Winnipeg Folk Festival 2017 Review

Tradition was immediately apparent upon arriving at this year’s Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Running from July 6 to 9 at the beautiful Birds Hill Provincial Park (~20 minutes north of Winnipeg), if you have yet to attend, it’s truly a sight to behold: Thousands of attendees setting up their tarps and wagons at their favourite locations at each of the eight stages, each one brimming with an immaculately curated line-up.

Thursday night featured the country-esque folk singer Brandi Carlile followed by an elegant tweener set by Aoifie O’Donovan. Both acts perfectly set the stage for The Shins, who were a festival highlight for many. Despite releasing a new album this year, the ‘90s rockers stuck to their fan favourite sing-along songs, such as encores “New Slang” (2001 album Oh, Inverted World) and the decade old “Wincing the Night Away.”

The Shins

As much as regular festival attendees go for the music, many campers partake in the annual pilgrimage to Pope’s Hill for art installations and more. However, braving the daily drive from the city (and maybe craving the luxury of a bed), not much more can be said on our side about the camping side of things.

Workshops at festivals like this can often be a great way to catch artists you’ve never heard of, or see one of your favourite artists in a completely raw setting; it’s interesting to see a performance that may be a bit on the uncomfortable side of things. That said, really inspired music is made when these sessions are hosted by the right leader. A workshop hosted by City and Colour had every artist rotate through playing their individual songs, where Old Man Luedecke hosted a “jam” style workshop that included Saskatoon’s In With The Old. Winnipeg’s Begonia hosted one workshop that ran short on time, and went into a five minute collaborative jam.

Though John K. Samson has performed many times in Saskatoon, watching him play to a large hometown crowd was surreal. Is it possible that the man could be any more humble? Primarily playing songs off his “Winter Wheat” album, Samson also tossed in some Weakerthans classics such as “One Great City!” One of the interesting things about Samson’s set was that there was a Sign Language Interpretation that went along with it.

Throughout the weekend it quickly became evident that many of the artists thoroughly enjoy their residency at Winnipeg Folk Fest. In addition to his ability to captivate a crowd, City and Colour frontman Dallas Green encouraged everyone to “stay hydrated” and “tent safe.” Meanwhile Saturday headliner Feist made sure to note that she was “happy to be back” and equated the festival to the “Burning Man of Canada.”


Other highlights include Ukraine’s DakhaBrakha, whose genre can be described as “ethnic chaos” had the perfect dance vibes to close off Friday night. One of the most relaxed sets during the festival has to have been Damien Jurado’s. Though he’s not much for stage banter, at one point he mentioned to the crowd “let’s hope the clouds come closer. My songs don’t really have a lot of sun in them.”

A Sunday tradition at the Big Bluestem stage is having “gospel” like performers. The voices on coming from that stage! Sarah Anderson, Genevieve Patterson and Carleigh Aikins of Denver’s Paper Bird to be specific. Damn!

Another one of our festival highlights (and a set that we most looked forward to) was Big Thief. Band leader Adrianne Lenker has this soft, ghostly voice that floats over guitar that transitions from atmospheric to grungy, perfectly.

Sunday’s mainstage performers included Winnipeg’s Joey Landreth (touring to Saskatoon this fall), and Barenaked Ladies who were much more entertaining than expected. If you admit it, you probably know a lot of their tunes, and they are catchy!

The traditional close to the festival is definitely a “feel good” moment led by performers, the crowd joins in on the same three songs: “The Marry Ellen Carter” (The Small Glories with Leonard Podolak), “Wild Mountain Thyme” (RURA) and “Amazing Grace” (Begonia). Jeeze! Begonia’s got a voice!

Thanks for making us feel so welcome Winnipeg Folk Fest! We hope to come back!

– All photos and review by Ominocity contributor Mike Morien.

Barenaked Ladies