This was my fourth year camping at Winnipeg Folk Festival, and my third volunteering. As always, it was the best time of year, the height of my summer and the subject of my dreams for months to come (and months prior).
Just for context, I should let you know that my first year at Folk Fest nearly changed my life. I’d never experienced such a positive, energetic, socially liberating place before.
As many Winnipeggers know, the Folk Fest campground is a massive event on it’s own. This year hosted a variety of new animations, including the acid cooler, the psychedelic car wash and Bel Air as it’s own sports bar. Animations are little stages, structures or events in the campground that campers plan and host.
I was blessed and ever-grateful for the camping spot my (now ex) partner Andrew Vineberg snagged for us.
We planned to camp with my old friend Naomi and a group of her friends from Toronto. We got a nice shady spot in the trees right close to the road, across from the Red Ember food truck. A highlight of the week was when the Red Ember reached order 1000 on Saturday night. Those guys make a killing at Folk Fest.
My tent is the little blue guy in the corner, and that’s my bike in the middle. I bike in every year for the sake of punctuality, and the quiet moments of personal reflection before the week of constant socializing.
I slept like a baby this year at Folk Fest. There’s constant noise in the campground, but I have adapted. The night time is basically day time in the campground. People spend the afternoons napping and recovering, either in the campground or at the festival stages. After main stage and big bluestem shut down for the night, people return to the campground and start the busiest part of their day — exploring and partying.
You’ll encounter a fair bit of substance use at Folk Fest, but not everyone partakes. You can stumble across camps of what I call old folkies, who are jamming with banjos, guitars, hand percussion, mandolins, and all sorts of other musical instruments.
You’ll also encounter some people tripping balls, campsites of friends making incomprehensible, ridiculous jokes that spur hours of cheek-aching laughter. The people I camped with this year fell into this category. Though I didn’t spend much time with them, I remember overhearing all sorts of ridiculous jokes in my sleep Friday night that I was awake for Saturday night.
The camp beside us had a wooden train whistle. The words “noot noot” now never fail to make me laugh. And Kerri Scott will forever be the biggest local celebrity in my mind.
I almost made the sunrise on Pope’s Hill Sunday morning. The sun was about to crest when I gave up. Honestly, I’m a grandma, and staying up for the sunrise has been a struggle these past couple years. I’ll get ’em one day.
I was pleased to be present for the arrival of the pope that morning, though. She stumbled in with a small entourage in tow, and people cheered upon her arrival. With a bottle of wine in hand, the pope blessed us all.
Each year I have to look through my program after the festival. I volunteer in the festival grounds, so I’m around music all day. And after 4 p.m., I go find a stage that draws me close and helps me feel at home. Friday and Saturday nights I usually stick to Big Bluestem stage, unless Main Stage has something extra special that catches my eye.
My point is that I see so much music at Folk Fest that I have to go back and seek out the names of each group.
This past year I really enjoyed seeing the Crooked Brothers workshop with people. I watched a ladies power workshop with Rosie and the Riveters, which was delightful. Workshops are one of the highlights of Folk Fest for me. The smaller festivals I attend don’t offer artists a chance to collaborate so abruptly. I’ll admit, I’m never sure if artists in a workshop are prepared, but often it seems like they’re making it up as they go. Which is awesome. Improvisation is an incredible talent. Especially when blending sounds.
Friday night at Big Blue was the Bluegrass Station. I was feeling a bit down that evening. Folk Fest is an incredibly social, overstimulating environment, and I get socially exhausted sometimes. But that night the bluegrass music had me dancing into a lovely endorphin-fuelled bliss. I laughed along with my friends Justin, Amitoj and Lyle from Main Stage to Big Blue. Or at them, I guess.
Saturday night at Big Blue was a blast. Yemen Blues with Ravid Kahalani warmed up the crowd for Vaudou Game.
Vaudou Game blew the crowd away. Mixing afro-groove music with vaudou ritual influences, Vaudou Game simultaneously had me dancing and learning. The crowd loved them. They loved the crowd. This was one of the most interactive shows at a big stage I’ve seen at Folk Fest.
And of course, Funk Hunters.
All the friends I saw that day asked if I’d be at this show. And I was. And I danced. I didn’t dance quite like I did for the bluegrass, but that’s just me. Bluegrass is fast, twangy sometimes, well written and very groovy. Funk Hunters felt a little more commercial, cookie-cutter, using samples from other songs and mixing good beats together. Still I danced. And I basked in the collective energy of the crowd that night.
As I moved further and closer to the stage, moved in and out of the crowd, I could sense this great presence. I have a hunch that people at Big Blue on Saturday night merge into some sort of single elated organism. This happened the past couple years, too. How neat. The music can bring everyone onto a shared plane of something.
I also saw Colin Hay with a few friends. They were big fans, and made all sorts of references that went right over my head. But he’s a beautiful songwriter, and the gentle lilts of voice and guitar soothed me that afternoon.
Sunday afternoon held a special treat called “Oh Sister, Where Art Thou?” A workshop with Rosie and the Riveters, The Wild Reeds, and Twin Peaks spoke to my heart. These strong women came together, sang about their pasts and things they don’t need to do. It was empowering.
Andy Shauf played earlier in the afternoon on Sunday. I caught almost all of his set. Jake and Karl, a couple musician friends of mine, were fangirling hard at the show. I think I enjoyed it more knowing how much they loved it.
And such is the bliss of sharing musical experiences with awesome people.
I encourage you all to volunteer for Folk Fest.
- You don’t have to pay for the festival.
- They feed you fresh, gourmet meals.
- You get to hang out with awesome people.
- You are literally the reason Folk Fest can happen.
- It offers some structure to an otherwise potentially chaotic week.
- The friends you make on shift will find you in places later in life, and you’ll realize how helpful it is to work with strangers and make nice and earn the returns of such good experiences.
- A sweet free t-shirt.
I get super excited to volunteer each year. Especially once this stuff comes in:
Maybe I’ll see you there next year!