Build it and they will come

Structures add to atmosphere of the festival campground

One of the many structures constructed at Folk Fests past. The Castle Boys

The first time Mario De Negri camped out in the Winnipeg Folk Festival campground, he was overwhelmed.

“I got lost my first year,” De Negri said. So he and his friends Dave Law and Aaron Frost decided to build something that would stand out.

“We didn’t want to get lost again,” Frost said.

That structure was a castle 15 feet across complete with a drawbridge over a small wading pool that served as their moat.

The group found the response from campers astonishing.

“We decided we should provide entertainment next year,” De Negri said, so the group decided to add a set of drums and a stand up piano.

The following year and around $1,500 later (“We lost track after that,” Law said), the group erected a massive copy of the Coliseum. The project took three months to plan and was an instant smash. Since then, the group has grown to 25 core members and erected another seven structures, including a pirate ship, a saloon and a barn.

“Our vision has definitely changed,” said Law, explaining that the group recruited the Silver Heights Grade 12 jazz band to perform one year.

Some ideas they rejected included a levitating spaceship and a mini shopping mall complete with zombies. But they’re keeping this year’s installation a secret.

“It’s more fun when it’s a secret,” said group member Arwen Smith.

“We think of ourselves as performers,” said group member Scott McQueen. The group puts on costumes and stays in character throughout the festival.

“We want to get people engaged and participating,” De Negri said.

Joe Lanceley’s Red Willow Tipi Group is also returning for their eighth year at the campground, with plans to erect 10 tepees. Lanceley said such installations require a lot of hard work and advance planning.

“We do it because we love it,” Lanceley said. “The Folk Festival is not just about music, but art and culture. This kind of cultural art adds to the aesthetic of the festival.”

Across the field from the Castle Boys is the second edition of the Fireside Lounge and Housecoat Depository, courtesy of John Scoles from Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club. Not only will there be music from the likes of Andrew Neville and Righteous Ike, but there will be samples of Jim Beam (their sponsor) and 40 styles of housecoats to choose from.

“It’s a way to bring communities together that is creative and fun that compliments the Folk Festival,” Scoles said. “We want to give people more music than what goes on in the festival site.”

“It’s almost like a campground pub crawl,” Scoles said. “But it’s hard to misbehave when you’re in a housecoat.”

The Castle Boys are always looking for a hand, and if you’re interested, check them out on their Facebook page.

Published in Volume 63, Number 28 of The Uniter (June 18, 2009)

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