The Winnipeg Folk Festival is one of Canada's longest-running music festivals, and is a favourite not just amongst local music fans, but of performers and audience members well beyond the Manitoba borders. It's a combination of music from all genres (folk, of course, but also world music, bluegrass, indie rock, blues, and hip-hop) as well as "folk" ideals: community, good food, social justice, and connectivity around art.
One of the things the fest has managed to do over the last several years is to keep that folk mentality alive while diversifying the music in a way that keeps the festival both fresh and grounded in its history. This year's line-up of musicians exemplifies this balance perfectly. And beyond that balance, Artistic Director Chris Frayer and crew have managed to book a festival absolutely packed with audience favourites. Many years, the Winnipeg Folk Festival brings in a handful of huge names -- usually one per night -- and a long list of talented but lesser-known acts. This year, however, while there may be less massive international names -- genre-transcending acts like Elvis Costello -- the sheer volume of bands that many music fans would call their favourites is astounding!
In fact, in putting together the list of "must see" acts below, I had to leave out some pretty phenomenal artists. In the 8 years I've been covering the fest for ShowbizMonkeys.com, I can't recall a line-up of performers quite this overall popular, yet still musically-diverse and doing interesting things in the music world. I'm always excited for the festival weekend -- the atmosphere, the friends old and new, the food, the workshops -- but I can't recall being this excited to see this many different acts (many of which I'll inevitably miss because of the chaotic nature and scheduling of these things).
As we look forward to this year's festival, we also want to remind you about how much fun 2015 was! We were very lucky to have one of our favourite local Winnipeg singer/songwriters, Nic Dyson, agree to let us shoot him performing at last year's festival, and then use his song for our 2015 compilation video. Thanks to Nic for writing such a great song in "Vertigo", and pouring his heart out in the live performance. I tried to capture a little bit of everything that makes Folk Fest so great while putting this together.
This year, we'll be taking this idea one step further, and producing both a video "episode" and audio podcast that will encompass a few live performances, several performer interviews (including a couple big names), and the miscellaneous sights and sounds of the festival site that we love shooting and including every year! Think of an episode of Last Call with Carson Daly, but in a provincial park instead of Hollywood, and with less faux-retro squiggles on the screen.
Sam Roberts Band / 9:45 PM / Main Stage
Cœur de Pirate / 8:10 PM / Main Stage
Dan Frechette & Laurel Thomsen / 7:50 PM / Main Stage
This duo is around a lot during this year's festival, performing a full concert on Saturday afternoon (4:30 PM at Little Stage on the Prairie), taking part in several workshops, and mentoring a group in the Young Performers Program. Dan & Laurel's first appearance is on opening night with a "tweener" set on the main stage. Interestingly enough, Dan Frechette's first involvement with the Winnipeg Folk Festival was as a 14-year-old, so his involvement with the young performers has an extra layer of cool to it. His recent pairing with violinist-composer Laurel Thomsen adds another element to the already-profiliic music career.
Ryan Adams and the Shining / 9:25 PM / Main Stage
The Staves / 8:15 PM / Main Stage
This trio from Watford, Hertfordshire -- one of the most truly English-sounding places to come from in England -- has the most amazing 3-part harmonies, full stop. This isn't surprising once you find out they're sisters. However, Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Staveley-Taylor take family harmonies to the next level, and have already put together a solid repetroire of songs through a pair of LPs and a few EPs since 2011. Besides their main stage set, they're also part of a pair of really cool workshops that are probably worth your festival trip alone: Harp & Soul (Friday afternoon at Bur Oak) with Mikaela Davis and San Fermin (more on them below) and Old Songs, New Songs (Saturday afternoon at Shady Grove) with The Wainwright Sisters and The Wild Reeds.
Milky Chance / 11:00 PM / Main Stage
The Wild Reeds / 8:00 PM / Big Blue @ Night
I mentioned the harmonies of The Staves above, but The Wild Reeds also provide an awesome 3-part melding of female voices, with a slightly more Americana tinge. You can catch them both in the same workshop on Saturday afternoon (Old Songs, New Songs at Shady Grove), or you can jump back and forth between the Main Stage and Big Blue on Friday night to see their headlining sets, which unfortunately partially overlap with each other. The Wild Reeds will also be joining The Bluegrass Situation North Album Jam to close off Friday night at Big Blue (more on that below).
The Bluegrass Situation North / Big Blue @ Night
Bluegrass and Americana (along with its north-of-the-border equivalent in Canadiana) is the world where folk and country music meet. This genre, featuring banjos, fiddles, mandolins, and sweet harmonies, has long been embraced by the Winnipeg Folk Festival, going back to its infancy. This year, however, they're taking it one step further by turning Big Blue @ Night into The Bluegrass Situation North all Friday night. The Bluegrass Situation was co-founded by comedian Ed Helms and is based around the idea of fostering the future of bluegrass music through reviews and coverage of new and emerging music, putting on its own festival along with facilitating other shows, and getting involved in local communities and offering resources, etc. The night will feature sets from The Foggy Hogtown Boys, The Wild Reeds, The Punch Brothers' Noam Pikelny, and The Infamous Stringdusters ft. Nicki Bluhm. And because The Bluegrass Situation is famous for their jamborees and all-star jams, the night will end at 11:00 PM with an all-star jam of the entire Eagles album, Hotel California (with an Americana twist) featuring all those bands!
San Fermin / 12:30 PM / Bur Oak
Wild Child / 4:30 PM / Green Ash
Ruby & Smith / 1:30 PM / Little Stage on the Prairie
The Head and the Heart / 10:55 PM / Main Stage
Basia Bulat / 9:35 PM / Main Stage
Alan Doyle & the Beautiful Gypsies / 8:15 PM / Main Stage
Colin Hay / 2:45 PM/ Big Bluestem
I was tangentally aware of Men at Work growing up, and had heard "Down Under" and "Who Can It Be Now?" as a kid -- coincidentally, if Wikipedia is to be believed, their breakthough in North America came when "Who Can It Be Now?" reached the top 10 at radio stations in Winnipeg, then spreading from there. However, I didn't know a thing about the band or their lead singer, Colin Hay. My two introductions to the singer/songwriter who would become one of my favourites of all time were both Zach Braff-related: the soundtrack for the Zach Braff-directed Garden State, and Colin's appearances as a nameless troubador on the Zach Braff-starring Scrubs. Since launching his solo career nearly 3 decades ago, he's released countless beautiful, clever, and lyrically-brilliant songs, along with some acoustic re-imaginings of Men at Work hits. Besides his full concert tomorrow, he's also playing a tweener set on the main stage at 10:35 PM.
Son Little / 1:00 PM / Green Ash
"Young Americans" Workshop / 4:00 PM / Green Ash
We had to speficially mention this workshop, as it features 3 great bands we've already talked about above: San Fermin, The Head and the Heart, and Wild Child. If you're around at the festival, this is one daytime workshop you won't want to miss!
Native North America: A Selection of Musical Trailblazers / 2:00 PM / Bur Oak
Vancouver-based music journalist/historian Kevin Howes travels across the country picking records, and in those dusty bins, discovered a wealth of Canadian indigenous music from the storytelling folk era of the 1960s through 1980s. Mostly rare and largely unknown northern CBC recordings, he compiled the 2016 Grammy-nominated Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985. On Saturday, July 9, you'll find a few of the great original recording artists on stage: Willie Thrasher, Willy Mitchell, Duke Redbird, and Eric Landry.
That description was taken from the Winnipeg Folk Festival website, but it's a really cool and unique experience for attendees to some legendary performers from years past who may not have notoriety today, but are absolutely worthy of attention -- not just for their trailblazing work, but for the music itself.
Loudon Wainwright III / 6:00 PM / Main Stage
We last saw the legendary Loudon Wainwright III at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2009, which was our first year covering the fest at ShowbizMonkeys.com. Through a sheer stroke of luck, we were able to chat with Loudon about his early years coming to the festival, having talented kids, and his work with Judd Apatow. A favourite in both the folk world and in comedy (as many of his songs, including his latest single embedded above, are either tinged with sarcasm or flat-out satire), he's this year's recipient of the Winnipeg Folk Festival's Artistic Achievement Award. He'll also be joined by 2 of his talented progeny -- Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche are at the 2016 Winnipeg Folk Fest with their new project The Wainwright Sisters. They've both been here before (as has Loudon's son, Rufus) -- and since the Wainwright family is so familiar with the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the 3 at this year's fest will also be doing the "Keep It in the Family" workshop at Shady Grove on Sunday morning at 11:00 AM.
Lord Huron / 8:45 PM / Main Stage
Lucius / 7:25 PM / Main Stage
Andy Shauf / 12:35 PM / Shady Grove
In the weeks leading up to this year's Winnipeg Folk Festival, I was hearing Andy Shauf's name everywhere. Several musicians I'm big fans of around North America have been singing his praises, most recently L.A.-based Cary Brothers. Plus, when I've asked most of my friends who they're excited about at this year's festival, his name has definitely come up the most. And really, if you listen to his music, it makes perfect sense. The Saskatchewan native has definite 70s folk and rock influences, but also doesn't sound tired or retro in any way -- and the storytelling in his songs is fascinating. Besides his daytime concert, he's also performing a Saturday night tweener set on the main stage.
We encourage you to follow us on Twitter (@showbizmonkeys), Instagram (instagram.com/showbizmonkeys), Periscope (@showbizmonkeys), and Facebook/Facebook Live (facebook.com/showbizmonkeys) -- or simply check out the best of our coverage pooled together RIGHT HERE! And if you're at Birds Hill Park for the weekend, we want to hear from you. Leave comments on this page about who you're most looking forward to see or your favourite festival moments as they happen, and be sure to tag us if you're posting on social media so we can include you in our coverage.
For anyone out at the festival, have an amazing weekend! For anyone following at home or after the festival is complete, we hope our coverage gives you just a little taste of the amazing experience that is the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Happy Folk Fest!
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)