41st Winnipeg Folk Festival opens with locals and celebrates 50th anniversary of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant

The first Winnipeg Folk Festival (WFF) was started by Mitch Podolak, Colin Gorrie and Ava Kobrinsky to celebrate Winnipeg's Centennial in 1974. The festival has grown immensely over the years and has attracted folkies from all over the world.

With attendance reaching 80,000 over the course of the weekend, the festival was a four day event until 2009 when the organizers started a day earlier on Wednesday for Elvis Costello. This year the WFF is back to a four day stint starting on Thursday, July 9.

This year's festival will see 69 performers on 10 stages, including Arlo Guthrie performing his epic album <i>Alice's Restaurant</i>, which he released 50 years ago.

“I didn’t think I was gonna live long enough to have to learn <i>Alice’s Restaurant</i> again,” Guthrie says. “It was a quirky kinda thing to begin with. Nobody writes an 18-minute monologue expecting fame and fortune...I’m surely looking forward to adding it to the repertoire though for the 50th Anniversary Tour.”

The daytime stages feature workshops and themed performances by artists who jam with other musicians who they might not otherwise play with. There have been many magical moments on those stages over the years. You never know what's going to happen.

“The artists that we have booked really capture the spirit of the contemporary folk scene going on there right now,” artistic director Chris Frayer says.

This year there are 17 main stage acts, starting off with Winnipeg band Mariachi Ghost. "We are very thankful for our selection. The Winnipeg Folk Festival has been an enormous part of our youth. We have seen acts that we admire on that stage and this booking feels like an enormous victory,” Jorge Requena (vocalist/guitarist for Mariachi Ghost) says.

“This day will part our music life as the before and the after. That stage is a dream come true. And we will do Winnipeg proud. We promise."

Other main stage acts include Arlo Guthrie, Wilco, Steeleye Span, Shakey Graves and Nahko and Medicine For The People. You'll also hear bluegrass, celtic, world, blues, roots, indie folk, americana, folk rock, gospel, old time, contemporary singer-songwriters, and children's performers.

In the children's area, as well as arts and crafts and activities for the little ones, they also have the Chickadee Big Top, where world class performers entertain the young and the young at heart. Children's favourite Lulu and the Tomcat will be one of the acts on stage this year.

On-site food vendors sell a variety of meals with an emphasis on local, organic and fair trade ingredients, which are served on reusable plates. Artisans will also be selling their unique wares in the Hand Made Village.

An army of 3,000 volunteers help facilitate the festival doing everything from cooking for the musicians, staff and other volunteers to assisting concert goers. The volunteers are a huge part of the festival.

Doreen Wardale, who along with husband Len volunteered for more than 30 years, described her experience as a volunteer as a “very cathartic, wonderful, peaceful experience.” While the Wardales have retired, their two daughters have volunteered over the years and this year their grandson will start as a volunteer apprentice.

Two campgrounds are not far from the festival site - a quiet campground as well as a festival campground for the partiers. The Times Change(d) will have a live music tent in the campground this year, and the The Flaming Trolleys Marching Band will be back as well, parading through the campground.

Part of the series: The 7th Annual Summer Festival Guide

Published in Volume 69, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 3, 2015)

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