The 47th edition of the Winnipeg Folk Festival will be its first without its founder, but the four-day show will go on July 9-12, with its longtime focus on headliners spanning ages, genres and geographical locations marching on.
Full folk fest lineup
(in alphabetical order)
Alan Doyle (Newfoundland) Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves (Manitoba/Massachusetts) Atlaas (Manitoba) Ami Dang (Maryland) Bedouine (Syria) Ben Rogers (British Columbia) Black Belt Eagle Scout (Oregon) Bombargo (Saskatchewan)
Alan Doyle (Newfoundland) Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves (Manitoba/Massachusetts) Atlaas (Manitoba) Ami Dang (Maryland) Bedouine (Syria) Ben Rogers (British Columbia) Black Belt Eagle Scout (Oregon) Bombargo (Saskatchewan) Cate Le Bon (New York/United Kingdom) Charlie Cunningham (United Kingdom) Daniel Koulack (Manitoba) Del Barber (Manitoba) Dervish (Ireland) Doug Paisley (Ontario) Dwayne Gretzky (Ontario) Gangstagrass (New York) Grateful Shred (California) Guided By Voices (Ohio) JJ Shiplett (Alberta) James Keelaghan & Jez Lowe (Ontario/United Kingdom) Japanese Breakfast (Oregon) Jeremie Albino (Ontario) John Prine (Illinois) Josh Q and the Trade-Offs (Nunavut) JP Hoe (Manitoba) Judy Collins (Washington) Kaleo (Iceland) Kelly Bado (Manitoba) Khruangbin (Texas) Kurt Vile (Pennsylvania) Leif Vollebekk (Ontario) Leonard Podolak (Manitoba) Les Filles de Illighadad (Niger) Lido Pimienta (Canada/Colombia) Madame Diva (Manitoba) Mapache (California) Moontricks (British Columbia) Namgar (Russia/Mongolia) Ndidi O (British Columbia) Ocie Elliott (British Columbia) Oysterband (United Kingdom) Puppet Folk (Manitoba) Reuben and the Dark (Alberta) Richard Inman (Manitoba) Ruby Waters (Ontario) Sam Kelly Trio (England) Sam Lynch (Ontario) Shanley Spence (Manitoba) Sharon Van Etten (California) Slow Leaves (Manitoba) Sudan Archives (California) Summer Bear Dance Troupe (Manitoba) Sweet Alibi (Manitoba) Tash Sultana (Australia) Tegan and Sara (Alberta) The Green Fools Theatre (Alberta) The New Customs (Manitoba) The Oot n’ Oots (British Columbia) The Pianimals (Manitoba) The Sadies (Ontario) The Turbans (United Kingdom) Trio Svin (Denmark) Tré Burt (California) Tyler Childers (Kentucky) Union Duke (Ontario) Vance Joy (Australia)
Weyes Blood (California) Wild Rivers (Ontario)
Australians Vance Joy and Tash Sultana, Iceland’s Kaleo and American country-folk legend John Prine all top this year’s bill at the festival, which will also include a special workshop dedicated to folk fest founder Mitch Podolak, who died last August.
The 32-year-old Joy took the world by storm with his 2013 ukulele-infused bop Riptide, which has nearly a billion streams on Spotify, and while fellow Aussie Tash Sultana may not yet be a household name and radio favourite such as Joy, her star, too, is rising. A phenominal guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, psychedlic-rock and reggae singer-songwriter Sultana, 24, already has a sold-out world tour under her belt, which included a stop at the Burton Cummings Theatre which — you guessed it — sold out well in advance.
"Tash is a bit of a phenomenon because she’s quietly been doing outrageous business around the world," says folk fest artistic director Chris Frayer. "And with her reggae positive vibe, it’s a good summer sound. I think her and Vance, they’re both from Australia and it’s perfect summer soundtrack."
Kaleo, the five-piece indie-rock outfit from Mosfellsbær, Iceland, is likely best known for its thumping, gritty 2016 hit single, Way Down We Go; the band was also nominated for a Grammy for best rock performance for the 2015 single No Good.
Americana icon John Prine, 73, is a no-brainer addition to the lineup; the multiple Grammy winner is often cited as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation, including both humour and serious commentary in his lyrics. He’s is not the only legend to grace the folk fest mainstage this year; Grammy-winning folk singer and activist Judy Collins, 80, will be sending in the clowns at Birds Hill as well.
Canada’s favourite sister duo Tegan and Sara, painfully cool American singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten, bluegrass artist Tyler Childers and indie-rocker Kurt Vile also grab top billing at this year’s festival, though no specific days for each performer have yet been announced.
"There are a few moving parts to it, because I’m sharing a lot of the routing with other festivals," Frayer says.
"I don’t know if it’s as important as last year," he says of releasing the specific performance days of the headliners. "Some years it’s really important — like Death Cab for Cutie was something new for us and it brought in a new audience; we knew that people would want to maybe come just for that day, so we wanted to let them know. Same with Kacy (Musgraves), because of her country leanings. But this year I feel like, from start to finish, every night is going to be stacked... I’m excited about the stuff we’ve got."
The 2020 festival also has two special project workshops which both celebrate the legacy of music in Manitoba in a way.
Frayer has been working with Mitch Podolak’s son, musician Leonard Podolak, to put together a special workshop, titled Mitch’s Sunday Feast, named for the weekly dinners he and his wife, Ava Kobrinsky, would host in their home for family and friends.
Mitch was a pillar of the music community in Manitoba and Canada, and Frayer is hoping this workshop speaks to the vast reach and impact Mitch had and the kind of man he was.
"We want it to be festive and celebratory, and we want to allow enough time for it, so it’ll happen on Sunday and will likely be two or more hours in duration," Frayer says. "We want it long enough so a bunch of people can attend it, volunteers who are coming off shift or are about to go on shift, people can float in and out and pay their respects.
"This is the first festival without him, and I think we have our own reverence internally and for the creation of the festival, and some of us are more aware of the contributions he made, like, there are people who have been coming to the festival since the first one and may not be aware of the other important things he did beyond our festival, like being a mentor to Western Canadian festivals in general.
“We want it to be festive and celebratory, and we want to allow enough time for it, so it’ll happen on Sunday and will likely be two or more hours in duration.” – Chris Frayer on Mitch’s Sunday Feast workshop
"It’s fascinating to hear stories from the volunteers and some others who maybe didn’t know Mitch as well, to hear almost the mythology around him, the folklore around him, which I think is a wonderful, enigmatic part of his post-festival contribution to the organization."
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Mitch’s Sunday Feast will include performances from Leonard Podolak, Scott Nolan, Nathan Rogers, James Keelaghan and Jez Lowe and Daniel Koulack, as well as some other special guests.
And, of course, one of this year’s special workshops has been put together as part of the province’s Manitoba 150 celebrations. The Manitoba 150: Manitoba Songbook workshop will feature a house band led by Jonny Moonbeam (Red Moon Road, the Retro Rhythm Review) as well as musical guests such as JP Hoe, Micah Erenberg, Atlaas, Kelly Bado and Richard Inman, who will each play one of their own tracks as well as a cover version of another Manitoban artist’s song. As Frayer says, the workshop is "nothing too fancy," but will highlight the current and past talents of music creators in Manitoba.
In addition to the collection of local artists playing in both of the special workshops, Manitoba artists are well represented at this year’s folk fest, with Slow Leaves, Sweet Alibi, Del Barber and the New Customs all landing on the lineup.
The Winnipeg Folk Festival runs July 9-12 at Birds Hill Provincial Park. More information on ticketing and artists performing at the festival can be found 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.
July 9-12 Birds Hill Provincial Park ● 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 are $219 for a weekend adult pass and $75-$96 for single-day adult tickets. ● Weekend passes including festival camping are $299, and senior and youth passes are available at a reduced cost. ● Early-bird pricing is in effect until April 30.