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This article was published 7/7/2016 (1289 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The gates have been opened, the tarps have been placed, and thousands of music fans have flooded Birds Hill Provincial Park to celebrate the 43rd edition of the Winnipeg Folk Festival.
Just 20 paces into the festival ground, a trio of musicians welcomed trickles of people who, already infused in the folk fest vibe, happily waved as they sauntered by. Otherwise, entering the festival felt oddly quiet. Though the anticipation for folk fest begins the day after the last one has ended, the atmosphere early Thursday night felt a little demure — there was no hooting, no hollering: just a gentle buzz of people catching up with the friends they only see once a year, with lots of hugs and high-fives to go around.
But, it wasn’t long before energy levels crept higher, dancers finding their way into two designated areas, their limbs flailing in the air in all directions as local roots/blues trio the Crooked Brothers blasted through their 50-minute set, the first group in an all-Canadian opening-night lineup.
The threat of a storm loomed over the mainstage area for much of the night; grey clouds hanging heavy and low in the sky, becoming more and more ominous as the evening went on.
"Are you bothered by a little bit of rain?" asked Ismaila Alfa, one of the hosts for the evening, who received a resounding and expected "no!" back from the crowd. The rain never did come, though — an optimistic start to an otherwise wet weekend forecast.
One of the most buzzed-about artists in the country, Coeur de pirate, was a highlight of the night. Her stop in Winnipeg earlier this year at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre sold out so quickly many fans were left without tickets. Despite that, the 26-year-old Québécois singer-songwriter was surprised at the volume of people giving her their rapt attention.
"I never thought you would all be here. I thought 30 people would show up, so thank you so much for being here," she said.
Coeur de pirate sparkled onstage; her music carries a kind of haunting beauty whether she is charging through a drum-heavy French pop track or delicately manoeuvring her softly smoky voice through an English ballad. Her set was completely bilingual, both in song and crowd banter — "A bilingual set, to be fun, very Canadian," she said with a chuckle — and it earned her the first standing ovation of the year.
As the sun set on the first night of folk fest, headliner the Sam Roberts Band hopped on stage, wasting no time launching into a booming set of rapid fire rock tracks that kept energy levels high.
"I’ll try to sell you a bit of the truth up here, so thanks for listening," said Roberts, acknowledging that this is the Montreal-based band’s first time at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.
It’s surprising they have never found their way to Birds Hill before considering the band has six albums under their belt and more than a decade of experience, which became evident in the casual precision during both newer tracks such as Metal Skin and Shapeshifter, as well as older favourites such as Hard Road and Where Have All The Good People Gone? Everything was executed with flawless vocals and tight musicianship.
Friday’s festival gates open bright and early at 10 a.m., and mainstage acts start at 6 p.m. with Larry Campbell and Theresa Williams, followed by Rayland Baxter, the Staves, Ryan Adams and Milky Chance.
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.
Updated on Thursday, July 7, 2016 at 11:43 PM CDT: Corrects typo; adds slideshow.