Winnipeg Folk Festival, Sunday July 10, 2005. Another hot sunny day, carrying a forecast of possible severe thunderstorms. The storms seemed to arrive around 9:45 PM with strong winds, sending the mainstage crowd surging for the exits. The wind died down, we had some light showers, and made it through the rest of the evening. Many of the patrons who had retired to the campground came back. The crowd was smaller, probably only a couple of thousand people stayed to the end. It started to rain after midnight.
I didn’t try to catch the daytime programming. I went for 75 bike ride in the morning, had lunch, and made it to the site to meet Claire at 3:30 and take some of her stuff to the car. Claire told me that I had missed a great collaborative workshop involving Feist, Kinnie Starr a couple of the members of the Wpg indie band, the Weakerthans and a couple of the Rheostatics. Free Press music critic Bartley Kives was raving about that workshop in his story in the paper today.
I found a shady spot opposite the Bur Oak stage and caught a little of Feist’ concert and moved to a spot near the Little Stage on the Prairie, and napped while a couple of performers played harmonica. The Little Stage is new. It’s at the northwest end of the festival facing north toward Festival drive. It works well. Bur Oak, Bluestem and the Little Stage are close together but face in different directions so there is little sound bleed. Little Stage could take a fair crowd in a year when the low spot near the stage isn’t full of standing water. The Festival can probably shift programming away from the Snowberry Field stage on the entrance/exit path and put the bigger shows at Bluestem, Green Ash and Little Stage. There seem to be good firm walkways out there.
I caught a look at the mainstage field when I went backstage for supper. I had avoided that on Friday and Saturday. It was an absolute sty. The stage right area along the tree line in know to the volunteers as the mainstage path, normally kept clear for pedestrian traffic. It was fit for pigs. Ankle deep black stinking ooze. This may have been inevitable given the soil saturation in the weeks leading up to the Festival, given that the Festival does not seem to use duckboards or any other devices to protect the turf from traffic. Edmonton uses portable plastic duckboards and they seem to handle lots of traffic on fairly fragile terrain in Gallagher park.
I stayed in Site West, listening to the music from a distance until my shift. Odetta had been scheduled but she had to cancel. I thought Kinnie Starr, Feist turned in good shows. They represent a new sound, a changing of the guard in the Canadian Festival scene away from singer-songwriter ballads, roots rock and Celtic to hip-hop and art-pop sounds. Rae Spoon’s androgynous identity politics stuff left me cold. Xavier Rudd is a one man sound effects factory surrounding a mediocre blues-influenced act. The novelty of his instruments and his visual appeal seems to drive his career.
The big acts of the evening were Daniel Lanois and Emmie Lou Harris and they turned in fine shows. Tremendous talents, accomplished artists with huge repertoires and a lot of goodwill from the audience. Their presence on the ticket was probably the main reason for a large walkup crowd on Sunday. The festival did a good job of selling the horrendous ground conditions as a part of the funky Folk Festival experience, part of the price of an otherwise cheap ticket.
The finale was a mixed bag. They had a good instrumental of Wild Mountain Thyme, Valdy singing the Mary Ellen Carter, and the Campbell brothers band on Amazing Grace. Valdy was a joke. I think he represents a different set of values than Stan Rogers, and he didn’t know the song. He bungled several lines. Later when my crew was policing the field, I overhead the sound techs taking down the sound booth saying that they thought the new AD wanted to retire Wild Mountain Thyme and the MEC from the finale. That’s interesting.
I liked Chris Frayer’s work as AD – experimentation, innovation, a good sense of where the audience is moving but willing to challenge the audience. I am an unapologetic fan of ballad, narratives and poetry, sung traditionally or presented in modern styles as sung by the great troubadours like Stan Rogers, Eric Bogle, James Keelaghan, Dick Gaughan, Greg Brown, Richard Thompson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen. I don’t want to see the Mary Ellen Carter go down – maybe Chris can find a way to challenge the younger audience with the poetic and polemical sweep of the ballads.
The volunteer gig was fun on the busy nights. Lots of things to do, action, music. I didn’t like standing in the sun on daytime patrol at Site West but evening patrol was a blast. Mainstage patrol on Sunday, on the edge of the cyclone, was wild. My partner was a retired guy who has lived near the Park for years, and visits to walk or bike nearly every day. He didn’t know much about folk music, but he knew his country music – obscure covers of Townes Van Zandt’s Ballad of Pancho and Lefty as well as Emmy Lou’s cover. We dealt with the guys in the Margerita Bar who wanted to stay open in the path of the windstorm, the lady with a nice seat near the center path – who kept trying to get the people standing on the center path to sit down (her problem was chosing a bad seat on the aisle, not their problem imho as I eventually told her when she complained for the 5th time about something I have seen people doing every festival, every night for 23 years) and the 13 years olds who thought that taking the spare tp from the porta-potties and flinging it into the crowd was funny. The threat of taking them to their mothers was enough to stop that.
I had a great Festival. I stayed out of the mud if I could avoid it, I tried to avoid the midday sun, and I watched people at play.