Winnipeg Folk Festival 2010 was three days of sun, dust, music, giant mosquitoes, gianter dragonflies, and four Cat Empire gigs – sort of. I’ll qualify that later. It was a great weekend, and it’s nice to know we’ve got some more folk festival time coming up in Calgary two weekends from now. Folk festivals are a special breed, a lot like the mosquitoes. There are some things that are commonplace at folk festivals that you just never get to experience anywhere else. For example: I heard the phrase “that guy can whistle like a motherf…” about five times in two days. That just doesn’t happen in real life.
Another mainstay of the folk festival is the seated crowd. It’s not just a handful of bearded diehards parking themselves in front of the main stage, because that can happen at blues and/or roots festivals too. I’m talking about the majority of the crowd being a seated one. A rectangle roughly the width of the stage extends all the way to the sound guy’s tent, completely filled with people on tarps, blankets, and some impressive folding chair/backpack hybrids, with the intention of staying there all day. To the left and right of this rectangle are the rowdy folk festival dancing crowd, whose non-stop freeform freewheeling more than makes up for the inactivity of their seated brethren. On the main stage, the two groups are separated by a fence:
The pirate flags only accentuate their differences. The only way to unite them is to get everybody to stand up. We saw Arrested Development successfully pull off the Folk Crowd Standup Chain Reaction: you only need to get the front row on their feet, and the people behind them will stand up so they can still see, and the people behind them will stand up so they can still see, and so on until everyone is accounted for. But Harry had a different approach: announcing that the Governor wanted us to pass on a health and safety warning about deep-vein thrombosis, and that everybody should get up and stretch their legs right now. Sure enough, everybody got on their feet, and pretty soon we had an all-standing all-dancing crowd in front of us.
The next day we had a workshop: another folk festival oddity. Basically, a number of bands set up on stage, and they collaborate/jam/freakout in front of a captive, seated audience. Harry pointed out that it’s a lot like a musical blind date. The awkward first meeting took place backstage:
“Hey, umm, are you…you’re from Depedro right?”
“Yeah! Are you from the Cat Empire? We’ve got a workshop.”
No white carnations required. We basically took turns playing our songs, and the other band joined in when they could. Putting us on the same stage as Depedro was great: their music really works with horns, and we don’t have any guitars. Also, luckily for me, they don’t have a bass player, and they have written many songs that are quite easy to learn on the spot. If you can teach somebody a song in one sentence, these workshops run pretty smoothly.
“D minor G D minor A; D minor C B flat A.”
Unfortunately, most of our songs are harder to describe than that. The Rhythm:
“C minor, sort of. It goes to A minor in a big way later on.”
Rhyme and Reason was the best one of ours really: once you know the eight-bar form, you know the song.
Next up, Harry’s solo set. Most of us went along to watch and/or heckle and/or yell out “WOO!” whenever he mentioned something to do with Australia. He played in the late afternoon (8.00pm, it’s light until about 10.30 in this part of the world) while the dragonflies droned about and did their job of reducing the mosquito population. Seriously. I heard they were introduced here for that reason. Let’s hope that doesn’t backfire. On of them landed on the collar of the woman sitting in front of us, and Felix noted that it looked like it could have carried her away. It was a seated crowd, but hey, Harry was seated too. A folk crowd makes a lot more sense when it’s in front of a folky gig.
You might be starting to see now what I meant when I said we “sort of” had four gigs at the festival. The fourth one was the unannounced (though everyone seemed to know about it anyway) gig we did at the afterparty for all the volunteers. We did the same set three years ago, as you may remember if you’re a diligent tour diary reader.
Our set was supposed to finish at 2.00am, and we somehow went forty minutes overtime. Too late, too cold, too much whiskey, no soundcheck, cramped stage. History has shown those sort of conditions usually result in one of our better gigs. We started with Rumbling too. We probably haven’t played that since last time we were at this festival.
One more thing worth mentioning is the incredible glow-in-the-dark things wandering around at night at the festival, including this guy:
The mouth moved and the eyes even blinked when he did. Unfortunately, I only had my camera ready as he walked past one of the huge banks of portaloos. Ah, portaloos. Confronting during the day and terrifying at night; at some point over the weekend you know you’re just gonna have to use one. Folk festivals have that much at least in common with every other music festival on the planet.