The rain finally came to the Winnipeg Folk Festival on Saturday -- but what would an outdoor festival be without a bit of the wet stuff falling? It didn't seem to damper the spirits of festival-goers, however, as plenty of people were out at all the workshop stages throughout the day -- some decked in ponchos and others just letting the rain cool them down. And by the time the Main Stage started, the clouds had mostly broken up, and the beautiful sunset accompanied some equally great music from Hot Tuna and Pieta Brown.
Once the sun fell behind the horizon, the two biggest acts of the evening hit the Main Stage, with the high-energy The Cat Empire (look for our interview with singer/trumpet player Harry James Angus coming very soon!) and Grammy-winning hip-hoppers Arrested Development closing out the night. Both were unbelievably exciting shows, transforming the often stoic Main Stage crowd into a giant dance party. Normally, dancing -- even standing -- is reserved for a specific section stage left (or at the back), yet when The Cat Empire urged everyone to get up off their tarps and out of their chairs, the thousands in attendance obliged, and pretty much stayed on their feet right through a "tweener" set by Ladies of the Canyon and into Arrested Development's soulful set.
For those unaware (and shame on you, really!), The Cat Empire are an Australian band fusing jazz, funk, and rock. Known especially for their live performances, the 9-piece definitely didn't disappoint making their second appearance at the Winnipeg Folk Festival (their first time out was 2007). I unfortunately had to leave about 30 minutes before their set began back in 2007, so I was very excited to be able to finally see them play, and they absolutely exceeded my expectations.
Also exceeding my expectations was Arrested Development. Knowing a very small amount of their music from back in the early 90s, I was more aware of their story: jumping onto the scene in 1992 with a Grammy-winning debut album and positive message, they soon parted ways, only to re-emerge over the last decade as a more underground (but still critically-acclaimed) hip-hop/soul group. Considering their set at Folk Fest stretched well past midnight, they were able to keep the remaining Main Stage crowd (roughly half stayed until the end of their set) interested and energized. Featuring amazing singing, a bit of rapping, and ridiculously talented musicians, it wasn't hard to figure out why people were digging what they were hearing.
Meanwhile, over at the Big Blue @ Night stage Saturday evening, Ukrania, Delhi 2 Dublin, and DJ Dolores played sets geared more towards the younger folks at the festival who want to move to their music (or at least the ones who weren't grooving at the Main Stage). Delhi 2 Dublin stood out amongst a great group of performers -- for the second day in a row, after some fun workshop playing on Friday -- and kept some people away from the start of The Cat Empire's set at the Main Stage because they were having too much fun over at Big Blue.
Amongst all the rain and interviews of the afternoon, I was able to check out a few of the daytime shows and workshops. The highlight was probably the "Perfect Strangers" workshop, hosted by John K. Samson and featuring Jon & Roy, The Swell Season, and Works Progress Administration. In particular, The Swell Season'sGlen Hansard led the rest of the performers (and eventually the crowd) in an old Irish tune dating back to the 1600s usually sung at wakes. It was a beautiful moment that really represented what this festival is all about -- community, collaboration, and celebration.
Also on the docket today was "Cleverly Hillbillies" workshop, featuring The Wilders, Hoots and Hellmouth, and Rock Plaza Central, which was a lot of fun. With the amount of instruments on stage, it was like watching the ultimate jam. The performers seemed to all be having a blast, which certainly translated to the rain-soaked crowd.
The show I was most looking forward to on the afternoon was singer-songwriter Pieta Brown, daughter of Iowa folk singer Greg Brown (who's performing at the festival himself tomorrow). Accompanied by frequent collaborator Bo Ramsey, Brown combined her original tunes with a Neil Young cover (always welcomed in his hometown). I'll be interviewing her tomorrow, and will have more to say about her when that is posted up, but needless to say she was even better live than her recordings I'd heard prior to the festival (which were amazing themselves).
Also deserving of mention isKonono Nº1, a groupthat a lot of people were talking about (including many other performers) on Saturday. While I didn't get a chance to see them perform myself, the buzz was strong for the Congolese band, and their unique sound is worth a listen if you get a chance.
With only one day to go, the Winnipeg Folk Festival is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. Personally, compared to last year, the list of performers didn't jump out at me as "must-sees" based on my prior knowledge of their music. But, as tends to be the case at festivals like this, many groups that were generally unfamiliar became familiar rather quickly, and I've been blown away by the live music of the last four days. Here's hoping that Sunday lives up to that standard -- though I don't foresee it falling short given the line-up for the final day.
As always, stay with ShowbizMonkeys.com throughout Sunday afternoon as evening as we post photos and other thoughts on our Twitter feed, and check back here early Monday morning for our festival wrap-up!
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)