July 23, 2019

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Young bloods

Youth performers fuel for folk fest's future

It has become tradition on the Friday of the Winnipeg Folk Festival for the Shady Grove stage to be taken over by the participants of the Stingray Young Performers Program — a crop of up-and-coming musicians dipping their toes into the festival world, often for the first time.

This summer, the YPP is celebrating its 20th year; that’s 20 years of musicians aged 14 to 24 connecting with mentors, workshopping songs and showcasing the results at the folk fest.

The program is a multi-day process which gives participants time to meet with their mentor one-on-one and in groups before the festival. Mentors share technical and songwriting tips, as well as industry knowledge they feel will help the young musicians move forward in their careers.

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It has become tradition on the Friday of the Winnipeg Folk Festival for the Shady Grove stage to be taken over by the participants of the Stingray Young Performers Program — a crop of up-and-coming musicians dipping their toes into the festival world, often for the first time.

Festival preview

Winnipeg Folk Festival

July 11-14
Birds Hill Provincial Park

● Weekend adult passes: $258
● Single-day adult tickets: $75-$95

Winnipeg Folk Festival

July 11-14
Birds Hill Provincial Park

● Weekend adult passes: $258
● Single-day adult tickets: $75-$95
● Four-day passes including festival camping: Sold out
● Four-day passes including quiet camping: $298
● Senior and youth passes available at reduced cost

Tickets available at Front Gate Tickets (online), by phone at 1-888-512-7469, and at the Winnipeg Folk Festival office (203-211 Bannatyne Ave.)

This summer, the YPP is celebrating its 20th year; that’s 20 years of musicians aged 14 to 24 connecting with mentors, workshopping songs and showcasing the results at the folk fest.

The program is a multi-day process which gives participants time to meet with their mentor one-on-one and in groups before the festival. Mentors share technical and songwriting tips, as well as industry knowledge they feel will help the young musicians move forward in their careers.

Indie-pop singer-songwriter Olivia Lunny performs as part of the Stingray Young Peformers Program in 2017. (David Quiring photo)

Indie-pop singer-songwriter Olivia Lunny performs as part of the Stingray Young Peformers Program in 2017. (David Quiring photo)

"YPP is a farm team for the folk fest," says artistic director Chris Frayer. "Really that’s the best metaphor for it, that and agricultural metaphors, because it’s a place where they get cultivated and grow and blossom into stronger, more well-rounded performers.

"Not only is it a good way to engage with the festival and get your foot in the door, it’s also a good way to test the waters and find out if a career in music is really for you. Can you handle the grind or not?"

Former YPP performer hits the Main Stage

Taylor Janzen

Taylor Janzen

Winnipeg singer-songwriter Taylor Janzen went through two cycles of the Stingray Young Performers Program, in 2017 and 2018, but will be returning to the festival this year as a Main Stage performer, opening the festival at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Winnipeg singer-songwriter Taylor Jazen went through two cycles of the Stingray Young Performers Program, in 2017 and 2018, but will be returning to the festival this year as a Main Stage performer, opening the festival at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

“It is such a cool moment for me because when I started playing music, that was always something I wanted to do, I always wanted to be on the lineup for folk fest, which I think every Winnipeg musician wants that at some point, so it is definitely a cool moment for me, doing young performers two years in a row and then getting on the lineup is so awesome,” says Janzen, 20.

The past 12 months have seen Janzen’s career take off; her debut EP, Interpersonal, released in August of 2018, received widespread critical acclaim, with her brand of emotional lyricism and raw, but stunning, vocal stylings being compared to those of popular indie-folk artists Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker. The lead single from the four-song album, Stations, was also featured in the New York Times’ weekly roundup of new and notable tracks.

Since then, she’s played at SXSW (at the Rolling Stone showcase), at the Shaky Knees festival in Atlanta and Bunbury in Cincinnati. Janzen also released her second EP, Shouting Matches, this past May, an equally emotive collection of music, though a bit louder, with a band backing her up.

“It always feels like I’ve just spilled my guts in front of everyone. I think a good thing is with music, it’s so up to interpretation and it’s so subjective... when I listen to the responses of what people are saying about it, it’s almost as if people are listening to see themselves in it, and that makes it less scary because it makes it seem like we’re all feeling the same things,” says Janzen of her songwriting.

In addition to her mainstage set, you can catch her a few times throughout the weekend; at the My Hometown workshop Friday at 1 p.m. at Big Bluestem, the So Long Bannatyne, Hello Birds Hill Park workshop Saturday at 11:30 a.m at Green Ash and the Young & Bold: Celebrating 20 Years of YPP workshop Sunday at 11 a.m. at Shady Grove.

To get involved in YPP as a performer, each artist submits an application and a jury of music-industry professionals choose their top picks.

"We are looking for applicants that are showing a certain level of confidence in their music, as well as who will benefit from working with the chosen mentors each year. It’s a hard selection as we would love to accept them all, but there is only so much time in a day and we want all of the participants to have their festival performance opportunity," says Morgan Hamill, artistic co-ordinator at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, who has been at the helm of the YPP for 15 years.

"The goal of the program is to develop and encourage youth performers already invested in creating music. We hope those selected come away inspired to pursue a future in music, and with a better understanding of the areas they need to work on."

This year, Hamill and her team of jurors went through more than 100 applications from musicians all over the country (and a few international ones as well) to narrow down the list to the 40 performers taking part in the program.

Musicians Liam Duncan (left) and Roman Clarke, formerly of the band Middle Coast and now both solo performers, took part in the Stingray Young Performers Program in 2011. (Supplied photo)

Musicians Liam Duncan (left) and Roman Clarke, formerly of the band Middle Coast and now both solo performers, took part in the Stingray Young Performers Program in 2011. (Supplied photo)

Past YPP alum include notable names in the local music scene such as Olivia Lunny, Del Barber, Richard Inman, the members of Sweet Alibi, Liam Duncan, Roman Clarke, Madeleine Roger and Cara Luft (Wailin’ Jennys and Small Glories), among many, many others.

Luft was part of the very first Young Performers Program back in 2000, and has fond memories of her time spent learning from mentors.

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Click to Expand
The members of Death Cab for Cutie would end each day in the studio thanking each other for their work by saying, ‘Thank you for today.’ The band headlines the Winnipeg Folk Festival tonight.(Atlantic Records)
The members of Death Cab for Cutie would end each day in the studio thanking each other for their work by saying, ‘Thank you for today.’ The band headlines the Winnipeg Folk Festival tonight.(Atlantic Records)

Dave Depper didn’t think many people would hear his debut solo album.

The Portland, Ore., musician figured 2017’s Emotional Freedom Technique might be released on a small independent label and be heard by some of his friends and other curious music fans in the Pacific Northwest.

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"I do remember the experience quite well, and felt it was very helpful and enlightening. We were able to work with a seasoned touring professional, which was invaluable, and also bounced things off of the other participants. The opportunity also provided a chance to foster a sense of community; it’s critical to know you can count on your peers’ support," she says.

"I had already had quite a few opportunities leading up to the program (invited to play Lilith Fair, toured the UK and was invited to perform at the Wirral International Guitar Festival), so I wasn’t a newbie compared to some of the other participants, yet I still feel the experience was helpful and I was incredibly honoured to have been a participant."

Singer-songwriter Kira Gregory, 23, will be taking part in YPP this year for the second time, and says the support and feedback she received in 2018 from her mentors is something she still carries with her.

"I felt that the YPP last year really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I was able to ask industry questions, theory questions, and was given constructive criticism without any judgement. Everyone in this program is so talented and I’m so glad I was able to meet other artists that I have continued to collaborate with all year," says Gregory, who released her debut EP, February, in June.

"I think this program is incredible and I feel honoured to be given this opportunity again. Looking back at the growth I’ve had as a musician this year I can’t help but feel proud of myself. I was given the confidence to release my first EP, I had my first headlining show at the Good Will Social Club, and played my first show in Toronto. I definitely give credit to the YPP for giving me the confidence to pursue my music career and I can’t wait to see what this year has to offer."

Top Winnipeg Folk Festival workshop picks

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Hawksley Workman will be at My Hometown on Friday at 1 p.m. at Big Bluestem. (Dustin Rabin Photography)
Hawksley Workman will be at My Hometown on Friday at 1 p.m. at Big Bluestem. (Dustin Rabin Photography)

Workshops are the cornerstone of the Winnipeg Folk Festival. They provide a chance to see musicians who otherwise may never have crossed paths sit on a stage and play together, creating moments that will never be replicated, but will live on in the hearts of folkies for years to come.

Workshops and daytime solo shows start on Friday and run through Sunday, and there are dozens of options to fill your musical calendar. To help guide you through, arts reporters Eva Wasney, Rob Williams, Jen Zoratti and Erin Lebar, as well as Winnipeg Folk Festival artistic director Chris Frayer, have revealed some of their can’t-miss workshops of the weekend.

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Gregory is paired up with Danny Michel as her mentor this year, one of six veteran performers who will be on tap to share their musical wisdom: William Prince, John K. Samson, Christine Fellows, Samantha Crain and Jesse Matas, a past participant in the program, are also serving as mentors.

In addition to the performances at the Shady Grove stage Friday, the folk fest is celebrating 20 years of YPP with the special Young & Bold workshop on Sunday at 11 a.m. featuring program alumni Matas, Lunny, Clarke, Taylor Janzen and guests Two Crows for Comfort.

For Hamill, seeing all the past YPP-ers come back to the festival as members of the formal lineup reinforces what the program is all about.

"When I started working on the program in 2002 I was barely older than most of the performers and have since become friends with many of them. I wouldn’t say (I’m a) mother hen per se, maybe more of a cheerleader. I definitely keep tabs on them all throughout the year and try to offer as many performance opportunities as I can," she says.

"I am definitely proud of all of the participants who are continuing to perform."

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

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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