With the return of live events and music picking up steam, organizers and artists are thinking outside the box and putting in extra effort to bring in-person events to fruition.
MANITOBA NIGHT FESTIVAL & MARKET
Cory O’Grodnik, event manager for Assiniboia Downs, has been organizing the Manitoba Night Market & Festival for four years.
“Every year, I try to keep it going. (It’s important), especially for the vendors. What they have all gone through has been really hard on a lot of them,” he says.
Over the past four years, O’Grodnik has developed a strong rapport with the vendors and stresses the importance of supporting local shops and makers.
“They are always asking, ‘when is the next show?’” he says.
The Manitoba Night Market & Festival that took place on Sept. 5 was on the smaller side, compared to previous years. O’Grodnik cited both the close proximity to the Fall Fair at the Red River Ex grounds across the street from Assiniboia Downs and his hesitancy to sell spots to vendors, due to the changing public-health orders.
“We could have been a bit bigger, but we didn’t know what the rules were going to be, so we had to be careful about selling,” O’Grodnik says.
Since public-health orders sometimes change the day before an event, O’Grodnik says he checks every day and makes adjustments accordingly.
“We are so happy to be back,” O’Grodnik says. He adds that the market on Sept. 19 will be larger.
HARVEST MOON FESTIVAL
The volunteer-run Harvest Moon Festival (HMF) takes place in Clearwater, Man. The festival’s primary goal is supporting the Harvest Moon Society and Harvest Moon Learning Centre while celebrating the harvest season, highlighting local food production and linking rural and urban communities.
According to Cory Bellhouse, the volunteer co-ordinator, organizing this year’s festival has been about more than just following provincial guidelines.
It’s about “what feels safe for our community. We are inviting a lot of people to a town of 74 people. Getting input and buy-in from the community is pretty essential,” Bellhouse says.
The pandemic made HMF organizers “reconsider how we interact with the community.” The team has faced both opportunities and challenges. Organizers considered creative ideas that would make the festival more accessible.
“It made us desire to have more inclusivity, especially in regards to offering streaming capabilities,” Bellhouse says.
Unfortunately, due to the rural location of the festival, the HMF organizers have not been able to find an internet provider.
“We had (them) out last week. There is no internet provider in western Manitoba that can offer internet fast enough to do a livestream. It is actually impossible right now. We want to explore it further in the future. It is just disappointing, because this is the festival we wanted to have it at,” Bellhouse says.
The first batch of tickets (one-third of their usual amount) to HMF sold out in about 10 minutes.
“It has been challenging listening to people say ‘I’ve come for 15 years, and I can’t get a ticket,’” Bellhouse says. The second batch went on sale Monday, Sept. 13.
“When I consider the unique challenges of both last year and this year, I am really grateful I get to work with a bunch of people who care enough about bringing people together enough in a way that is safe and looks out for each other,” Bellhouse says.
Despite being disappointed that not as many people will be able to attend, Bellhouse says he is looking forward to this year’s festival.
“I am heartened by the commitment and organization that has gone into it and the enthusiasm that I have gotten from people who are volunteering and attending. Once it starts, it is going to be really great.”
THE CANADIAN PARKS AND WILDERNESS SOCIETY (CPAWS)
Avery Kash is an environmental educator for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). Her job enables her to combine her love of education and nature in developing CPAWS Manitoba Outdoor Learning Program by reducing the barriers to outdoor learning and exploration.
Organizing CPAWS events is a large project with many moving parts, often involving bringing in experts to share their knowledge.
“We’ve been establishing partnerships with some groups such as the Manitoba Paddling Association for different events. During the event itself, we prioritize safety and accessibility for all bodies. We want our participants to feel welcome, safe and engaged. We follow up with our community and take any feedback to improve,” Kash says.
CPAWS launched the Nature Club, which hosts guest speakers and facilitates outdoor fun and learning, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kash saw this as an opportunity to acknowledge the need for community and togetherness, while recognizing that nature has been a refuge for many people.
“As public-health recommendations and guidelines shift, we’ve learned to be very adaptable and flexible as we plan our events. (The) safety of our participants is of utmost priority, so we’ve decided to have our events outdoors for the time being, as well as have implemented safety protocols. We’ve capped numbers at our events to be sure that adequate distancing is possible,” Kash says.
Unique opportunities have presented themselves in making connections with diverse groups of people and growing a community.
Kash enjoys facilitating activities as people connect with experts and watching people stepping out of their comfort zones as they try new things.
“It’s been really beautiful to experience,” she says. “Flexibility and adaptation has been both a challenge and an opportunity for growth. We’ve been pushed to think outside the box, take risks, and try new things. We’re piloting many of these types of events, and the feedback has been phenomenal.”
From the perspective of performers, the current environment has led to opportunities for some interesting collaborations. For Rob Knaggs, a cellist and composer, a partnership with CPAWS was a natural fit.
“The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society endeavours to promote conservation and preservation of nature’s beauty, and the Manitoba chapter has an initiative to protect the western Hudson Bay’s sea ice and estuaries – which resonates a lot with my story and music, having spent a lot of time in Churchill playing for whales and viewing polar bears,” Knaggs says.
After the downtime during the pandemic, Knaggs is excited to reconnect with a live audience.
“Now things are opening up, and shows are able to push ahead. It’s exciting to reach out to friends and other creatives to collaborate and celebrate this magic of live performance with an in-person audience. It really puts it in perspective to just never take any show for granted, and the mutual respect between artist and audience,” he says.
“I think time was a major factor for me, having the time and space to analyze my art and what I’m doing currently and what I’d want to see that grow into. I doubled down on music theory and started writing rearrangements of my pieces, so when shows would eventually return, I’d have the possibility of handing music over and performing my works in an ensemble.
“This came to some fruition in a collaboration with a fellow Australian/Manitoba transplant, Stephan Azulay. We were offered some nights to perform at The Beer Can, so we brainstormed on a marriage of new classical music and contemporary dance by way of ballet,” Knaggs says.
According to Knaggs, practicing and performing are their own entities, and he felt a little rusty getting back on stage. However, Knaggs is excited to be back in Winnipeg, “an (extremely) creative and forward-thinking city with so much talent and willingness to witness and create art that pushes boundaries and still resonates. I just moved into a rehearsal space where I can create and hone my craft, which is a big first for me.”
The Manitoba Night Market & Festival will take place on Sunday, Sept. 19 from 1 to 11 p.m. at Assiniboia Downs. Admission is $7, and parking is $5.
Harvest Moon Festival runs from Sept. 17 to 19 in Clearwater, Man.
CPAWs is running two in-person events this month: the Forest Bathing and Mindfulness Workshop on Thursday, Sept. 23 and an Intro to Tree Identification Workshop
on Thursday, Sept. 30. CPAWS is still running webinars, too. Manitoba’s Seabirds: The Feathered Link is on Friday, Sept. 24, and Nature Journaling: Tips and Techniques for Observing the Outdoors is on Wednesday, Sept. 29.
Find Knaggs performing at the Manitoba Night Market on Sunday, Sept. 19 with Apollo Suns and at Little Brown Jug on Saturday, Sept. 25 for Nuit Blanche. Knaggs is also available for session work “if anyone’s in need of a cellist/guitarist/arranger/token Aussie.”
Published in Volume 76, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 16, 2021)