WORDS: Brett Fillmore
Prairie music fans will converge this weekend for the 43rd annual Winnipeg Folk Festival, held inside Bird’s Hill Provincial Park. Canadian folk festivals these days are barely folk anymore, but when loosening the genre boundaries means a stacked lineup for a brilliant party (a Saturday night Funk Hunters set, anyone?), who’s complaining? Here are five dynamite acts to set your festival experience on the right track.
The Artist: Ontario singer-songwriter Basia Bulat burst onto the indie-folk scene with 2007’s Oh, My Darling, which was short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize.
The Sound: Bulat accompanies her bright, expressive vocals with arrangements on unconventional instruments like autoharp and xylophone over a layer of strings and keyboards.
Between Songs: Totally charming. Her smile is as pleasant as her sugary falsetto.
Summer Jam: “Tall Tall Shadow”
The Artist: Andy Shauf records by playing all instruments himself in his parents’ Regina basement, chief of which is his acoustic guitar—a rundown heirloom from his grandfather. Playing live, though, he is supported by his ultra-tight backing band.
The Sound: He spins literate, bittersweet yarns in a hushed tenor. The arrangements—often including a violin, harmonica, and clarinet—are intricate and delicate.
Between Songs: Painfully shy. If he speaks at all it will be hard to make out the words in his mumbling whisper.
Summer Jam: “The Magician”
The Artist: Lisa Leblanc hails from a Francophone region of New Brunswick, where she crafted her unique brand of rhythmic, bilingual saloon stomp.
The Sound: She calls her sound “trash folk”, an accurate description of the way she slams through a set, attacking her banjo like a punk rocker. The bearded duo serving as a backing band serve as a stoic foil to her raw, energetic delivery.
Between Songs: Enthusiastic. She chats a mile-a-minute, darting between topics (and languages) as frantically as she changes chords.
Summer Jam: “You Look Like Trouble (But I Guess I Do Too)”
The Head and The Heart
The Artist: The Seattle natives became indie-folk darlings following their 2010 self-titled debut. With multiple songwriters and vocalists, The Head and The Heart’s magnetism lies in their ability to form a collective lusher than the sum of their parts.
The Sound: Silky harmonies mix with crisp acoustic instrumentation (violin, acoustic guitar, tambourine) to form an earthy piece of Americana.
Between Songs: With no real leader, the band engages each other with banter as often as they do their audience.
Summer Jam: “Hometown Heroes”
Ryan Adams and The Shining
The Artist: You know who he is. Over the course of 16 years and 15(!) albums, Adams has become an alt-country icon, and his notorious impulsiveness pushes his shows into can’t-miss territory.
The Sound: His versatility makes this hard to pin down. Will his festival set veer toward loud, swaggering garage rock or muted, acoustic introspection? The fact that his latest release is a song-for-song album of unironic Taylor Swift covers is a testament to his unpredictability.
Between Songs: If he’s in a good mood, expect plenty of hilarious, sardonic wit.
Summer Jam: “Gimme Something Good”