Winnipeg Folk Festival 2015 – A retrospective.

Ah, the Winnipeg Folk Festival: a gathering around music, art, and community that pops up in a prairie field for five days every year.  Exactly two weeks from today the 2016 festival begins with the Crooked Brothers kicking things off on the main stage.  Spending time with good friends (both old and new), discovering new music, and happening by chance upon unexpected joys…I’m looking forward to another year barefoot in these fields as an official festival photographer.

Last year, when the festival ended with a bang (everyone remember the huge thunderstorm that hit the stage at the same time as Wilco?), I had to quickly process my photographic work for the higher ups as I was soon leaving on a bike tour out west.  That also meant that I didn’t have time to post a recap of the festival through my eyes here like I’ve done previously for 2013 and 2014.  I’ve received several messages via email and social media asking about the 2015 photoessay, and so I thought to myself: it’s never too late!  Why not put together a retrospective of last year to get us all excited for this year?

The Winnipeg Folk Festival is large and multifaceted; a choose-your-own-adventure meandering through fields and friends.  People who attend can have vastly different experiences from one another and the same is the case for myself: year by year, the focus of my photographs changes.  As I age, the festival is more about the little moments rather than the big ones…and so I spend less time at the main stage than I used to.  The workshops are the heart of the festival for me – throwing musicians together on stage to collectively make music that is fleeting and will likely never be again.  It is here that I love watching these artists in their element.  The subtle gestures between each other, the crowd, and their instruments…it is truly beautiful to watch them share their passion.

Enjoy this view of last year’s festival through my eyes and my lens.  I hope to see you out in the same fields in a mere two weeks!

Cycling out to the Winnipeg Folk Festival - Bike ride to the site

Cyclists leave the city limits and cross prairie fields to be the first to arrive at the festival site.

Happy cyclist looking back as he rides through forest

Entering Bird’s Hill Provincial Park the doziness of the early morning rise starts to wear off as excitement for the next five days begins to build.

Festival campground at the Winnipeg Folk Festival - camp site

Home away from home.

Main stage at sunset - Winnipeg Folk Festival

People gather at the main stage to hear the first chords that will kick off the festival.  Lost in a field of friends, watching the sun set, and listening to amazing musicians do their thing…these are the festival moments I know and love.

Mother and daughter dancing in a field - Winnipeg Folk Festival

A mother shares a dance with her young folkie.  Folk families are a key part in keeping the festival’s heart alive; the next generation growing up as a part of it.

Hula hoop at Big Blue at Night

After nightfall a different type of dancer takes to the field.

The waiting crowd at main stage after dark

The crowd waits in anticipation of the next act lighting up the night.

Silhouette of a dancer against stage lights

A dancer is silhouetted against stage lights…

Woman quietly watches the band from the back

…while some of us quietly take it all in from the back.

Wandering minstrels welcome guests with their music

Daylight comes and wandering minstrels welcome guests with their woodsy serenade.

Stingray Young Performers Program - Winnipeg Folk Festival

Every year, the Shady Grove stage is dedicated to the Young Performer’s Program all day Friday.  In the weeks leading up to the festival, these young musicians get to mentor under some of the more veteran performers, and this is their opportunity to take center stage and shine.

Collaboration at the young mentorship workshop - Stingray Young Performers Program


Stringray Young Performers Program - Mentorship group of musicians performing

These talented young musicians never cease to amaze me; as they graduate from a music mentorship program I dare say they sound as if they’re ready to record.  From left to right: Olivia Lunny, Hannah Sabroski Cade Zacharias, Eli Hebl, Hera Nalam, Ryan Van Belleghem, Catarina Arbour, Dane Bjornson.

Ash Grunwald performs for a large crowd at Winnipeg Folk Festival 2015

On the other side of the festival, heavy hitter Ash Grunwald came all the way from Australia to perform for an engrossed crowd…

Ash Grunwald performs for an appreciative crowd at Winnipeg Folk Festival 2015

…engrossed and appreciative.

Karli Colpitts singing backup vocals to her brother (Reverend Rambler)

Karli Colpitts sings with all her heart, backing up her brother, The Reverend Rambler.

Steve Poltz stage presence - gear details

Roaming musicians flock to these stages with guitars on their backs.  Pictured: Steve Poltz.

Allison Russell of Birds of Chicago with clarinet and microphone

Allison Russell of Birds of Chicago wields a clarinet and a powerful voice.

Birds of Chicago at Winnipeg Folk Festival - Allison Russell and JT Nero

Birds of Chicago radiates raw talent.  Aside: My personal favourite album of 2016 (so far) has been their new release, Real Midnight – I highly recommend you check it out.

Perch Creek Family Jugband at Winnipeg Folk Festival

Smiles for miles with the Perch Creek Family Jugband.

Sunset silhouettes in prairie fields

Sunset silhouettes in the prairie fields.

Pope's Hill fire dancing at Winnipeg Folk Festival

After darkness falls and the music of the festival site goes silent, the people of the campground carry the spirit of the festival into the night.

Pope's Hill glows in the darkness of the night

The heart of the nighttime festivities center around Pope’s Hill.  Covered with people, it glows in the darkness of night.

Lighting over fire dancer at Pope's Hill - Winnipeg Folk Festival

It has become a ritual of sorts that Saturday night is the time for fire dancers to work their magic at Pope’s Hill.  On this particular night, the sky echoed the fire dance with quiet lightning that flashed all night long.

Mesmerized by fire dancers at Pope's Hill - Winnipeg Folk Festival

Mesmerized by fire.

Jeremey Fisher solo

An intimate solo set with Jeremy Fisher contrasts with the wild nightlife.

Popsicle stick music joke

What is the most musical part of a turkey?

Perch Creek Family Jug Band drummer - Lear Hodgkins at Winnipeg Folk Festival

The drumsticks!

Dancing feet at Winnipeg Folk Festival

Anything can be an instrument when you mic it, including dancing feet!

Alexandra Garrido of The Mariachi Ghost dances at Winnipeg Folk Festival

Alexandra Garrido of The Mariachi Ghost dances to sweet workshop rhythms.

Romi Mayes at the Winnipeg Folk Festival

When another musician is unable to make it to a workshop, local favourite Romi Mayes spontaneously hops on stage from the crowd to fill the space with her vocals.

Happy festival volunteer at Winnipeg Folk Festival

The Winnipeg Folk Festival is huge.  Behind the scenes it really is people in white shirts that make it possible…

Volunteers are the Heart - Winnipeg Folk Festival Mural

…that is to say that the volunteers make it possible.  It takes a lot of passionate people to make the festival a reality.

Folk fest children make art

As diverse as the festival itself, the volunteers ensure there really is something for everyone – for all demographics and music appreciators of all genres.

Child dances at Winnipeg Folk Festival

Lost in the dance.

Shakey Graves at Winnipeg Folk Festival

Successful performers return to the stages they played when they were just starting out.  Pictured: Shakey Graves.

Leonard Sumner plays some final chords of Winnipeg Folk Festival 2015

And others take to the festival stages for their very first time.  Here, Leonard Sumner plays some final chords of the 2015 festival.

Impending storm clouds that ended Winnipeg Folk Festival 2015

As Wilco steps into the spotlight for the final evening of performances, the crowd watches impending storm clouds rise high above the stage.

Older couple takes shelter from the Winnipeg Folk Festival 2015 huge Sunday storm

The rain comes heavy and hard.  People seek shelter, uncertain whether the storm will pass as quickly as it materialized.

Dancers don't let the rain stop them from enjoying the Winnipeg Folk Festival

Others don’t let the rain stop them from enjoying one final dance.

Afterstorm twilight on the festival grounds

Relentless, the storm brought an official end to Winnipeg Folk Festival 2015.  In the afterstorm twilight, the festival grounds empty out until next year.