Winnipeg 2004 – Friday

The rain stopped, the clouds broke up and the sun came out by about 1:00 PM. There was a steady breeze. The sunshine and wind helped to dry out the festival site, which returned to a pretty good condition. There were some areas of the parking lot, including the area leading to the main gate that were wet and muddy but the working site was good.
My volunteer assignment was fence patrol at Site West, which involved watching sunbathers, kite-flyers, and frisbee players. I was able to get some of the music at Big Bluestem and the Green Ash Hollow. There were a variety of workshops at Big Bluestem. The Winnipeg bands the Duhks and the Mammals had a good crowd and good energy level. There was a workshop called Tortiere et Gumbo with Quebecois and Cajun music from Les Batinses, Genticorum and Granger & Dugas.


Being a volunteer and having access to backstage has given me a different sense of the geography of the site. I can sit beside the mainstage during the evening concert when I’m not on shift, and wander back to get coffee or juice without missing much of the show.
The opening mainstage act was Ibrahim Ferrer and the Buena Vista Social Club, which as probably the main reason for the size of the Friday night crowd. They played a long set, with encores, to an appreciative and enthusiastic crowd. Once again a set of veteran musicians firmly in command of their style and sound, with a danceable accessible sound.
Utah Phillips was up next doing his political sit-down comedy with a few bits of music to keep up the idea that he is a singer in the Guthrie tradition. He was funny, and he has paid his dues in the music business and walked the walk in real life, and the crowd appreciated his humour and respected his show.
The third main act were Les Batinses. They started with some Quebecois trad sounds but soon showed their colours. It was a really big sound, with lots of world influences. Danceable, popular, entertaining.
Winnipeg band the Duhks were fourth, and pleased the crowd. They showed again why they are ready for the big time, and why they haven’t made the big time. They are good musicians and Len Podolak’s vision is good. They also still seem to be unclear about their stage persona – folkie meets garage band grunge? The persona doesn’t go with the music. I think they are trying to define their sound. They seem to be going the right way. When they were known as Scruj McDuhk and when Ruth Moody was doing Celtic styled vocals, they didn’t have their present energy and they sounded a little derivative. They have less of an English/celtic trad sound now. They are sounding much more jazzy on numbers like Little Brown Bat while still showing folk and bluegrass influences.
I still expect great things from them.
The last act of the night were Dutch indies The Nits. Very unique sounds, very interesting act, perhaps a bit smart-assed. They had some pop styles in their music, but in an ironic or almost sarcastic way. A lot of interesting sound effects for mood and emphasis. Definitely not the usual mainstage fare. The music didn’t seem to as danceable, but it held the interest of a large part of the crowd until the end.
The short sets included Leela Gilday from Yellowknife who seems to be a good singer who writes competently and tells distinctive stories from a female First Nations perspective.
I was interested in Joel Kroeker, who is good guitarist and singer. He writes and sings like Martin Sexton, although his voice isn’t in the same class. He did a very good cover of Cohen’s Hallelujah, which showed what he can do.
There were overnight thundershowers, but it has cleared up this morning. There is a forecast of thundershowers in the late afternoon and evening. I expect the show will go on, but the show may get damp again.

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