Winnipeg Folk Festival kicks off its 46th year

Tens of thousands of folkies will gather at Birds Hill Provincial Park from July 11-14 for Winnipeg Folk Festival 2019.

Four days to take in the music from Thursday through Sunday

Thousands of folkies fill blankets, tarps and folding chairs in front of the main stage Thursday evening at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which runs from July 11-14, 2019. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches didn't stop thousands of folkies from moving, grooving and camping out on Day 1 of the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

A festival spokesperson said they were monitoring the situation closely at Birds Hill Provincial Park, where 80,000 visitors will gather over four days at the 46th annual outdoor music festival.

If they deem thunder and lightning to be an issue, organizers might pause the show but won't pull the plug entirely, a spokesperson said, using stage announcements and social media to keep festival-goers in the loop.

Blue skies shifted to dark grey as storm clouds rolled in Thursday evening over the Big Rock Tavern at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

"Everyone's super nice here. There's not like anyone that's really grumpy." said volunteer Erika Beaudin, who has attended the past 14 years since she was one year old.

On its website, organizers recommend the more than 2,800 volunteers and thousands of additional ticket holders download the Winnipeg Folk Fest app for artist bios, schedules, a site map and other useful information.

The site hosts nine stages for performances, food vendors, liquor and beer gardens, as well as the Chickadee Big Top for child-friendly fun. People can pick up day and weekend passes to access the festival, but it's too late to purchase an overnight camping pass, which an organizer said sold out for the second year in a row.

Musical numbers

Chris Frayer, artistic director for the festival, said he works with artists — Juno and Grammy award-winning performers including the Sheepdogs, Death Cab for Cutie, Jason Mraz, K'naan and Kasey Musgraves — to help them "make the most of their time" at the festival.

"We do invest more in artistic budget, so the bands we obviously have are a bit more established," Frayer said about what he believed to be the reason for increased ticket sales in the past two years compared to previous editions.

"I look forward to just sharing this with a ton of other music-loving folkies."

Frayer said people can look forward to "a lot of great music from all over the planet," with more than 75 groups of local and international musicians from places like the Netherlands, Mexico, Colombia, U.S. and Canada on top of dozens of incidental jam sessions. 

Frayer called it a "mixed bag" of music.

This year's festival will have an Icelandic focus, which ties into the heritage of many Manitobans, as well as a "hootenanny" for Pete Seeger, an American folk singer who died in 2014, Frayer said. The musical legend and activist would have turned 100 this year.

The festival builds on 20 years of the young performers program, which runs in the weeks leading up to the festival as a stepping stone for youth with musical interests and talents. Manitoba local teen Taylor Janzen, a graduate of the youth program, kicks off the festival Thursday night.

More than music

The site offers acres of grass and shaded picnic areas, with more than 150 porta-potties located at the festival site and campgrounds, according to the website. There are ATMs and phone charging stations available — and lots of lineups, so organizers suggest people stock up on cash and charge up before the shows.

Festival-goers can hop aboard the Folk Fest Express for a free ride to the site.

A new bike rental program presented by Natural Cycleworks is renting Dutch bikes to folkies for the weekend at $50 plus tax and a $25 deposit up front, according to Folk Fest online. The website indicates bikes can be picked up at the festival campground.

The Handmade Village is a temporary home at the Winnipeg Folk Festival to nearly 50 artisans featuring their handcrafted works including jewelry, clothing, pottery and musical instruments. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Over in the Handmade Village — a pop-up market for craftspeople to promote their work — artisan Robyn Wolfe of Braecrest Design is selling bee puddles.

"They're a decorative way of providing water for bees and butterflies other pollinators like birds in your garden," Wolfe described her creations made from ceramic and western red cedar.

"Hopefully it will bring some smiles to folk fest peoples' faces."

Wolfe said it's her second year bringing her business to the festival.

"We like the vibe, which is friendly, and family friendly, and happy. The weather is co-operating, so far. It's just a beautiful place to be with a lot of people enjoying some beautiful music and sharing in each others' creative output," Wolfe said.

Staying safe

"We have a large and well-trained safety crew," festival director Frayer said about how organizers maintain a safe place.

First aid services and health and wellness initiatives, such as Red Tent run by Klinic Community Health in Winnipeg, are available at select locations to help people take care of their physical and mental wellbeing on long days under the hot sun.

"It just helps people if they're having a hard time. If they need to find a place to just chill out for a bit, we have people that work in the mental health field that are there," Frayer said.

Leave no trace

The festival strives to be environmentally friendly by using a comprehensive recycling and composting program, the director said. The 30 food vendors located on site and in the campground will provide reuseable plates and compostable utensils.

Festival goers who forgot to pack snacks will have a lots to chose from, with dozens of food vendors selling everything from pizza to perogies and ramen. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

The festival has also gone plastic water bottle-free, Frayer said.

"We encourage people to bring their own reusable water bottle," he added.

Visit the website for more tips and the answers to frequently asked questions about travel, parking, camping and more.

CBC Manitoba is a sponsor of the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

With files from Marina von Stackelberg