Emelia Fournier, arts and culture editor
I have been going to Folk Fest since I was really little — a baby, maybe? I don’t remember. Even though I’ve attended about 20 Folk Fests, each year manages to bring a different experience. I’ve met so many Folk Festers as I’ve grown up — camping opens up a whole new world. Yet going back each year feels like coming home in its own way.
This year, I felt like I knew people almost everywhere I went. Folk Fest is always a nightmare for finding specific people and co-ordinating with friends — this year I let myself kind of just drift to where I needed to be, always seeming to find a friendly face.
I’ll be honest — sometimes I find the sheer size of Folk Fest overwhelming, and at times I yearned for the more intimate Manitoba festivals. The strange addition of visibly armed police officers also added to the discomfort I felt at times — who brings a gun to Folk Fest? Way to ruin the vibe, man.
Despite this, my 2019 Folk Fest was a predominantly positive experience. The campground is stunning enough on its own, watching sunrises, sunsets and lightning storms from Pope’s Hill. The now-defunct band the Middle Coast reunited under the Times Change(d) tent on the Friday night at 2 a.m., where the bandmates shared one mic and the crowd had to try to help the band remember their own lyrics. It was one of my favourite shows of the weekend.
I cried at Death Cab for Cutie’s set during their performance of “Transatlanticism,” a song I also cried over when I was 14. I also danced surprisingly hard to Alvvays, which I always associated with hipsters swaying slowly. After people were crowd-surfing during their set, I have a whole new appreciation for that band now. I danced unsurprisingly hard to the Turkish psych-folk band Altın Gün, where the whole crowd was whipped into a frenzy at Big Blue @ Night. The haunting harmonies of Half Moon Run are still echoing through my body.
I managed to catch Begonia’s set on the sweltering Sunday, which was ridiculously good, as is her standard. Unfortunately by that point I’m pretty sure I was starting to get heat stroke, so I didn’t enjoy anything that day as much as I could have. I always forget how much of a mission it is to simply survive at a five-day festival in the middle of July — but I made it through, losing only a pair of flip-flops and some electrolytes.
Evan Tremblay, graphics editor
The sunset on the first day of the Winnipeg Folk Fest was perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen in Manitoba. It’s too easy to forget that Birds Hill Provincial Park is a stunningly beautiful location immediately adjacent to the city.
Compared to the last time I was at Folk Fest (three years ago), there were noticeably fewer old-timers and noticeably more Countryfest types, offset by a growing presence of attendees who clearly cut their teeth at electronic music festivals in the West. Overall, there was a nice melting-pot vibe, suggesting that the cumulative effect of small festivals in Manitoba is finally starting to be felt. There were more young kids than I remember (a group sang me an a cappella rendition of “Old Town Road” from start to end), which was charming.
On the object manipulation front, Ziggy Alberts (returning later this year to the West End Cultural Centre), laid out two sets of tempo-switching folk perfect for staff twirling to, and Turkish psych-folk act Altın Gün was some of the best music I’ve ever contact juggled to. Mammút, taking the stage after Altın Gün, was the standout act of the festival, with the band building up, and feeding off, the crowd’s energy for the entire show.
Singer-songwriter Sonny War’s hauntingly beautiful set was a highlight of the folk shows I saw, and the vocal strength of Combo Chimbita’s “tropical futurism” was a highlight of Green Ash on Friday and the workshops on Saturday.
The sun and heat reached an intensity rarely seen in my youth, both terrifying and vivifying — it made the festival experience seem more essential, both futuristic and primal. Seeing the good job the enviro crew did of emptying the garbage bins, despite the heat, did more than any other single part of the festival to make me want to live sustainably to support the local culture that lead to the festival, and cemented my intention to volunteer in the future.
Although beyond the control of festival organizers, the noticeable presence of armed police officers — which I have never before seen at any festival — was a low point, and directly affected my enjoyment (and that of everyone else I discussed it with). Nothing kills the festival vibe like a dude in a bulletproof vest with a gun on his belt.