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This article was published 8/7/2016 (2181 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The first full day of folk was an unexpectedly warm one, but a cool breeze and a colder drink made for perfect music-listening conditions.
By 11 a.m., the festival grounds were already packed with tons of people hunkered down for their first workshop of the day.
Over at Big Bluestem, a big crowd gathered to see the Indie a Go-Go workshop featuring Jim Bryson as host, with singer-songwriter Jennifer Castle, indie-folk group the Paper Kites, and Canada’s current folk darling, Andy Shauf.
Unfortunately, not many (perhaps none) of the artists knew the theme of the workshop was indie cover songs, but no one really seemed to care except Bryson, who seemed a little annoyed he was unaware of the theme.
Regardless, all four acts cracked out some amazing covers, including two stellar moments courtesy of the Paper Kites when they performed Laura Marling’s Rambling Man and Colin Hay’s I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You. Singers Sam Bentley and Christina Lacy are at home in both an indie-pop and folk environment, and impressed with their spot-on vocals and eclectic song choices.
At Green Ash, the Tangled Up in Blue workshop was in full heartbreak mode, as Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams hosted the session focused on sad, love lorn songs with Ryley Walker and Rayland Baxter also partaking. Baxter was easily the star of the show with his endearing banter and spectacular musicianship — his performance of his single Yellow Eyes was gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Baxter also played a main stage set Friday and wowed a much larger audience in much the same way, though that time, he was backed by an exceptional three-piece band.
The Shady Grove stage was dedicated entirely to workshops featuring members of the Stingray Young Performers Program, an annual program that connects up to 35 musicians between the ages of 14-24 from all over the world with folk fest performers who act as mentors, passing on their knowledge of both the creative and business sides of the industry.
This year’s mentors include Jim Bryson, the Crooked Brothers (who are past YPP students), Matt Epp and Dan Frechette and Laurel Thomsen. Frechette is the perfect choice as mentor — he first played the folk fest at 14 years old on that very Shady Grove stage.
He and Thomsen mentored seven young musicians who applied to the program and were chosen by the Winnipeg Folk Festival to participate. Frechette says YPP helps "sidestep a lot of issues" he had when he was a young performer in terms of encouragement and confidence.
"I was seeking validation and even just for some of my creative ideas and songs and grooves and I was second guessing myself a lot when I was younger," he says. "When I first started out I wish I would have had a mentor just like I’m trying to do here, just to say ‘Hey, that’s great, what you guys are doing is very good.’
"Here I am all these years later now with Laurel, it’s exciting to carry on... The early boost really counts."
Katie MacDonald, 19, is in her fourth year in the Young Performers Program and said she "absolutely loved" her experience playing on stage in front of a sizable crowd Friday afternoon.
"Every time I come into this program I just feel encouraged coming out of it," she says. "I learned so much and take so much away."
Paul Currie, 21, began his songwriting career in 2012, the first time he was accepted into the program. This year is his second stint, and says the lessons learned from the mentors are invaluable
"It’s a wonderful experience, you get to work with very talented musicians who can help you figure out what you want to do at the end of the day, and then you also get to play with very talented musicians," he says. "It allows you to really boost your creativity."
It’s not often there are three most-anticipated performers of the night, but, depending on who you asked, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, the Staves and Ryan Adams all fit the bill.
Campbell and Williams set the bar high, starting things off with an explosive set of bluesy rock tracks. Campbell, who is likely best known for being a member of Bob Dylan’s Never ending Tour band from 1997-2004 and work with Levon Helm, and Williams go way back, though they only recently reunited for their 2015 self-titled record. The pair perform like they never spent a moment apart, though — perfectly in touch and tune with each other.
The sisters of the UK trio the Staves hovered around a single microphone and gently introduced the Birds Hill crowd to their stunning harmonies a capella before adding various instruments to their main stage set. These ladies are flawless at what they do, and are all gifted with the kind of voice that has just the right amount of everything — powerful yet delicate, full, round and satisfying.
Ryan Adams and the Shining took the stage a bit later than expected, but right off the hop, Adams was in fine form, consistently producing album-quality vocals and sharp guitar work. He deftly bounced back and forth in his catalogue from 2014’s Gimmie Something Good to 2007’sHalloween Head to a goosebump-worthy rendition of 2000’s Come Pick Me Up. He even threw a brand new track into the mix (the name of which I admittedly did not catch). If it’s anything to go by, though, his next record is going to be a stunner.
Adams is known for being a bit hit or miss when it comes to his mood, but he seemed happy as a clam as he mentioned (more than once) his affinity for pot, joked around on stage making up songs and partaking in a very long discussion about his favourite pizza toppings. Sometimes the rambling got a little too off track, but Adams would always rein it in with yet another amazing live performance.
German folk/reggae/electronic duo Milky Chance were also expected to take the stage around 11 p.m.
Gates open at 10 a.m. Saturday and music on the main stage starts at 6 p.m. with UK act the Moulettes. Australia’s the Paper Kites, Alan Doyle and the Beautiful Gypsies, Basia Bulat and the Head and the Heart are also on deck to play.
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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.