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Winnipeg Folk Festival attendees should prepare themselves for a big injection of California love. Ten acts are making their way up from the Golden State to perform at this year's festival, and artistic director Chris Frayer is hoping they'll bring some of that dreamy Cali vibe to Winnipeg.

"We live in Winnipeg and we only get these three months of summer; it's kind of fun to bring a bit of that sunny California feeling," he says.

Alex Ebert of the California indie folk band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who headline at folk fest July 9.


Alex Ebert of the California indie folk band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who headline at folk fest July 9.

It's no secret that California -- and southern California, specifically -- has a rich folk-rock history, with some of the biggest icons of the genre having lived and worked in the area in the 1960s and '70s. Frank Zappa, Linda Ronstadt, the Byrds, members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Joni Mitchell all called the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles home and took deep inspiration from the location and people around them when creating some of the most notable songs and albums of the time. Chances are, if the word "canyon" is in a song title from that era, it was referencing Laurel Canyon.

Though the glory days of SoCal folk-rock may be in the past for some, others, including Frayer, are embracing the future of the genre, looking to a talented crew of new folk musicians to lead the way.

"I got turned on to a bunch of artists from the area that I kind of fell in love with," Frayer says. "I started to peel back the layers of the L.A. music scene and it seems like there's a renaissance, a revival in southern California for folk music."

Among those blazing the folk trail are Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a 10-piece indie ensemble led by singer Alex Ebert, known for their hippie-inspired tunes and casual attitude that personifies the chill California vibe.

Josh Collazo, drummer for the group, is a born-and-raised Californian who says it's "an honour" to be a part of what some are deeming a folk revival, though, he adds, it's not really anything new for L.A. to have a high concentration of artistic, creative people.

"I think it's kind of a natural thing for California. People are always looking for a new style of music and a lot of times it's easiest to pull from the roots of the music around you that you're into," he says.

Like Frayer, Collazo chalks up part of the high concentration of folk musicians in California to the weather.

"It's pretty laid back out in southern California... People want to move out west to start over and be refreshed, and I think the sunny vibes just poke through," he says.

The Home hit-makers left those sunny vibes behind, however, when preparing to work on their new album -- expected to be released later this year or early next -- travelling to New Orleans to write and record.

"Normally, Alex takes the lead on the writing, but this was an entirely different process for us," Collazo notes. "We went in with the intention of trying to write everything as a band, all sitting in the same room. It came out better than everybody expected and we're really excited about that."

In a bold move, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros filled their set at the 2015 South by Southwest festival entirely with new songs. They were fresh out of the recording studio and decided to take a chance on revealing all of their new material at once.

"I don't think we ever get nervous onstage, but that show, I think everybody was a little bit... there was a lot more anticipation because we wanted everything to be perfect and for it to be a really cool experience for the audience," Collazo says. "I don't think a lot of bands show their cards right away, and it was kind of an interesting approach to build some momentum for the new album."

Collazo notes Winnipeggers may not get to hear any of their new music when Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros take the main stage on July 9, however. In true SoCal go-with-the-flow style, the band doesn't use a set list but instead waits to see how the crowd feels and reacts before choosing what songs to play.

"We let the audience dictate the way the show's gonna go," Collazo says. "Alex is really good about going out into the audience and asking somebody at random what song they want to hear and we usually just roll that way. Rather than it just being curated by the band, it's much more of a communal experience by getting everybody involved.

"We might pull out some new stuff, we might not. Just depends how it feels when we get out onstage."

See our playlist of Winnipeg Folk Festival acts at winnipegfreepress.com.


Twitter: @Nirerabel

Erin Lebar

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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