January 18, 2020

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Birds Hill’s best

Free Press writers pick their folk fest must-see acts

One of the most exciting parts of attending a music festival is discovering a new favourite act. Sure, seeing the big names is always a treat, but stumbling upon an up-and-coming or off-the-beaten-track artist is such a rewarding experience.

With an incredibly diverse lineup of artists, the Winnipeg Folk Festival is one of the best fests for new discoveries. Here are some acts a few Free Press writers can’t wait to experience.

Andy Shauf

The Saskatchewan-based singer-songwriter has been deemed one of Canada’s best young songwriters thanks to his impeccably crafted tunes that dance on the line between depressing and beautiful. His style is infused with touches of Harry Nilsson and Elliott Smith — but with a touch more clarinet — and his new record, The Party, was long listed for this year’s Polaris Music Prize. You can catch him on the mainstage for a tweener set Saturday night at 9:15 p.m., at his solo show Sunday at 12:35 p.m. on the Shady Grove stage, as well as in numerous workshops throughout the weekend.

— Erin Lebar

The Staves

This sister trio from the town of Watford in England brings incredible vocal harmonies that show beautifully on their latest release, last year’s If I Was, produced by Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon (who then recruited them for his band’s recent Asian and Australian dates). In a live context the sisters’ voices soar — both in a full band and as a stripped-down trio. I was treated to a bit of both when they played at the Eaux Claires festival in Eau Claire, Wis., last year and was blown away. Folk festers have three chances to see for themselves: at the Harp & Soul workshop (Bur Oak, 4 p.m., Friday), the main stage (8:15 p.m., Friday) or the Old Songs, New Songs workshop (Shady Grove, 2:30 p.m., Saturday).

— Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Basia Bulat

Toronto-based singer/songwriter Basia Bulat has always had a singular voice — special and rare, like a crystalline gem. Over the course of four acclaimed albums she’s honed that voice, evolving from a fresh-faced, autoharp-wielding folkie into a fearless pop experimentalist, and her latest, 2016’s Jim James-produced Good Advice, is a stunning, soulful heartbreaker of a breakup record. See her perform on the mainstage Saturday night at 9:35 p.m., as well as part of a trio of workshops: Morning Becomes Her on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Snowberry; This Is Not America on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Bur Oak; and We Could Be Heroes on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Green Ash.

— Jen Zoratti

The Lemon Bucket Orkestra

The 16-piece Lemon Bucket Orkestra hail from Toronto, but if you didn't know that you might guess they were from Eastern Europe. The raucous party band specializes in a high-energy mash-up of klezmer, Balkan and gypsy punk from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Serbia and Hungary that draws easy comparisons to Gogol Bordello. I’ve only seen the band live once — in 2014 during JunoFest in Winnipeg, when they ended their explosive set by getting on top of tables, chairs and the bar of Shannon's Irish Pub while the crowd danced around them. I’ve been waiting to see them again ever since. They play three times at folk fest, but unfortunately not on the Big Blue @ Night stage, where they would surely have had the audience losing its collective mind. See them Friday at 11 a.m. at the Across the Universe workshop at Big Bluestem; Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Around the World in a Day workshop at Green Ash; and later that day at 2:45 p.m. when they host their own concert at Bur Oak.

— Rob Williams

Ctrl+F is a dose of local flavour from life in our city. Produced with care and character by @WinnipegNews, this online conversation is published Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

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