Interstellar Rodeo -- a music festival started by Canadian indie label Six Shooter Records in Edmonton, Alberta in 2012 -- has come to Winnipeg for the first time in 2015, setting up shop at the Forks from Friday, August 14 to Sunday, August 16. This prairie town loves its summer festivals, with the Fringe, Folk, and Jazz festivals already big highlights for fans of the arts, and the currently-running multicultural extravaganza Folklorama bringing along with it food, culture, and performing arts every August.
So why another festival? Well, just like how the upcoming Oddblock Comedy Festival (coverage coming soon!) will be bringing in a different mix of comedians to town than the successful, long-running Winnipeg Comedy Festival, Interstellar Rodeo is offering something a little bit different from the Winnipeg Folk Festival and the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival. And the organizers feel there's more than enough room for it in the city's music scene.
For starters, the acts veer more towards the rock spectrum than other local festivals, but unlike most straight-ahead rock festivals, there are deep country, folk, and soul roots in this line-up. Dwight Yoakum, Blue Rodeo, legendary troubadour Steve Earle, Ridley Bent, NQ Arbuckle, The Lone Bellow, Elliott BROOD, and Scott Nolan wouldn't seem out of place at a quote-unquote country music festival. Yet with other acts like eclectic cabaret-rocker Hawklsey Workman, songstress Sarah McLachlan (backed by Whitehorse), the soulful Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Australian singer/songwriter Vance Joy, Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq, alt-rockers July Talk, Newfoundland's Amelia Curran, and Winnipeg's own Greg Macpherson, it's clear that Intersteller Rodeo is trying to appeal to fans with broad musical tastes.
And musical tastes aren't the only ones organizers have brought to Interstellar Rodeo in its three Edmonton incarnations or its inaugaral Winnipeg festival -- they've set up the festival grounds at The Forks in downtown Winnipeg to be licensed through the whole grounds, with featured wines available all weekend specifically curated to pair up with the performers on stage. It's the first time we've seen anything like it: Hawksley Workman is paired with a Canadian Gothic 2012 Cab Merlot; Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are paired with Ocaso 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon; and Vance Joy is paired with the also-Aussie Majella 2012 'The Musician' Cab/Shiraz. If you're a fan of wine, and not being confined to the "beer tent" while the music is going on, this is the festival for you.
The international food truck craze has also hit Winnipeg in a big way over the last few years, and several of the city's newest trucks (along with pop-up versions of a couple local restaurant favourites) will be providing tasty grub to festivalgoers.
So if you're in Winnipeg, why should you go? Interstellar Rodeo isn't a dirt-cheap festival by any means (tickets run anywhere from $65 for a Friday youth/senior ticket all the way to $225 for a transferrable weekend adult pass), but you're getting a lot of music in 3 days. The bang for your buck is phenomenal -- it works out to less than $10 per act, even though many of the headliners would be setting you back $50-100 for their own solo tours. And the quality of the acts, which we'll highlight with our "top picks" below, is absolutely superb. Plus, the weather forecast looks to be smoking hot for Friday and Saturday, and cooler but pleasant on Sunday. Oh, and that wine and food we mentioned above. If you're a music fan in Manitoba (and aren't already headed out of town for the awesome local-centric Rainbow Trout Festival), you need to be down at the Forks this weekend.
And if you're not in Winnipeg, why should you care? Well, ShowbizMonkeys.com is going to be on the ground all weekend bringing you updates on Instagram and Twitter, and will be putting together a photo gallery of all these amazing artists. So if you're a fan of anyone coming up to Winnipeg for this year's inaugural Interstellar Rodeo, you'll want to stay tuned! (And maybe we'll be able to convince you to come up to the middle of Canada for next year's festival while we're at it.)
Hawksley Workman (5:50 PM) has spent the last few years recording and performing as drummer/singer with his new band Mounties, but he returned as a solo artist in a big way earlier this year with the album Old Cheetah, a collection of songs that sound like a mix between his first few years of solo work and the sound he's had with Mounties. Considering Mounties member (and Hot Hot Heat vocalist) Steve Bays produced the new record, and both Bays and Mounties bandmate Ryan Dahle both appear on multiple tracks, this shouldn't be too much of a surprise. It is, however, quintessentially Hawskley Workman in all the best ways, and his first solo visit to Winnipeg in a number of years should be a great way to kick off the festival!
Tanya Tagaq (7:10 PM) has been making waves with her unique blend of sounds highlighted by her wordless throat singing, a traditional Inuk style that is gutteral, emotional, and haunting. But why try to describe her music when you can just watch the video and see for yourself! It's a testament to North American music lovers that she's been taking off, because often sounds this interesting don't tend to catch on as much as they should. But after winning last year's Polaris Music Prize for her album Animism and performing high-profile sets at SXSW and Bonnaroo this year, she's definitely getting noticed. An added bonus? She's not afraid to speak her mind about important issues, especially those affecting First Nations and specifically the people of the north. Even if you don't agree with everything she says, it's good to have strong-minded performers using their platform to speak for those who don't have the voice to.
Toronto-based Elliott BROOD (3:20 PM) have been around for over a decade, bringing their rootsy rock across Canada and beyond. Using electric and acoustic guitars, ukulele, and banjos, this 3-piece has put out some great records over the years, but it's their live show that needs to be seen. We caught them live for the first time at the Winnipeg Folk Festival a few years ago, and wow! Seriously, "wow" is the only accurate word that can be used to describe their intensity and talent in a live setting. If you want to see high-energy music with raw bug superb dual vocals, see Elliott BROOD. The live video above is only a taste of what you can expect.
The legendary Steve Earle (6:05 PM) comes to Interstellar Rodeo with his backing band the Dukes, bringing with them a long career's worth of folk, bluegrass, rock, and blues songs. Through 16 albums over 33 years (plus a decade before that writing and playing for other bands in and around Nashville and Texas), Earle has battled drug addiction and fought for many social causes, and those life experiences have woven their way into his songwriting in an honest and captivating way. While his most famous tune is the one shown above, "Copperhead Road", even the style of that tune has changed for him over the years, exemplifying how he's unafraid to move in different directions without losing his cool, rootsy persona.
What can be said about Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (7:40 PM)? Jones has one the best classic soul voices currently in music, but despite years of recording backing vocals starting in the 70s, it wasn't until 1996 that she started got her break as a solo singer. Finally hitting on everyone's radar after her debut record with the Dap-Kings in 2002, Jones has been tearing up the retro-soul and funk world, citing influences like James Brown, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding. Yet Jones isn't just a formation of her influences -- her powerful voice and pure joy personified while performing live (we've especially loved her past appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman) make her a can't miss act whenever she visits your town, even after battling cancer a couple years back. Plus, that killer backing band!
The Lone Bellow (4:35 PM)
July Talk (5:45 PM)
When Vance Joy (7:20 PM) last visited Winnipeg in the fall of 2013, his Winnipeg Folk Festival-sponsored show had to be moved from the Park Theatre to the fest's own Folk Exchange venue due to low ticket sales. What those 40-50 of us who were in attendance knew, of course, was that Joy had talent coming out of his ears, and both the songs and the charm to match. That next spring, his song "Riptide" blew up all over the world: in the U.S., it remained on the Billboard charts for 43 weeks; in his home country of Australia, the song spent an astonishing 107 weeks in the Top 100 charts; and in Canada it ended up being certified 2x platinum. Now that the rest of the world has caught up with those of us at the Folk Exchange that night, Vance Joy is one of the biggest draws to this year's Interstellar Rodeo, and the wonderful songwriting and subtly powerful voice highlighted on his full-length debut, 2014's Dream Your Life Away, prove exactly why.
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