Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 5/7/2017 (964 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Even though the majority of the headliners are big Canadian names and the festival falls only a few days after the country’s big birthday celebrations, you won’t find the term "Canada 150" used at this year’s Winnipeg Folk Festival.
"We decided to not be part of the Canada 150, decidedly, for a bunch of different reasons... most of us don’t agree with the Canada 150 in the way it is coming to be, and not only that, we have a lot of indigenous partners and it’s just too political," says artistic director Chris Frayer.
Instead, the festival is simply focused on celebrating Canadian music and musicians — from all genres and backgrounds — and is doing so in a number of ways outside of the CanCon packed Main Stage lineup.
One of the special projects Frayer and his folk fest team have been working on this year is the Canada Far & Wide: Grands Esprits workshop taking place on the Bur Oak stage Saturday, July 8, at 2:15 p.m. Winnipeg folk has teamed up with four other folk festivals — Calgary, Regina, Vancouver and Canmore — to gather a collective of musicians who will celebrate and perform renditions of key songs from Canada’s history. They will be curated by the five artistic directors.
"I’ve always wanted to curate a songbook, like a new Canadian songbook because it hasn’t been done in a million years… it gave us an opportunity to create a more artistic songbook that was really balanced in terms of gender and ethnicity," says Frayer.
"It was an opportunity for us to do something collaborative with the other festivals, who we are very close with... it was a fun thing to work on together. And due to the intense popularity of the tribute workshop last year, there’s obviously an appetite from our audience to hear cover songs."
Anchoring the project is a group of three acts — DJ Shub, formerly of A Tribe Called Red, classically trained cellist Cris Derksen and Quebec duo Mélisande [électrotrad], who combine traditional, pop and electronic elements in their music. They will travel to all five festivals where they will be joined by different musicians at every stop. Hosts of the Winnipeg event, Choir! Choir! Choir!, will also be at each festival, with the exception of Canmore. Cécile Doo-Kingué, Charlotte Cardin, Old Man Luedecke and Diyet round out the cast of musicians who also will appear here.
DJ Shub (whose real name is Dan General) is looking forward to touring the festivals with Derksen, whom he’s worked with before, and Mélisande [électrotrad].
"It always seems like when I’m around these artists it inspires me to do something, so I can’t wait, I’m excited," he says, adding he’s particularly pumped to get his version of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee out into the world.
"I’ve been talking with Buffy Sainte-Marie for a while now, we actually jammed together one day and she was really digging the stuff I was doing and for her to tell me that was crazy," he says.
Since then, the musicians have been in touch, making plans to work together.
"I told her I was doing a remix for this songbook for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and she actually sent me stems to work on, like a cappellas and all sorts of stuff, so it was really, really cool. Being able to work on that song with stems like that is amazing, it really boosted the production level for sure," says General.
Though the workshop isn’t pegged as a Canada 150 event, the tie-in is unavoidable and General doesn’t necessarily see that as a negative thing. Instead, he says it can be used as an opportunity to educate and inspire those in the audience who have the desire to listen.
"I think there needs to be different voices when it comes to 150 events. As an aboriginal artist, I may take some flack for doing stuff like this for 150 but at the same time, if our voices aren’t heard, if we’re not speaking, if we get this chance to share our culture like this and we don’t, we lose that opportunity and we lose that chance to speak to an audience that may be wanting to hear it," he says.
"There are going to be people out there who are going to be really interested in what we’re doing and if we don’t step up and give that a chance and express our culture, that’s something the people of Canada are looking for, and it’s going to be lost. I think it’s an important thing, but I also think it’s an important thing for aboriginals to voice their opinions against it if they want to."
Another workshop Frayer is excited to roll out is the Hot Rize Travelling Bluegrass Revue, which will take over Big Bluestem all day on Friday, July 7.
Last year, Frayer scheduled a bluegrass album hour at Big Blue @ Night on Friday, which, in hindsight, wasn’t the best time or place for that performance, he says.
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"That’s not what people want from Big Blue @ Night, they want to party. And it really has showed in our tavern sales, we were way down because of the bluegrass thing on Friday last year," he says.
So this year, the four-piece out of Colorado — and their alter-ego band Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers — as well as a few other players they’re bringing along, will man the stage all day with their western-swing-influenced tunes, leaving the evening slots free to be filled by local songstress Begonia (Alexa Dirks), and alt-rock bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker.
Then, on Sunday, July 9 — in what Frayer refers to as "Friday’s hangover" — Hot Rize will be back on Big Bluestem for a bluegrass album hour where they, and a handful other acts, will run through the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
The Winnipeg Folk Festival runs July 6-9 at Birds Hill Provincial Park. For more information, including the full schedule and ticket prices, visit 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.
Adult day and weekend passes range in price from $63-$274 (in advance). Camping, youth and senior passes also available. All tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster, by phone at 1-888-512-7469 or at the Winnipeg Folk Festival Office (203-211 Bannatyne Ave.) Monday-Friday.