On the first full day of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the story was the sun and the heat. And of course the music, which is always the cornerstone of a festival like this, was in strong form, allowing the people in the sun to enjoy everything from blues to folk to roots to a conglomeration of pretty much every genre one could imagine. Between the Main Stage performers, and the more alt sounds of the Big Blue at Night stage (not to mention the countless daytime performances and workshops), there really was something for everyone on Friday in Bird's Hill Park.
My day began at the Green Ash stage for the "It Takes a Global Village" set featuring Delhi 2 Dublin, Oka, and The Peatbog Faeries (foreshadowing the end of the night). Mixing fiddles, bagpipes, horns, and all sorts of other instruments, the 3 bands played an extremely fun, danceable mix of folk, celtic, and world music. It was pretty much the best, most exciting start to the day one could possibly ask for.
After checking out a "Ukulele 101" workshop (with ukulele in hand!) I headed out to see local Winnipeg singer/songwriter James Struthers as part of a Young Artists' workshop hosted by The Weakerthan's John K. Samson. This young artist (Struthers) is a great up-and-coming performer who has (justifiably) been compared to both John Mayer and Jason Mraz. If smooth vocals, clever lyrics, and strong guitar playing are your thing, you'll probably like his music.
A few interviews later (Gregory Alan Isakov, Leonard Podolak of The Duhks, and Greg MacPherson -- look for them to be posted soon) and it was time for the Main Stage acts. With the weekend upon us, the Winnipeg Folk Festival runs two evening stages: the Main Stage and the Big Blue @ Night stage, which is geared more towards a younger audience. Both stages featured a series of great performers.
Highlights of the Main Stage on Friday included crazy-skilled bluesman Sonny Landreth (called one of the most underrated musicians in the word by Eric Clapton); Boulder, Colorado's Gregory Alan Isakov (playing a tweener set -- his main concert is tomorrow afternoon); Polaris Prize long lister Greg MacPherson; and of course The Swell Season. Most known for appearing in and recording the soundtrack for the movie Once (for which they won an Oscar), Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova produced rich melodies and lush harmonies, performing at times as a duo and at others with a full backing band. Their set reminded me a lot of Iron & Wine's last year -- mostly acoustic-based folk that somehow managed to engage a 14,000-person crowd in a manner usually reserved for rock or metal shows. (The electric crowd even coaxed an encore out of them with a rousing standing ovation.)
Jim Bryson with the Weakerthans, The Rural Alberta Advantage, and Oka all played over at the Big Blue @ Night stage. Unfortunately, I was at the Main Stage for most of the evening, so was only able to catch a bit of Oka, an Australian band who took the festival by storm last year and were invited back again to bring the Folk Fest crowd their unique blend of folk dance music fearing a didgeridoo, bamboo flutes, and more. As with last year, when they played the Main Stage, they were once again phenomenal, and the huge crowd assembled at the Big Blue stage were definitely in a dancing mood.
There was dancing over at the Main Stage too, though, with Scotland's The Peatbog Faeries closing off Friday night at the Winnipeg Folk Festival with a mixture of bagpipes, fiddles, jazzy brass instruments, electric guitars, and tribal beats. Requiring some sleep, I heard the echoes of the bagpipes and beats through the trees as I traversed the festival grounds towards the parking lot, and Day 3 of Folk Fest ended on a high-energy note.
Keep checking out our Twitter feed (in the right sidebar here on ShowbizMonkeys.com or directly at twitter.com/showbizmonkeys) as we post real-time updates from the Winnipeg Folk Festival (including photos from events AS THEY HAPPEN!).
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found at The Purple Room in Winnipeg, where he is Artistic Director. (@comedygeek)