been to the festival before," says Chris Frayer, artistic director for Winnipeg Folk Festival.
"I’m just an absolutely ridiculously massive fan (of the Shins)… and the idea of a new record coming out is great. At first I thought they might be a little too indie for us, but I get requests for them all the time from people and I love the idea Heartworms, their new album, is coming out the day after our launch."
Fans of the Big Blue @ Night stage will be happy to hear it will revert back to "regularly scheduled programming" as a party/dance stage. Last year, the Bluegrass Situation took the Friday night slot, but Frayer says the festival is going to reserve those folkier types of performance for daytime and will "keep the energy up" on that stage at night as an alternative to the music on the mainstage.
Another change this year — a slightly more drastic one — is the removal of the Artistic Achievement Award. The award has been handed out annually since 2004 to an artist "who has performed at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, who has demonstrated musical excellence, who reflects the values of our organization and who has contributed at an exceptional level to the field of folk music and to the community as a whole." Last year’s recipient was Loudon Wainwright III.
"We’ve actually suspended it; we don’t have it anymore," Frayer says. "We found it was just it wasn’t really hitting the mark we intended; we intended for it to raise the profile of the festival, to make people want to strive after the award itself, but it really just became us going out to find someone every year to give it to."
Manitoba representation strong:
Anyone who is a fan of local music can attest to the number of stellar records this province has produced in the last 12 months. Many of the artists who created those albums will make a stop at folk fest this July.
Perhaps most notable is John K. Samson and his band, the Winter Wheat. The singer-songwriter released his sophomore solo record, also called Winter Wheat, in the fall, and it’s been lauded by critics and fans alike.
Begonia and Joey Landreth will also be performing. Both artists offered up their first solo efforts this year: Begonia — otherwise known as Alexa Dirks, formerly of bilingual pop outfit Chic Gamine — with a jazz and R&B-infused five-song EP, Lady in Mind; and Landreth — formerly of roots group the Bros. Landreth — with his country- and rock-inspired record Whiskey.
"I’m so happy with the Manitoba program for this year, it’s so strong. We have John K., we have Begonia, we have Joey Landreth and they won’t be playing any other festivals in Manitoba; you won’t see them at Brandon (Festival of the Arts), you won’t see them at Rainbow Trout (Music Festival). I said, ‘If they’re going to play the festival, I want it to be special,’ and everyone is into it," adds Frayer.
The local contingent is rounded out by Carly Dow, Richard Inman, Small Glories (a duo featuring JD Edwards and Cara Luft), Seanster and the Monsters, Mr Mark, Castlemoon Theatre and Bubba B the MC.
From Canada to the world:
Frayer is especially enthusiastic about the cohort of world-music artists who will be at folk fest this year: "It’s absolutely mind-blowingly good," he says.
DakhaBrakha promises to be a must-see act — the quartet out of Kiev, Ukraine, infuses several styles of ethnic music into a perfect storm of drum beats and vocal flourishes that create a whirlwind of high-energy jams (not to mention they have excellent hats).
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Congalese band Mbongwana Star is also high on Frayer’s list of anticipated acts this year. Two members of the six-piece hailing from Kinshasa are paraplegic after suffering from polio in their youth — they now make their way through the world in amazing, souped-up tricycle-style wheelchairs. The music is pulsing and intense, but will almost certainly get folkies to their feet.
Early-bird tickets are on sale now. They range in price from $199-$274 for weekend adult passes and $63-$83 for single-day adult tickets. More information available at winnipegfolkfestival.ca.
Erin Lebar Multimedia producer
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.
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More information on all artists available at winnipegfolkfestival.ca
Winnipeg Folk Festival
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Early-bird tickets are on sale online through Front Gate Tickets, by phone at 1-888-512-7469, or at the Winnipeg Folk Festival office (203-211 Bannatyne Ave.), and range in price from $199-$274 for weekend adult passes and $63-$83 for single-day adult tickets.
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