Thursday night at the 2011 Winnipeg Folk Festival featured some pleasant surprises, but it was indie folk mainstays Tegan and Sara who rocked the Bird's Hill Park field to a delighted and uncharacteristically raucous crowd. Closing out the night, the Calgary-born sisters -- who have been making music together since their mid-teens and have released six studio albums since 1999 -- pulled out hits such as "Back in Your Head", "Walking with a Ghost", and "Alligator" while switching between different guitars and keyboard (along with a backing band for most songs).
Tegan and Sara's set started with just the two sisters on stage, telling the crowd they hadn't performed together in a while and needed to work things out with some acoustic songs. This didn't stop many of the young people in the crowd from moving to the front of the audience area and remain standing, something that festival organizers normally discourage (keeping those who want to stand, dance, and rock out in a cordoned-off area to the right of the stage). By the time they left the stage at 12am -- a curfew enforced by the festival, not the band -- much of the Folk Festival crowd was on their feet, begging for an encore that wasn't to be.
Prior to the night's headliners hitting the stage, folk icon M. Ward -- of She & Him, Monsters of Folk, and an impressive solo career -- played a nearly hour-long set mixing modern folk and classic folk/blues song-to-song. Speaking to Ward prior to his set, he mentioned that his early musical influences lie both in the classics (he learned guitar by playing Beatles tunes, and was then introduced to the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Richard) and the alternative/punk scene taking place around L.A. as he was growing (with bands such as Sonic Youth and the Minute Men). Even though Ward's own music wouldn't be classified by either of those genres, it's apparent in his recordings and live performances that those broad influences exist. The most important point? He puts on a musically-rich and thoroughly-entertaining show.
Speaking of entertaining, a show Ward mentioned he was looking forward to seeing this festival was the Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who collectively took to the mainstage while the sun was still in the sky heating everyone up. Of course, the sun wasn't needed, as the inspired pairing of Dixieland jazz and traditional bluegrass amply warmed up the thousands of folkies in attendance. Del McCoury, who's been playing bluegrass music for over 50 years, had no problem letting the New Orleans sounds take over, smiling and laughing as the two bands gleefully blended horns, fiddles, and mandolins into songs that seemed to soar across the festival grounds.
One of the cool things about the Winnipeg Folk Festival is the opportunity it affords lesser-known but equally-talented musicians to play the mainstage, giving them 4 or 5-song sets on the side of the stage during the teardown/set-up for the main acts. "Tweener" highlights Thursday night included legendary bluegrass guitarist Dan Crary and local roots quartet Oh My Darling.
The full slate of daytime and evening workshops and performances kicks off Friday at 11am, and ShowbizMonkeys.com will be there all weekend long. In fact, we're taking in the full experience for the first time this year, as yours truly will be staying in the legendary festival campground. Having only ever heard the crazy stories of drum circles, fire dancers, impromptu jam sessions, and colourful insanity, one can only assume sleep will be in short supply over the next 2 nights. It's entirely possible you won't see complete daily posts and recaps over the next couple nights, however we will still be keeping you updated with the goings-on at the festival itself and in the campground, both here and on Twitter (@showbizmonkeys).
Also, to those of you at the Winnipeg Folk Festival or intending to head down to Bird's Hill Park at some point this weekend, don't be a stranger! If you see someone with a media pass that says ShowbizMonkeys.com on it, say hello. We'd love to meet up with you and get your own personal take on the festival and what it means to you. And if any Tweetups end up happening, you can bet we'll be there, even if we're only working on 2 hours of sleep and in the middle of editing our 5th interview of the day.
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found putting on and promoting music and comedy events with The Purple Room in Winnipeg, or co-producing the live comedy game show Pants on Fire. (@comedygeek)