2017 Winnipeg Folk Festival Preview: Big names, hidden gems, incredible locals, and some cool stuff from 2016

Filed under: Festivals

The summer festival season in Manitoba, on the Canadian prairies, is always an exciting time. Music festivals abound in Winnipeg and in smaller areas throughout the province from June to September; one of North America's biggest theatre festivals, the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, takes hold of the last 2 weeks of July; and the still-young Oddblock Comedy Festival ends off August with some of the best comics from the U.S. and Canada.

Of course, there's also the 3rd annual Interstellar Rodeo coming up mid-August, which sees Beck come to town for the first time in his illustrious career. And this year, Winnipeg is also hosting the Canada Summer Games -- which besides amateur athletes from across the country competing in nearly every sport imaginable, also includes nearly 2 weeks of amazing free concerts from the likes of Serena Ryder, Tanya Tagaq, Royal Canoe, Alan Doyle, and the reuniting Crash Test Dummies joined by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

But for a large chunk of people within 10 hours' drive of Winnipeg -- including us here at ShowbizMonkeys.com -- the summer's biggest event still continues to be the Winnipeg Folk Festival!

Going into its 44th year, one of Canada's longest-running and most-loved festivals has a higher contingent of Canadian acts this year than usual (is it because of Canada 150 or the lower Canadian dollar?), but amongst them are some of the biggest acts this country has produced over the last several decades. Of course, 4 days of folk, Americana, bluegrass, indie rock, world music, pop, dance, and soul -- including 3 days of afternoon concerts and collaborative workshops -- isn't all the festival is about. Beyond the tunes, there's local artisans selling all sorts of wares, food vendors featuring some of the best-tasting grub Manitoba has to offer, prairie art installations, and a campground experience that takes on a life of its own. It's a weekend when longtime folkies, young music fans, families, and everyone in between descend on a provincial park in the middle of the Canadian prairies for an unforgettable weekend.

Below we'll touch on many of the acts you'll not want to miss out on if you're near Winnipeg this weekend, with videos and set times and all sorts of other fun stuff.

The Big Draws

Every year the Winnipeg Folk Festival brings in some of the biggest names in folk, indie rock, and pop music. Sometimes it's timed around a new album release, sometimes the acts are frequent Folk Festers, and sometimes Artistic Director Chris Frayer is able to snag a music legend or two. This year is no different -- all four nights of the main stage in 2017 have some heavy-hitters.

Kicking things off on Thursday night is The Shins, making their first-ever Winnipeg appearance. The iconic folk-rock band, fresh off their first release in five years (Heartworms), close out the first night of the festival at 9:45 PM, and are sure to bring out some fans just for their headlining set alone. Also appearing on Thursday night at 8:05 PM is singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile. The Grammy nominee has worked with some of music's biggest producers, including T-Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin, and is sure to delight the Folk Fest faithful.

Friday night sees the return of a festival favourite City and Colour (former Alexisonfire member Dallas Green's side project-turned-success story) as well as Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn. Cockburn, who hits the stage at a reasonabale 7:05 PM, influenced a generation with his songwriting prowess and social activism -- his songs "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" and "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (among many others) are timeless classics the world over. While many years Cockburn's junior, City and Colour -- on at 9:45 PM -- also has a massive following, and plenty of Canadian singer/songwriters have drawn from Green's quiet finger-picking and lulling melodies. (His overlooked collaboration with pop superstar P!nk, as the duo You + Me, is also worth checking out.)

Saturday night sees another pairing of Canadian legend and legend-in-the-making, as longtime producer and solo artist Daniel Lanois hits the main stage at 8:25 PM, followed at 9:45 PM by the hugely-popular indie-rocker Feist, who's touring off a brand new album, Pleasure. The 11-time Juno winner Feist was last here back in 2012, and it's been nearly that long since she's performed anywhere, so fans are surely excited to get to see the Calgary native live again. Lanois may be best known for producing multiple U2 albums alongside Brian Eno and many other records (he's won 11 Grammys), but he's also an accomplished songwriter and performer in his own right, creating atmospheric songs and specializing in the pedal steel guitar.

Sunday sees Canadian folk-pop band Barenaked Ladies -- who rose to fame with their cover of Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" -- close out the main stage at 8:40 PM. What needs to be said about the Toronto quartet

The Local Contingent

Winnipeg's The Small Glories is a duo made up of J.D. Edwards and Cara Luft, who before joining up had plenty of success (and played the Winnipeg Folk Festival) with The J.D. Edwards Band and The Wailin' Jennys, respectively. A couple years into their new creation, The Small Glories have toured across the globe and wowed audiences with their traditional folk/bluegrass sound -- including beautiful melodies and lush harmonies combined. They open up this year's festival at 7:00 PM on Thursday night.

Also worth checking out are the soul-pop of Begonia (the phenomenal new outlet for Chic Gamine's Alexa Dirks) on Friday at 7:00 PM at Big Blue at Night; John K. Samson & the Winter Wheat (which besides vocalist/songwriter John K. Samson also includes 2 of his 3 former Weakerthans bandmades) on the main stage on Friday at 8:25 PM; Joey Landreth (who's been hitting the festival circuit all year promoting his solo release after receiving acclaim the last few years as part The Bros. Landreth) on Sunday's main stage at 7:20 PM; and Manitoba folk-country troubadour Richard Inman (whose voice and lyrics will haunt you in all the best ways) on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM at Little Stage in the Forest. All the local acts are taking part in multiple workshops throughout the weekend, as well.

Looking Back on 2016

While we're beyond excited for the start of this year's festival on Thursday, around this time we always like to take a look back at the previous year's Folk Festival to get ourselves -- and hopefully you -- psyched up for this year. While we have a bunch of audio and video interviews from last year that we'll be putting together with content from this year for our own little Winnipeg Folk Festival documentary (and accompanying podcast), we just put out a short little video of some of our favourite crowd moments from 2016, as well as an exclusive song from delightful Vancouver duo Ruby & Smith, who completely charmed us last summer.

Live Coverage All Week

We're going to be posting more video clips than ever before on our social media accounts: our favourite live moments; quick chats with performers and volunteers; and footage capturing the general vibe of the Winnipeg Folk Festival grounds at Birds Hill Park. If you're not able to make it out to the festival, be sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter for the next best thing!

Everything you can think of about the Winnipeg Folk Festival -- tickets, schedule information, camping details, and more -- can be found at www.winnipegfolkfestival.ca. For anyone heading out to Birds Hill Park or already there, we hope you have an incredible weekend. And for those following at home or after the fact, you can check out a nice Storify of all our coverage in one place. Oh, and leave a comment on your festival experience, won't you? Happy Folk Fest!

Tags: Winnipeg Folk Festival, Feist, Bruce Cockburn, The Shins, John K. Samson and the Winter Wheat, Brandi Carlile, Barenaked Ladies, Daniel Lanois, City and Colour, Begonia

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