5 Reasons To Check Out Winnipeg Folk Festival

Winnipeg Folk Festival is back at Birds Hills Provincial Park just outside of Winnipeg July 6-9. If you’ve never checked out this free-spirited Manitoba music festival (also called Winnipeg Folk Fest or — more commonly — just Folk Fest) make this the year that you go.

Here’s are my Top 5 reasons to make the trip to Folk Fest this year:

1. The Music (obviously)
Despite the name, there’s not just folk music at Winnipeg Folk Festival. You’ll find an ebullient riot of genres and influences here, from roots, world music, country, Celtic and Americana to cutting edge indie-rock bands and electronic acts. This year’s line-up includes Barenaked Ladies, Feist, Camper von Beethoven, Brandi Carlile, The Shins and more.

The big names perform on the main stage in the evenings, but there are several smaller stages located throughout the grounds. I especially liked the ones set deep into the trees, because you kinda feel like you’re at some kind of magical woodland gathering. Over 75 artists and bands perform during this four day festival, so you can hear some of your favorite acts and then pick a stage (any stage!) get exposed to something new.

During the day, there are several workshops where bands jam together. These were some of my favorite shows last year, because they were part performance, part improvisation and all freewheeling energy. The daytime shows epitomize that laid-back, collaborative vibe that this festival does so well.

2. The Food
If you’re a foodie, you’re going to flip for this festival. There are 15 food vendors on site and they emphasize local, fair-trade food so you can really get a taste of what Manitoba has to offer. You’ll find lots of organic, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options as well.

Last year I started my day with an delicious iced coffee, sampled my friend’s curry and feasted on killer pierogies for a lunch and indulged in a fabulous ice cream sandwich for dessert. The prices are reasonable and the lines were totally doable, unexpected but much appreciated surprises for a festival of this size.

Since I’m a beer nerd (and a beer writer) I naturally gravitated toward the beer tent near the center of the grounds. It was nice to be able to try a few beers I can’t get in the states and learn which brews beer fans to the north were excited about.

3. People Watching
I’ve found Winnipeggers (and Canadians in general) to be kind and accepting people and the crowd at Folk Fest epitomize this “live and let live” attitude. You’ll find a wide swath of humanity here, from families with toddling kids in tow and grandpas and grandmas in sensible shoes and sunblock to bright young things swaying in faerie sexy festival wear and folks dressed so spectacularly you really can’t tell if they’re cosplaying a character from some fantastic fantasy world you haven’t heard of yet, if they’re inspired by ancient mythology or just digging deep into their imaginations. Either way, it’s fun to see.

The best part is, everybody just coexists. As long as you’re friendly, polite and not blocking anyone’s view of the stage, it’s all good.

To get a good view of the people-watching action, spread a picnic blanket or put a lawn chair near the village tower and observe the crowd as it ebbs and flows around you. (This is also a good spot to meet up if you get separated from your group.) The beer tent is also a good spot to relax, since you can grab a little shade and a cold beer at the same time. (Bonus.)

4. Campground Madness
Folk Fest has one of the most vibrant camping scenes I’ve ever seen. There’s probably as much action on the campgrounds as there is on the festival grounds!

My friends with kids (or those who actually want to sleep!) prefer the Quiet Campground. It’s four kilometers away from the festival grounds and a shuttle bus runs between it and the park, although lots of people bike in for the shows. There are loads of racks at the front gate so you can lock up your bike.

The Festival Campground is a large, collaborative space that’s a 10 to 20-minute walk from the festival itself. This place is a blast. It’s packed with art installations, shaded chill-out spots and a thriving temporary village economy that sprouts up to share, fix or find anything you might have broken or forgotten. (The folks in the photo at the bottom of this post do exactly that!)

My friends and colleagues from High Plains Reader stayed here last year and they said it was magical — think drum circles, late night jam sessions and a fun, communal vibe. If you’re going to shoot for a good night’s sleep here, find a spot away from the action (there are some pretty, wooded areas along the edges of the campground) and bring earplugs just in case. (Because drum circles…)

5. Shopping
Need some breezy festival wear? How about handcrafted jewelry? Pottery? A one-of-a-kind souvenir forged by an on-site blacksmith? I found all of these things and more at the Hand-Made Village during my trip to Folk Fest.

This year there will be nearly 50 artisans from across the country set up at the festival this year, which means you can purchase unique items from businesses, artists, artisans and craftspeople from across Canada, all in one spot. The convivial atmosphere extends to the vendor village, which makes it a fun place to explore.

Winnipeg Folk Festival
July 6-9, 2017
Birds Hill Provincial Park
Winnipeg, MB

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