Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 11/7/2016 (1364 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Another folk fest is done and dusted.
Sunday carried with it that winding-down feeling as many napped in the grass during the day and pushed towards the beer tent (despite the $8 drinks) in the evening as skies cleared and temperatures climbed in time for mainstage to begin.
This year, the mainstage coverage has been purposefully pared down, but it seems wrong not to make a fuss over Lucius, the five-piece indie-pop band out of Brooklyn, N.Y., led by two dazzling frontwomen and multi-instrumentalists, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig. The pair share vocal duties — when they sing the same vocal line, it becomes impossible to distinguish one voice from the other, perfectly in sync and on pitch. When they harmonize, it’s breathtaking; the higher they go in their respective registers, the more impressive it becomes. Lucius is a strong reminder pop music has the potential to be just as moving, smart and intricate as anything else out there.
Loudon Wainwright III kicked off the night by accepting his Artistic Achievement Award before cracking up the crowd with a set of darkly humourous tunes. L.A.-based indie folk band Lord Huron also performed (their first time in Winnipeg), contributing a tremendous set that was equal parts dancey and dreamy. The festival finale featured locals Red Moon Road and East Coasters Matt Byrne and the East Pointers.
But, as it had all week, mainstage played second fiddle — it was the daytime stages that had folkies buzzing the most.
One of the enduring appeals of the daytime experience of the Winnipeg Folk Festival is the walk of discovery, in which you just wander wherever the sounds take you. On Sunday, it might have led you to Shady Grove, where Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche were playing with their folksinger dad, Loudon Wainwright lll. The daughters provided harmonies or alternated verses on their father’s songs and sang their own material, though Martha joked she could only remember her new songs, as she was on pain meds after spraining her ankle and having to go to the ER in Winnipeg the night before.
Loudon sang a sentimental song inspired by his grandchildren — Martha has two boys, son Rufus has a daughter — laced with his trademark bitterness.
Sunday at the Green Ash stage was a non-stop celebration; first, a world party was taking place as Balkan klezmer music, Yemen blues and gypsy flamenco were blended together courtesy of Ontario’s Lemon Bucket Orchestra, Israel’s Ravid Kahalani and France’s Les Noces Gitanes. The three groups took the workshop concept to heart, turning every song into a joyful jam session. Later, an all-lady lineup including Twin Peaks, the Wild Reeds and Rosie & the Riveters spoke strongly to any and all females in the audience with their immensely personal tunes and low-key, hilarious banter. The last workshop of the day, featuring the Head and the Heart, Lucius and hosted by the charming Basia Bulat, was, in a word, epic. Wolfe and Laessig of Lucius were a particular highlight, stunning the crowd with their incredible vocal prowess.
Artistic director Chris Frayer made a misstep programming an eight-band workshop at the Spruce Hollow, tucked away and surrounded on all side by woods, better suited for more intimate shows. The overcrowded venue meant half the audience could barely hear and couldn’t see the lineup performing covers of Prince, Merle Haggard, David Bowie and Guy Clark — not helped by the fact the lack of host meant performers were not introduced.
Overall, though, in the eyes of organizers this year’s fest has been a resounding success, with executive director Lynne Skromeda saying the weekend went very smoothly.
"Everybody I talked to was just happy with the experience that they had," says Skromeda, commenting on the feeling that daytime shows seemed calmer and more subdued than normal. "Our world music workshops tends to amp people up, and I think certainly we’ve had those kinds of workshops, but maybe in general there’s been a really nice, ‘hang out and listen to good music’ feel."
While she was unable to give specific numbers at this time, Skromeda confirmed the perceived influx of people Saturday was an actuality: it was their best Saturday in terms of attendance the folk fest has ever had.
"I do know that yesterday was our strongest single-day Saturday that we’ve had. Period," she says. "It was packed... not but a huge margin, by a small margin, it’s been the best Saturday we’ve ever had. And our Friday numbers also exceeded last year’s numbers, which is really good, so we’re feeling pretty good about it."
Trending at #WFF2016
Every year, a handful of new trends find their feet during festival season. Here’s a few we noticed at the 2016 Winnipeg Folk Festival:
Capes: As they say, three’s a trend, and three female acts this fest were rocking the cape look (and by cape, I don’t mean superhero cape, but the more fashionable version). Basia Bulat turned heads on the mainstage Saturday night with her now-signature gold sparkly cape, followed by Charity Rose Thielen of the Head and the Heart, who sported a black version of the garment later on in the evening. On Sunday, the ladies of Lucius, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, came to their workshop at Green Ash wearing matching outfits — orange dresses with a lightning-bolt print that had accompanying capes in the same design. Later that night, the pair popped up on mainstage in similar outfits, this time in pale pink with an animated oracle design.
Loud shirts: For the male performers, it seemed button-up shirts with wacky prints were the top of choice — Hawaiian prints, watermelon prints, abstract prints, ‘80s geometric prints, they were all there and they were all weird.
Inflatable-bag seating: It’s not often that a new style of festival seating comes into the market, but this year, long, inflatable bags made their first appearance at folk fest. Basically, you open the end of the bag to the air and swoosh it around until the bag fills up, then the end gets sealed and you have a squishy, comfortable place to sit. Some bags can accommodate up to three people sitting upright, or one person laying down in the crevice in the middle.
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A woman working at the folk fest wilderness supply store said the fest ordered in 30 of the bags, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, only one remained. They were being sold for $110, plus tax, but for those who had them, the price was worth it.
Kyley Parker had a bag he ordered on Amazon that was a little bit cheaper, but suggests spending the extra cash for the better ones. He said the inflation lasts just about as long as a workshop, and then he refills with air for the next one. "It’s like sitting on a sofa at a music festival," he said, comfortably reclining back in his blue bag.
— with files from Jill Wilson
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.
Best daytime dance party: The East Pointers (Green Ash, Sunday).
Favourite night at Big Blue: The Bluegrass Situation North, specifically the epic banjo stylings of Noam Pikelny.
Best tweener: Colin Hay (Saturday night).
Favourite cover song: Love Fool performed by Wild Child (with the Head and the Heart and San Fermin).
Favourite workshop quotes:
“I wrote this in the ’60s so the lyrics are a little acidy.”
— Willy Mitchell, Native North America workshop (Saturday, Bur Oak)
“... and then she said, ‘You were my mom’s first concert.’“
“And then you said, ‘I’m sorry love, could you speak into my good ear?’“
— Alan Doyle and Matt Byrne joking around after Doyle’s yarn about the demographic of Great Big Sea fans changing as he gets older
“You guys are a hybrid people, you can handle anything.”
— the Paper Kites on Winnipeggers’ ability to handle both extreme heat and cold
Funniest band: If you can appreciate bra-based humour, Twin Peaks is the band for you. They had the crowd in stitches at their workshop at Green Ash Sunday, commenting on their dating lives — “This song was written when one boyfriend was enough” — and the fact that, in their hometown, being in your late 20s and still single is quite unusual — “Usually you marry a welder, have a couple kids, get divorced, marry another welder... ”