2018 Winnipeg Folk Festival Preview: Who to see, how to keep up, and a look back at last year

Filed under: Festivals

The Winnipeg Folk Festival celebrates its 45th year in 2018, and here at Showbiz Monkeys, we're celebrating our 10th year in a row of covering this much-loved prairie music festival. For the last decade, a rotating group of photographers, videographers, and writers have ventured out to Manitoba's Birds Hill Provincial Park, just outside Winnipeg, to take in some of the best folk, bluegrass, Americana, indie rock, soul, hip-hop, gospel, and world music around. Over the years, we've had the opportunity to interview up-and-coming artists and legendary performers; we've taken thousands of photos of hundreds of artists; we've gone from being one of the few accounts tweeting about #folkfesthappy to being a tiny speck in the sea of non-stop social media coverage; and we've eaten far too many whales tales and Skinners hot dogs to count.

And of course, we can't wait for Thursday, July 5, so we can do it all again!

Below is just a taste of what to expect if you're heading out to the festival -- some big names, underground faves, and Winnipeg locals killing it -- with videos and set times. Then there's a look back at last year's fest, featuring the wonderful music of Prairie Lakes.

The Big Ones

Everyone knows the name Sheryl Crow. From the moments "All I Wanna Do" (from the album Tuesday Night Music Club) began climbing the charts in 1994, Crow's country-infused rock has been a mainstay in American music. With 9 Grammys to her name, along with countless other awards, platinum albums, and sold out arenas worldwide, she's a big get for Artistic Director Chris Frayer and the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and will be closing out the main stage on Sunday night.

Besides the main draw, though, the festival has also brought in some other pretty big names from across genres to feature on the main stage, beginning Thursday night with American soul-pop singer Elle King at 8:10 PM and Australian roots outfit John Butler Trio at 9:45 PM. Cape Breton fiddling legend Natalie McMaster hits the Friday main stage at 7:05 PM, much to the delight of traditional folk fans. For fans of indie rock, Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett will be closing things off Friday night at 10:55 PM. Fresh off her latest album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, the Grammy nominee may have been the most buzzed-about artist among the younger crowd of Folk Fest fans leading up to this year's festival.

Bahamas debuted at the Winnipeg Folk Festival back in 2009, the year we started covering the festival. All the volunteers and media folks we encountered couldn't stop talking about this young Canadian performer going by the name of an island country and blowing people away with his music. 9 years later -- after with several more Folk Fest appearances, a trio of acclaimed albums, and some appearances on American late night TV under his belt -- Bahamas is one of the biggest draws at this year's festival. Considering how much a fixture Afie Jurvanen and his band are on the radio (and our streaming playlists), the Bahamas main stage set on Saturday at 9:45 PM is going to be a highlight of the fest.

Immediately following Bahamas to close out Saturday's main stage at 11:05 PM is another huge Canadian act making their return to the Winnipeg Folk Festival: A Tribe Called Red. Despite a few line-up changes over the last few years, the DJ collective continues to wow live crowds across the globe, bringing a spotlight to contemporary urban indigenous music as well as important social justice issues. Melding traditional sounds with modern beats, A Tribe Called Red has worked with some incredible names on their records -- Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def), Tanya Tagaq, Shad, and fellow WFF performer Leonard Sumner. We have a feeling by the time the first beats hit, that the tarp-sitters will be far outnumbered by those up on their feet moving to the music.

Before Sheryl Crow takes the main stage on Sunday, Brighton-born Passenger (aka Mike Rosenberg) will be treating the crowd at 7:20 PM to what has been described as "heartbreakingly beautiful music". You almost certainly have heard his massive 2013 hit, "Let Her Go" (1.9 billion views on YouTube and counting!), but the prolific singer-songwriter has already released 8 solo albums since 2009 -- with a 9th on its way later this summer -- and all those records are filled with equally-poetic lyrics sung with his unique and soothing voice over a strummed acoustic guitar. Despite now playing to huge crowds, he also still likes getting out to the streets and busking, like he did recently in Glasgow, performing his latest single.

The Next Ones

In 2018, the difference between "big name" and "up-and-comer" is rapidly shrinking. While established acts like Sheryl Crow and Natalie McMaster will cross-generationally be the most well-known names at this year's Winnipeg Folk Festival, thanks to YouTube and Spotify, younger acts are able to develop massive followings early on in their careers. And if even if you're not "in the know" about some of these amazing artists, we can't recommend enough that you check them out -- either at the festival this weekend or wherever you listen to your music.

We first discovered Julien Baker via NPR's "Tiny Desk Concert" series, but we certainly weren't the only ones, as it became one of their most popular editions with over 2 million YouTube views and counting! (As an aside, Tiny Desk Concert is an incredible discovery point for lots of folk, indie rock, and hip-hop; many Folk Fest artists have made appearances.) You would be doing yourself a disservice by not checking out her full concert on Sunday at 1:30 PM at Green Ash.

Fortunate Ones is a Newfoundland duo making their return to the Winnipeg Folk Festival -- to our delight! With their new album Hold Fast just released (featuring the incredible song "Before You", below), expect a lot of spine-tingling harmonies and beautiful lyrics. We had the chance last week to speak with one half of the duo, Andrew O'Brien, about the making of Hold Fast, Newfoundland music, and why the Winnipeg Folk Festival is Andrew's favourite festival of them all.

Fortunate Ones is taking part in several workshops at this year's fest, as well as performing a "tweener" main stage set on Thursday night, but their full concert is on Saturday at 3:00 PM at Little Stage in the Forest.

The War and Treaty is a powerhouse musical duo featuring husband-and-wife Michael and Tanya Trotter. While they both came to music in much different paths -- Tanya growing up writing music and singing; Michael spending time homeless, joining the military at age 19 after having a child, and developing his voice writing songs for the fallen while stationed in Iraq -- their voices now go together so well you'd swear they've been singing together for a lifetime. Catch them kicking off the main stage on Friday at 6:00 PM.

Still only 23 years old, Phoebe Bridgers has already released a pair of critically-acclaimed albums, and the singer-songwriter from Los Angeles is poised for superstardom. Check her out her folky shoe-gaze music on an intimate stage now (her full concert is on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 PM at Shady Grove), as the next time she comes through town, it'll probably be a sold-out theatre show.

Gaelynn Lea won NPR's second Tiny Desk Contest, getting to perform her own Tiny Desk Concert in 2016. Her music is a unique blend of Celtic fiddle sounds, Americana, and indie rock, and using looping, she builds sonic landscapes live (accompanied by guitarist Dave Mehling for Folk Fest). And while she's not a local, hailing from Duluth, Minnesota, she's pretty close! Check out her full set on Saturday afternoon at 4:30 PM at Spruce Hollow.

Rhye is a somewhat mysterious soul-pop project from Canadian electronic musician Mike Milosh. Soulful, funky, smooth, intimate: their Big Blue @ Night closing set on Friday night at 10:30 PM could end up being on of the Winnipeg Folk Festival sexiest sets ever, and a great way to end your night.

The Local Heroes

Every year at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, it seems like the local contigent at the festival couldn't possibly get any better, and then another festival rolls around and somehow it does. This says a lot about the Winnipeg scene, which has gone from often overlooked "hidden gem" to taking over folk and indie rock circles. One of the coolest parts about a festival like this being around as long as it has been -- and being such a rich part of the culture of the province -- is that several of the young locals performing this year have been attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival for literally their whole lives.

Kicking off the entire festival this year is sibling duo Roger Roger, who are playing a short set on the Thursday main stage at 6:30 PM, as well as a full concert on Saturday at 4:30 PM at Little Stage in the Forest. The sibling folk/roots duo's debut album, Fairweather, reached #1 on the Canadian folk/roots/blues charts, and it's no wonder when you listen to the folksy, relatable lyrics and beautiful harmonies.

Boniface, fronted by young Winnipeg songwriter Micah Visser, has been slowly gaining momentum with live performances not just around Winnipeg, but across Canada and Europe (along with a stop at Austin's SXSW). A recording stint in London has lead to a slow release of catchy singles, and the taste of alt-pop anthems we've heard so far are cultivating huge anticipation for Boniface's debut record on both sides of the Atlantic. In the meantime, Boniface is kicking off the Big Blue @ Night stage on Friday night at 7:00 PM, as well as performing a main stage tweener set on Saturday at 8:05 PM. Expect a mix of big sounds, introspective lyrics, and an intimate yet powerful voice.

Another extremely talented young Manitoba Micah -- country-tinged indie-folk singer Micah Erenberg -- is technically making his Winnipeg Folk Festival debut, although he has previously accompanied Richard Inman at last year's fest, and has been part of the Young Performers Program. Everyone in the province who follows music at all should know about Erenberg at this point, as he's been playing shows and festivals either solo or with the Madtrappers for years, playing his first show at Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club as a teenager. These days, as the storytelling musician gets ready to release his sophmore album, he's often performing (and creating incredible harmonies) with multi-instrumentalist Sophie Stevens. You can hear them together in the below episode of Mom's House, a local Winnipeg music series.

The Stingray Young Performers Program gives emerging artists -- mostly from Manitoba, but a few from across the country -- the opportunity to workshop with musical mentors and each other leading up to performing a few songs at Shady Grove on Friday afternoon. As mentioned above, the talent pool in Winnipeg is strong, and the group of under-24-year-olds selected this year epitomizes that strength. We're highlighting just a few of our favourites below, but if you're looking for a good place to park yourself for an afternoon of shade and incredible music, we can't think of any better way to spend your Friday.

Taylor Janzen's debut single, "Stations", was just given a nice write-up in the New York Times alongside new songs by Paul McCartney and Nine Inch Nails. At only 19, the sky's the limit for this talented singer-songwriter. We'll be chatting with her on Friday afternoon at the festival!

After spending time on the West Coast for University, Winnipeg's Noah Derksen has returned home, although his touring schedule puts him all around North America for much of the year. With 2 albums of quiet, contemplative folk to his name, Derksen is expanding his sound a little with a pair of new singles in 2018, including the song "Nothing", found below. While still employing his smooth vocals and beautiful lyrics, it's clear he's building to a more full, rounded sound moving forward.

Nic Dyson is a longtime friend of ShowbizMonkeys.com, having provided the music for a previous Folk Fest compilation video, and letting us post this song, "Misunderstood", from his performance at last year's festival.

Looking Back on 2017

We've once again put together a compilation of some of our favourite moments from last year's festival. The backing music is a live performance from Winnipeg's Prairie Lakes. Take a listen and get ready for even more outdoor fun this year.

Live Coverage All Weekend

For those following along at home, we'll try our best to once again post short video clips of nearly ever main stage performance this year (as close to live as possible!) on both Instagram and Facebook, as well as some daytime workshops and other great moments. We'll also be updating our Instagram Stories and posting to the new IGTV.

Photo galleries at the end of each day will be posted to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

All information on the Winnipeg Folk Festival -- tickets, schedule information, food vendors, etc. -- can be found at www.winnipegfolkfestival.ca. For anyone heading out to Birds Hill Park, we hope you make memories that last a lifetime. Happy Folk Fest!

Tags: Winnipeg Folk Festival, Bahamas, Sheryl Crow, Passenger, Julien Baker, A Tribe Called Red, The War and Treaty, Courtney Barnett, Phoebe Bridgers, Gaelynn Lea

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