Friday, July 18, 2014

Winnipeg Folk Festival 2014

Well, it started out with gloriously mild and sunny weather on Wednesday and ended with wind and rain on Saturday and Sunday.  Oh, and cold too thanks to a summertime polar vortex bringing 40 to 45mph winds.  But other than that and some minor damage to our tent and some major damage to our old 10'x20' car port that's been used for shade the past eight years, it was a fun time overall.  Our trip up and back across the border was finally uneventful after the hassles of the past few years and the old minivan ran just fine too.  What didn't work was my new smartphone for getting text messages, which would have been handy.

In recent years we've struggled to get the camp set up by show time (7pm) on Wednesday thanks to having to wait for hours to get in, but this year we only had to wait a couple of hours so we were on the festival campground by mid-morning, where I found a decent spot for Baggiecon to be.  That was a good thing as there were only four of us (Dave, Elizabeth, Erin, and me) doing the setup, and I was the youngest at 58 years of age.  We did a lot but we were very happy to see Wolfgang and Lillian come in later along with Lana to help when we really needed it.  So we were done with setup in time to hear music, thankfully.

The Wednesday night main stage acts that impressed me most were the tweeners (the acts between the featured performers), Guy Forsyth from Texas and Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, with Texas bluesy singing by Forsyth and sweet harmonies from Guthrie and Irion.  I wanted to like closing act Bonnie Raitt more than I actually did, but most of the audience definitely loved her.  Maybe if we had been up closer instead of being way back from the main stage I would have connected with her better.  We then went back to camp and enjoyed a fire for a while before I went off to bed for a deep sleep after a long day.

Thursday always is a lazy day since there isn't any music in the afternoons until Friday, so we finished setting up camp by putting up the kitchen tent and made coffee.  Mmm, coffee.  Erin and a few others went over to play at the nearby Big Games site, and were playing Giant Scrabble games (one of which was won by Lana in a spectacular come-from-behind fashion), while Dave and I, and then Wolfgang spent an hour or so playing some songs on our guitars under the shade canopy.  We then all went down to pitch our tarp in our usual back-Baggie spot at 6pm for the night's show.  My favorites were The Wood Brothers, a trio from New York that played rootsy songs with great harmonies and pretty fancy pickin', and Danny Barnes, a bluegrassy performer who was wonderful on the banjo.  By the time the last act rolled around most of our group was ready to leave, but I stuck around to enjoy some true blues music from closers Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite.  I even ended up dancing after being told it would help keep me warm, and it did!  Then I headed back for camp enjoyed playing a little music around the fire before turning in.

Friday morning I was up early enough to make coffee and take a shower before heading down to take part in the tarp shuffle after Polly gave me a #1 tarp ticket.  I succeeded in placing the front Baggie right between the two so-called "golden" tarps that last year's raffle winners get (I called our placement the "golden mean") and then I meandered over to a water tap near the Green Ash stage to drink my fill when I heard these three folks rehersing behind the tent:

They sounded great and I decided right then and there to find a spot to listen.  It was called "You Better Knock On This Workshop" because all three bands had "wood" in their names: The Wood Brothers, The Wooden Sky, and The Deep Dark Woods.  It turned out to be a great workshop as the impromptu theme was luck, so they all sang songs of luck, both good and bad.  I was again wowed by The Wood Brothers (who did a spiffy Michael Jackson cover tune) and The Wooden Sky (from Toronto) were also terrific.  A fine way to start the day for sure.  Then it was over to the Little Stage in the Woods where I caught the last half of a concert by Joe Nolan, who was a young guy playing the blues and playing them pretty darn well.  Then when he'd ended I went up front to sit near Josh to hear a ukulele player, James Hill, who I was curious about.  I took this photo of him and his wife (who plays cello) during the sound check:

I was then treated to a wonderfully entertaining show by them, with bright, snappy ukulele playing and soulful cello bowing.  They also had a nice stage presence and they had the audience in the palms of their hands, especially after doing a Michael Jackson cover of "Billie Jean" that was hilarious and virtuosic at the same time.  (Maybe there should be a Michael Jackson workshop sometime...   ;^)

I then wandered off towards the Bur Oak stage to catch a little bit of a workshop that had both Guy Forsyth and Danny Barnes in it, but the area was pretty packed so I only stood for about ten minutes there before deciding to walk over to the Folk School tent to hear John Hammond.  Hammond was interviewed by Brian Richardson and they spent as much time talking about the life and times of John Hammond as Hammond did playing some tunes, and it was a fascinating listen.  I'd forgotten that Hammond had done the music for one of my favorite movies, Little Big Man, an awesome film by the way.  It was like being in a living time capsule for an hour, which is one of the things I like about the folk fest.  Here's a not-so-great shot of Hammond and Richardson:

Then I headed back to the Little Stage in the Woods because Josh had told me that Cara Luft was well worth hearing in concert, and she definitely was.  After that, I made it back to camp to eat a bit, have a beer, and just make sure things were o.k.  Then it was belatedly back to hear the main stage acts for the night.  I did catch the last portion of Buffy Sainte-Marie's set, which thankfully included her most famous song, Universal Soldier.  But I wasn't at all impressed by the other stuff she did, which was too loud and just too damn much bass.  Oh well.  The next ones up were Corb Lund and his band, and I liked them a lot, even though I'm not all that much into country-style music.  Unless it's fun, like Lund's was.  The closers for the night were a trio of sisters from Sweden, Baskery, and they did a high-energy set of more rocking material, but I wished I had heard more of their harmonies, which were quite good.  (Erin thought their stage moves were kind of silly, and I had to agree.)

Saturday morning, I got up even earlier and made a pot of coffee and did a bit of tidying up.  Then a shower and it was off to again lay a #1 tarp for the night on main stage, again right up front.  Then it was off to here the Bluestem Special at the Big Bluestem stage, which was o.k. but it didn't really grab me, which is not *their* fault of course.  I did have a wonderful conversation with a couple of very nice volunteers though who were wondering what to do later and I told them I was heading over to the ukulele workshop at 1pm and that I was sure they'd enjoy it, so they said they might go there too.  I hope so, because the Uke Nation workshop at the Spruce Hollow stage was a highlight of the folk fest.  Featured were the amazing Jake Shimabukuro and James Hill on ukulele and James' parter Ann on the electric cello.  I'd gotten down close to the front and then saw Karen and Juan making their way down but there wasn't enough room for them next to me so they sat a few places to the left and still had a nice view of the stage.  Then after introductions Jake spoke up and said that in his experience at ukulele festivals (Wow, they have them?  Cool.) a workshop wasn't a performance but was for performers to demonstrate their technique and explain their approach to the instrument, and then jam a bit with other players.  (I think Karen plotzed right then and there, but I didn't look her way at the time.)  Needless to say, as someone who plays a little ukulele, I was enormously pleased, along with at least thirty other ukulele players in the audience.  Both Jake and James did talk about their respective styles of playing and then each played a couple of numbers before doing duets together with Ann accompaining them.  It was fun, beautiful and just a perfect set.

Then it was off to the Snowberry stage for something different, a concert by Texan singer-songwriter James McMurtry.  He'd brought a drummer and bassist along with him and James said there was about 75 years of playing on stage and they were very tight and had the material down to a tee.  Erin and I had listened to a CD of his on the way up that I had, and Erin thought he was good but that the songs sounded kind of samey-samey to her.  I could hear that too, but live with a little stage patter did a lot to break it up, and I really liked him live more than I thought I would.  When I found a spot in the shade along the tree line to sit it was sunny, but at some point it got darker and I looked behind me to the west to see it turning black and said "oh shit" and hoped it might blow over.  Well, it didn't so as a gust of wind hit I got out my poncho and put it on and then it started to pour.  Meanwhile, McMurtry and band were still playing with drive and the weather suited the song, so I just moved up front and sat the rain out as the set ended along with a few other huddled folkies.  Definitely a memorable end to a good set.

Then I knew I had to go back to camp because it was a big gust of wind, and when I got there I saw a downed shade structure and torn tents, ours included.  Thankfully Anya and Veronica had been in camp with Dave at the time the wind and rain hit, and partially took down the shade structure, which likely saved it from blowing away.  Still, there were two very bent poles and I wasn't sure it could be put up again, but I gave it a try and with the help of Wolfgang's four pound maul and duct tape (plus a prayer to Red Green) I managed to get it in good enough shape to put up again, with help from Wolfgang and others.  Then I was able to fix the minor tears in our tent's rainfly well enough, but Lana's tent and Anya and Veronica's tent were pretty much goners, but at least they could drive home for the night.  Unfortunately some of our bedding and Dave's bedding got wet, but once the storm passed it did stop raining and cleared up, so I decided with the strong wind still blowing that the bedding could be hung out to dry on the stade structure's supports.  Karen helpfully suggested also stringing up some rope too and we then had plenty of hanging space for sheets, blankets and mattress pads.  Of course by then I'd missed the opening act at 6pm down on the Main Stage (and had missed one at Shady Grove I'd really wanted to go to at 4:15pm, oh well) but I headed down and got there just in time to go up front and hear Ani DiFranco, who was great, feisty and a very good singer and guitarist.  I could see why she was so popular for years in the 1990s at the folk fest.

Then it was time for Jake Shimabukuro's set on the Main Stage, and here was this quiet, rather unprepossessing guy, coming up on stage and saying hello and how great it was to be at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, before starting to play some of the sweetest music I've heard on main stage there.  Of course Jake also played some of his show stoppers, including Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and, of course, George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  One guy, one ukulele, no singing.  The crowd was amazed and at times it was so quiet I could hear the crews backstage working.  It was *that* good.  Then, at one point when Jake wasn't so quiet, the speakers blew for some reason (probably the sound guys turned the speakers waay up during Jake's softer passages, which set them up to blow when it got louder) and Jake, after playing a moment and then realizing the main stage speakers were out, said "Did I just blow the speakers?  With a ukulele?"  And the crowd all laughed merrily.  Of course Jake did an encore and left us all wanting more.  I'd have stayed for more, but I knew I had to head back to camp to take in the bedding before it got wet with dew as the sun set, so I did so we would be warm on what was becoming a very cold night.  Thank you polar vortex!

Saturday is the day that first-time Baggieconners are officially welcomed by being mugged by Dave, and this year we had one new member, Joy.  I managed to catch the mugging by Dave on my camera, my apologies for not being a better photographer, but hey, I did have a camera handy at least:

Hope we'll see Joy next year too when it's not quite so cold!  I also did take a couple of other pictures around the campfire, and this is one of Lillian, Dave, and Wolfgang enjoying the warmth of the fire:

Sunday morning I got up to a cold (48F) and blustery day and while Juan was making coffee on the campstove he pointed this out to me:

Yes, it's because as the propane gas decompresses it cools the outside of the cylinder, but still.  Brr.  Thankfully the coffee was nice and warm.

Then after a bit of breakfast and a very cold shower I was off again to lay the front baggie, this time with a #2 tarp ticket because Polly decided to take Marnie's offer of a warm hotel room up the night before, so she wasn't as far up in line as she usually is.  So while I was in the #2 holding pen I noticed that most of the #1 tarp shufflers were heading off to the left, so I made a quick decision to go to the right side and was rewarded with a spot that was one row back from the front.  I was pleased.  Then I decided to head for the Shady Grove stage because the trees there offered shelter from the wind.  Just as I set my chair up under a tree it started to rain, but I was nice and dry.  The first workshop was one of four duo acts, titled Two's Company, hosted by a duo from Newfoundland calling themselves The Fortunate Ones.  Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion were also there and were very good again, but the duo I liked the best were Grace & Tony from Tennessee, who did what I could only call "gothgrass" to sum it up in a word.  Their songs reminded me a bit of the Flash Girls.  But the best moment of the workshop came when Guthrie and Irion invited up three teens from Newfoundland who were there to perform as part of the Young Performers workshop that takes place on Friday to come up on stage and play for us.  They were great, and something to look forward to in the future perhaps.

I stayed at Shady Grove for the next performer, J.P. Hoe, a Winnipeg musician who had a good band (and even a string section) and performed well, but I didn't connect with his songs much, with a couple of exceptions.  I then did a quick run back to camp to again check on things and have a bite to eat, and a cold beer, and then trucked back to the festival grounds to catch the last half of a ukulele workshop held by James Hill, and he was a pretty darn good instructor, encouraging, pushing a bit, and connecting well with about twenty folks with ukuleles.  He even had one ukulele student come up to play with him, which was fun.

Then it was off to hear the Pete Seeger Tribute workshop at the Big Bluestem stage, and it was packed.  I found a spot in the trees where I could listen and hunkered down as it was still cold and windy.    There were six acts featured, including a much-anticipated Joan Baez, along with Ani DiFranco, Jake Shimabukuro, Elephant Revival and more.  Baez of course had some things to remember about Pete, and DiFranco had stories to share too, and they all sang and played Pete's songs beautifully.  The ending number of Baez singing We Shall Overcome had the entire crowd up, singing and swaying together, and Erin said she could hear us across the festival grounds.  I'm sure Pete would have loved it.

Then just a few minutes after the tribute concluded, it poured rain and the strong wind was blowing it right onto the main stage, so there was a delay.  I ran into Dave and Erin sitting on chairs by themselves in the way-back baggie spot, and I decided to go back to camp during the delay to again check on things given the blow we'd just had.  I got back and met Polly and Marnie there getting some things before heading back to the motel room and had a bite and then found our bedding was again wet thanks to it being next to the tent wall that the wind had blown in an extra foot or so.  So I spread it out and took the little battery-powered fan we had and set it up to blow on it, and then checked my phone and saw that Joan Baez's performance had been moved up an hour, and immediately told Polly and Marnie to head down, and I followed them shortly after they'd left.  We caught most of Baez's set on the front baggie and she was wonderful despite the cold (she said it was wet at Woodstock, but at least it was warm) and it was magical.

I then wandered back and looked for Dave and Erin, but they'd taken off evidently after Baez was finished, so I went over to the Big Bluestem stage to catch a little of the Big Blue at Night music, but found it was between sets so I just walked around a bit more and had a piece of toasty hot pizza from one of the food vendors before heading back to camp.  It was too cold and windy to have a fire so after talking for a bit I turned in and by then our sheets were dry enough that we were fairly warm under the covers.

Monday morning I got up at 7:15am to rain, and it was still very windy.  Thankfully it cleared up by 9am and we were able to let things dry out before taking tents down and packing gear and hauling it back to our cars.  The old shade structure was salvaged for parts and we scarfed a 10 by 10 foot EZ-up that someone had left but was only slightly damaged, so we took it home with us.  Since we hadn't had a chance to sing Ripple all together Sunday night, we sang it on our last load out, and then sang a sea shanty as a finale to this year's Baggiecon.  Difficult at times to be sure, but still great.

Then it was back to the Bhigg House to enjoy some delicious soup/stew that David Rivers had made for us, yum, and a shower.  Then I kind of collapsed and slept for four hours, and missed seeing some friends sadly, and Dave told me later he'd crashed out too.  I guess we're getting old, finally.  Tuesday morning we got up and had breakfast at a nice deli not too far away, and then said our goodbyes and left for home.  Needless to say, the dogs and cats were happy to see us and we were happy to be home again.

All told, my tenth Winnipeg Folk Festival (and Erin's 26th and Dave's 41st!) was a fun time and I'm happy we went.

See you next year!

1 comment:

  1. Glad you had a good time. Sorry to hear that your stuff got wet.