How the Winnipeg Folk Festival got out of debt in 1987

After several years of dismal attendance, a new artistic director breathes life into the long-running music festival in 1987.

Heavily in debt 13 years after its founding, the festival found a way out in 1987

After several years of dismal attendance, a new artistic director breathes life into the long-running music festival in 1987. 2:09

It was supposed to be a one-time event to mark Winnipeg's centennial in 1974. But 44 years later, the Winnipeg Folk Festival is still going strong, drawing thousands of music fans to a provincial park outside the city for four days of music from acts across Canada and around the world.

A reveller gets into the music at the 36th Winnipeg Folk Festival at Bird's Hill Park, in July 2009. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

But the festival's future was not always secure. After a run of bad weather and low attendance for several years in the early 1980s, the festival was $140,000 in debt and desperate to turns things around.

Enter Rosalie Goldstein, a new artistic director determined to shake things up by going beyond the traditional folk acts that had been a staple of the festival.

Not just folk anymore

For the 1987 festival, Goldstein booked acts as diverse as South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo, an all-male chorus, the 1940s swing throwbacks The Canadian Aces, and gospel group The Barrett Sisters from Chicago. On opening night that year, her plan was off to a good start, drawing a record audience of 5,000.

In later years she would book such wide-ranging acts including the Barenaked Ladies in 1992 — just as they were becoming one of the most popular bands in Canada — as well as Jump Sister Jump, a team of women from New York who skipped rope, double-dutch style, for enthralled audiences.