The fourth day of the 2004 Winnipeg Folk Festival was sunny and hot with moderate breezes. There was rain, but it arrived overnight long after the Finale.
I arrived in time to sit in the shade outside of the Shady Grove, apply sunscreen, have a cup of coffee, and listen to a workshop with Utah Phillips, Ember Swift, Paul Thorn and Joel Kroeker.
I heard Swift introduce a song about media ownership concentration with a remark about the Asper family, which was a sort of faux pas. While the Asper family interests are mainly managed by Leonard, his brother Dave is a past president of the WFF and the Asper foundation is a large donor or patron of the Festival. That’s not to say that the Asper companies should not be criticized by performing artists. It’s more that political artists are becoming marginalized even within the more politically charged context of Folk festivals. While Leftists’ political statements aren’t booed and heckled at Winnipeg (as they are at the bigger Alberta Festivals), specific criticism of living people, other than some mild jabs at US foreign policy, a few Canadian politicians and the Christian religious right has become rare.
Now that I have been backstage as a volunteer, I get the point of Shady Grove. It’s a daytime venue which is right beside the backstage area. It provides live music for the volunteers backstage. It is the least hospitable venue for fans, and is often without a breeze to stir the air or any shelter from the sun. It can be endured for the sake of the concert for an hour at a time.
I was on shift at Site West, which covers most of the day time performance areas for most of the afternoon. I was able to see parts of two workshops at the Big Bluestem Stage. Several members of Shooglenifty, Fiamma Fumana and the Warsaw Village band were in a workshop on global music called Global Warming. I didn’t get much of an impression of this workshop, but I saw that it was popular and that the dancers were moved to action in the mid-afternoon sunshine.
At the end of the day Utah Phillips, Martyn Joseph, Dick Gaughan, Eric Bibb and Ted Longbottom were in a workshop called Working Class heroes. I was already familiar with the recorded songs of Gaughan, Joseph and Longbottom and their performances held no surprizes. Phillips gets annoying. Marxist-Labour piety is as annoying as every other kind of preaching, and his rhetoric exhausted my tolerance.
The site security radio was buzzing with a couple of alerts for bootleg recordings. Security saw and caught one guy with a DAT device in Sarah Harmer’s workshop at Snowberry Field, and another patron with a minidisc recorder at Xavier Rudd’s concert.
Rudd became the talk of the festival, and had quite a fan following. There was some fear that he would be mobbed by autograph seekers at the end of his concert at Bur Oak, and extra security were in place to clear a path for the golf cart that drove him off to the product tent. Rudd had some panties thrown at him. I mention that to say that part of his appeal is based on his youth and good looks. His act is a solo multi instrumental with drums and didgeridoo as well as guitar, although the material seems to more modern singer-songerwriter.
The evening concert was devoted to the younger and more modern crowd. There was a Puerto Rican salsa band called Plena Libre, followed by Italian folk rockers Fiamma Fumana, Scots folk rockers Shooglenifty and pop-rock diva Sarah Harmer.
I liked Fiamma Fumana. They had an interesting sound.
The festival broke attendance records, which is a tribute to the good weather, to the continuing strategy of marketing the festival as an event in itself rather than as a performance, and to outgoing Artistic Director Rick Fenton ability to deliver the right mix of music to keep the volunteers and the fans happy.
I headed home after the Finale and I noticed that traffic was far less congested than on Friday after Earl Scruggs, which suggests that a lot of people left during the Finale itself. The Finale is for the volunteers and the most dedicated fans.
I’m not sure which artists played the party at the Festival hotel in Winnipeg but I’ll try to find out.