Winnipeg Folk Festival unites bands from around the world

Artistic director Chris Frayer is personally responsible for finding and booking bands to come to Winnipeg from all over the world. In 2016, he's gathered 75 from nearly a dozen different countries.

Bands from Ethiopia, Benin and Togo, France, Germany, United States and Israel expected at Bird's Hill Park

Dan Molad, Jess Wolfe, Holly Laessig Andrew Burri and Peter Lalish make up New York-based band, Lucius. The group is travelling to Winnipeg from Europe to perform at Folk Festival on Sunday. (CBC)

On Thursday, Winnipeg Folk Festival artistic director Chris Frayer stood at the gates of Bird's Hill Provincial Park, and watched people come through.

It's the first of what Frayer called the "best four days of the year," and festival after festival, he began the same way.

"This is the first place I go when I get out here … [I] come and watch them open up the gates," he said. 

"That's how we know it's game on."

World-wide search for music

Frayer is personally responsible for finding and booking bands from all over the world for the Winnipeg Folk Festival. In 2016, he's gathered 75 from nearly a dozen different countries.

"I went to Israel last year. I went to Budapest, Hungary. I've been to Seoul, South Korea … It's a bad life," he said, laughing.

His year typically starts with a conference in New York in January, where he watches a number of bands and makes his first picks.

"So, what everybody's seeing is a little bit of a taste of that journey around the globe … [I'm] bringing it all back home for these four days in July."

According to Frayer, the "bringing it all back home" part is not only a challenge for bands that are based far away — in 2016, the most difficult one to book hailed from Brooklyn, N.Y.

"Lucius … They're kind of blowing up in the United States," he said.

Frayer reported struggling to book the five-member, indie pop group, calling them "super, super busy."

"They're doing tons of touring in Europe so they're actually coming all the way in just to play … on Sunday and to do a workshop in the afternoon," he said.

Others, including Yemen Blues, a band Frayer discovered while in Jerusalem, are staying a while longer. 

"We've got bands from Ethiopia, bands from Benin and Togo, bands from France, bands from Germany," he said.

First-timers to seasoned volunteers

During a sound check in Minneapolis, Kim Garcia of The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers — a Los Angeles-based group — told CBC the band would be driving to Winnipeg for the first time.

"We just played Toronto Jazz Festival and Montreal Jazz Festival — such an amazing experience. I'm really excited about Winnipeg," she said.

The band, which Garcia said started as a group of friends who went to the same church, is scheduled to stay at the Winnipeg Folk Festival between Friday and Sunday. They are most looking forward to sharing their sound with a new audience, she said.

"I just love everything about [gospel music]," Garcia said.

"The sound, the origin; where everything comes from. The writing. American gospel music with the lyrics … [it's] just so sad and beautiful. How can you not feel that?"

Upon arriving, the band is likely to see Danya Jaworski, who has volunteered with the Winnipeg Folk Festival for more than 20 years. 

CBC's Ismaila Alfa and long-time Winnipeg Folk Festival volunteer, Danya Jaworski.

The opportunity to meet musicians, Jaworski said, is the most interesting aspect of spending time backstage. Throughout her time volunteering, she's collected an array of memories.

"Richard Thompson wanting to see the world soccer match," she said, recalling some of her favourites. 

"He was a big fan. We were able to find a small black and white [television], hook it up at the back of the ice cream crew in the food area and he got to watch the game and he was eternally indebted."

Another time, Jaworski said, a young man delivered a letter to the media tent, requesting to meet hip hop artist K'naan.

"He was an activist in the city working with disadvantaged youth and … K'naan did eventually meet with him, he got the letter. So, those kinds of highlights are things you never forget," she said.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival runs until Sunday.