The young and the restless

Programs give emerging musicians and artists exposure at Winnipeg Folk Festival

Ashton Klassen of Grande Prairie indie trio Machinery. Aaron Epp
Magnus von Tiesenhausen of Grande Prairie indie trio Machinery. Aaron Epp

Elvis Costello and Arlo Guthrie may have been the big names that drew audiences to the 36th annual Winnipeg Folk Festival, but up-and-coming musicians you’ve never heard of were in the spotlight on the Shady Grove stage during the festival’s first full day.

For the 10th year, the Folk Festival presented its Young Performers Program. Over 40 young musicians between the ages of 14 and 24 took part.

“It was incredible – I’ve never played before so many people before,” 19-year-old Sarah Skinner said after performing in front of the festival crowd Friday, July 10. The Inglis, Man. native played two songs with her friend, Haylan Jackson.

The program began the day before, when participants spent the day preparing for their performances with one of five mentors from the festival’s musical line-up.

“We’ve already taken a couple of the things that we learned [that day] and applied them to our music,” said Jackson, who was mentored by Tony Dekker, lead singer of Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers.

Dekker said he mostly acted as a sounding board for the young musicians. Some asked questions about how to release a record, while others asked creative questions, like “Is this chorus too long?”

“I’ve never done anything quite like that before, and it was pretty gratifying to watch young people developing their styles and their songwriting,” Dekker said.

While most of the performers hailed from Manitoba, a handful came from Alberta, Ontario and even Pennsylvania.

Machinery, an experimental indie trio, drove over 1,500 kilometres from their home in Grande Prairie, Alta. to be at the festival.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity to make connections, get exposure and meet a lot of people,” said banjo player Magnus von Tiesenhausen, who heard about the program online. The 18-year-old was glad he and his band mates made the trip.

“It was really, really interesting. We kind of learned a lot about dynamics and arrangements, and got to meet some really cool acts,” said Machinery guitarist Ashton Klassen.

We really see it as our role to be leaders in that field and to try as much as possible to support the next generation of ... performers.

Tamara Kater, the Winnipeg Folk Festival’s executive director

In addition to the 10th Young Performers Program, this year’s Folk Festival marked the fifth edition of the Young Artists Program. Aimed at visual artists between the ages of 14 and 18, the program gives emerging artists the opportunity to make art for four days at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) studios, which is later displayed at the festival.

This year’s theme challenged artists to create eco-friendly artworks from materials made from scratch. Instead of paint, for example, artists used paprika, beets, grass and coffee.

“It was hectic and great because we collaborated with all these different artists and we were exchanging all these different ideas,” said 17-year-old participant Christy Taronno.

“It’s a pretty neat program – any time you get a chance to make art at the WAG studios, it’s a good time.”

Tamara Kater, the Winnipeg Folk Festival’s executive director, says both programs are an important part of the festival’s mandate.

“They’re fostering a new generation of artists, and teaching the mentoring artists how to be better teachers,” she said. “We really see it as our role to be leaders in that field and to try as much as possible to support the next generation of ... performers.”

Photo captions have been edited from the original version published July 16. We incorrectly identified Magnus von Tiesenhausen (pictured above with banjo) and Ashton Klassen (pictured above with accordion). The captions have been corrected.

Published in Volume 63, Number 29 of The Uniter (July 16, 2009)

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