Winnipeg has no shortage of musical talent. Shows serve as a display for musical creativity as well as a public classroom for artists to hone their skills and perfect their art. The best shows leave the audience inspired, and the very best instill a sense of hometown pride. Hometown pride was highest this year during these shows.
1: Joanna Majoko at Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain, Jan. 10
U of M graduate, Joanna Majoko put on a fantastic farewell show at CCFM for a measly $5. Before leaving for Toronto, Joanna presented the result of years of hard work and natural talent to the crowd.
“Sophisticated Lady” showcased Joanna’s power as well as former U of M professor/drummer Quincy Davis’ speed.
Dopamine-inducing “Embraceable You” twisted and turned in unexpected ways and revealed the softness and tenderness of her voice. U of M professor/trumpeter Derrick Gardner also shone during “I Should Care,” effortlessly cementing his status as one of the best trumpet players in the city.
It’s still early in Joanna’s career, but it’s astonishing a voice so smooth and exquisite can come out of something as elementary as a throat. Without a doubt, Winnipeg’s loss is Toronto’s gain.
2: Winnipeg Folk Fest at Birds Hill Provincial Park, Jul. 6-9
Which show? All of them. This year’s fest, like every year, intertwines a handful of local artists in the line-up and even hosted a Manitoba Music workshop featuring local talent.
How lucky are we to have a massive green space minutes from the city, which is transformed into the most magical outdoor festival every summer? Very lucky. Add to that some of the best local musicians in the city, from John K. Samson to Begonia, and you have a winning combination.
In theory, it shouldn’t work here. Weather doesn’t always cooperate, and our numerous mosquito breeding grounds should ensure Folk Fest is just a pipe dream, but organizers pull it off every year. Without fail, people lug all their gear and make the trek to this folk-lover’s utopia. Every year, they wander through the forest on shaded trails, following the sounds carried through the warm air as the dragonflies dip and dart through the trees. At night, the moon rises over the main stage as audience member fill their lungs with fresh forest air. It’s completely enchanting and proof positive that music and the environment harmonize perfectly.
3: Mise en Scene at The Good Will Social Club on Dec. 1
Mise en Scene is definitely a band to watch any time they’re in town. Fresh from a western Canadian tour, they expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to tour and then proceeded to flood the audience with love, proving their hearts truly belong to Winnipeg.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Stefanie Blondal Johnson is a fantastic frontwoman. Her stage persona was fun and engaging, and her direct, purposeful stare aimed at the back of the club as she sang was captivating.
Mise en Scene was surprisingly tight for a young band with songs full of fun, catchy riffs and great lyrics. With this much talent and experience, they’re already way ahead of the game, and they’ll only get better.
4: William Prince at West End Cultural Centre on Nov. 10
William Prince has a voice normally reserved for musicians much older than he is. It’s a voice for those who’ve lived the life and done the time. It’s for those whose throats are glazed over with experience and who understand the importance of soothing sounds in this chaotic world. It’s a voice of gold.
This sold-out show included some new songs and plenty of classics about life and love. His banter was either humorous or gratitude-filled, and always personable.
“Breathless” was soothing and beautiful as always, and “Shades of Black,” which he wrote as a rock song, picked up the pace and showcased Prince’s more energetic side.
A William Prince show is the ultimate in comfort. That trance-inducing tone makes eyes glaze over and bodies melt into chairs, and while a blizzard raged outside the venue, that was all the warmth the audience needed.
5: Ghosts of the Hudson’s Bay Building at the Hudson’s Bay building for WNMF on Feb. 2
On a frosty February night, the Hudson’s Bay building basement was full of music no fur trader in their right mind would have listened to in 1670.
The Winnipeg New Music Festival (WNMF) has been known to showcase music in unique venues. In 2016, it was the Pan Am Pool; this past year, the expansive empty space in the basement of the Hudson’s Bay building downtown. Spaces, however, are malleable and can be brought back to life. That night, the basement on Portage Avenue was full of life and it carried with it the most interesting vibe. Performances were scattered all over the basement and the audience was instructed to move around, as at a festival, from one performance to the next.
The Winnipeg Chamber Music Society performed Alexina Louie’s “Falling Through Time,” and it fused with the sweeping blue light that filled the room like a quilt covering a vast ocean, each square a different emotion. The ocean immersed the audience and they rose and fell with the waves.
Other performances were spooky or eerie, but always interesting and entertaining.
The last performance was painful, with one note repeated ad nauseum by students from the Miles Macdonell Collegiate Symphony Singers, standing in a large circle around the audience but that’s the variety of WNMF. Some of it is mind-blowingly awesome, while some of it is like dental surgery.
Despite the last performance, the venue and the quality of musicianship, elevated this show above many others. It was truly, a unique and memorable Winnipeg experience.