Winnipeg Folk Fest faces competition from newer music events in Manitoba

Smaller music events around Manitoba are creating competition for the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which is now in its 44th year.

As outdoor festival enters its 44th weekend, its director stresses need to keep lineup fresh

Fans chill out at the 44th Winnipeg Folk Festival's opening night. (Jules Runne/CBC)

The Winnipeg Folk Festival has faced little in the way of competition from other outdoor festivals for much of its 44-year existence, but the times they are a-changin'.

The four-day July event at Birds Hill Provincial Park now faces competition from other Manitoba folk and roots music festivals.

While smaller events such as the Harvest Moon festival in tiny Clearwater, Man., siphon away some fans, large newcomers such as Interstellar Rodeo at The Forks in Winnipeg offer comparable headliners.

Acknowledging that competition, Folk Fest artistic director Chris Frayer said he took pains to keep his lineup fresh for the festival's 44th edition.

"I work extra hard to get bands that haven't been to the festival before, so festival firsts are a big one for me. I don't try to do a lot of repeats," Frayer said Thursday night when The Shins, Brandi Carlile and The Small Glories played the festival's main stage.

Frayer said there's a balancing act involved in booking enough big names to draw large crowds, without making the event lose touch with its roots.

Winnipeg Folk Festival artistic director Chris Frayer acknowledges the 44-year event faces competition. (Jules Runne/CBC)
"I think we try to maintain a level of intimacy and folkiness to this event. I know the smaller events appeal to people because they're getting in on the ground level at a new happening but I think we have a good tradition behind us," he said.

The festival lineup is not the only draw. Former Winnipeggers such as Stephane ​Makarewicz compared the festival to a homecoming.

"Don't get me wrong, the music is phenomenal," said the Grand Prairie, Alta. resident, who has now attended the Winnipeg Folk Festival three times. "But it's hanging out with friends, especially, in this case, friends I haven't seen in a while. It kind of feels like home."

First-time festival-goer Charlie Krueger made the drive north from Detroit Lakes, Minn. purely on the recommendation of friends.

"I like the type of music but I don't know many of the artists, except the Barenaked Ladies. I've heard of them," Krueger said.

About 9,000 people purchased festival passes this year, Frayer said. Walk-up ticket sales and more than 2,000 volunteers bring the total average daily attendance above the 10,000 mark.