Sunday, July 20, 2008

Holidays in Canada, Winnipeg Folk Festival

The above picture (that is Brahma Blue, the biggest building just across the water from the little round Island, with San Pedro at the very top of the photo) was taken from the Sessna that carried me from San Pedro to Corazal (bleow). I'm on my way to Canada, leaving San Pedro on Monday, July 7th and spending a day in Mexico. Then landing in Winnipeg at about 4 in the afternoon on Tuesday.
Another shot of Corazol. We landed outside town because the airstrip is being serviced and a van shuttled us to the main airport site where I caught a taxi to Chetamul. The driver assisted me in crossing the border, good thing because I speak hardly any Spanish and took me right to the bus depot for a four hour ride to Playa Del Carmen. Then another hour or so to Cancun to wait for my flight to Houston.
As the plane carried me over the Southern United States, I noticed an incredible cloud display but I just don't think these pictures capture what my eyes were seeing.

Larissa and her friend Chloe met me at the Winnipeg airport, they had to wait again because, once more, my luggage didn't make it until the next day. At least my luggage made it, I lost two bottles of booze, a 40 year old rum and a bottle of Baily's Irish Cream got smashed, but no real problem and it was easy to clean up.

We got to Linda's house just in time for a gathering of my family, two brothers were still in Winnipeg after attending a family reunion the weekend before so I got to hang with them for one evening as well. Below is my best friend Rick, he just had surgery on his right rotator cuff and he played guitar and sang for about 4 hours and hurt himself. I gave him a two hour massage the other day and I'll likely be doing that again soon, and again, and again, until I go back to Belize.

I took a bunch of pictures of the kids playing in the grass but most of them didn't turn out so good. Here is Larissa, she's my favorite kid in the whold wide world, don't you know?!?

My bros, Wayne and Doug, Wayne is the youngest of 6 boys and 1 girl, he's also the biggest! Doug is behind Wayne's camera and they are both taking pictures of Gail and her family.

Below my sister Gail and her family, Jaz is holding Kaylee and the dark skinned wrestling contender is Arnold, aka Batman, Kaylee's dad, his family is from the West Indies and Kaylee (I may have mispelled her name) is so cute! When Gail had Jaz I got to be her labor coach and witness my first birth. I stayed awake for 54 hours, Gail got to sleep a bit once the epidural took affect. It was so emotional when they told us it was a girl, because Gail was the only girl in our family with six brothers. Ok so Dave had two girls but they lived in Alberta so for me and Gail, and my mom, it was awesome to have a girl in the family! Dallas came along about 4 years later, she is on the right, she is an incredible artist and she works at Giselles doing original paintings,,,,,,on fingernails. Temporary art, but hey, its a living and she is so good at it. We are all so proud of her.

Wednesday we loaded up Dance's car with tents and sleeping gear and went to set up in the campground. That is Dance between her tent and mind. She is sleeping with her four kids and a friend for her 14 year old. I am sleeping with Larissa in Linda's blue Eureka tent.

On Friday night the wind and rain destroyed Dance's tent so she piled her bedding and clothing into my tent and went to the city to buy a new tent, can you say "Eureka!"
The campground is huge and it sold out, the next day there were many more tents but I din't take anymore pictures.
Below is the start of a panoramic spin of the campgrounds that can be seen from the highest point around. Starting with the RV area at the furthest end away from the Festival grounds. Most of us bring bikes to go back and forth between our campsites and the festival grounds.
Other people are smarter and they set up closer to the festival area so they don't have to walk so far, but I like being near this big open field where the craziest stuff goes on during the night after the stages are all closed. The party is right here, all manner of nonesense, from Poi spinning and fire eating to florescent costumes and fun with glow sticks, juggling and drum jams everywhere.

There is at least two more huge fields full of tents on the other side of the distant tree line.
The fence marks the outer boundary of the camping area.

Here we are at the festival site in front of the main stage, we set up on the far side of the ditch where the kids can play safely and we can wander back and forth without fearing for losing our children in the crowd or freaking them out when they can't find us. Linda created and carried a tarp marker that is a 7 foot long copper pipe with a happy face and flowers on it so we can see it from a distance.

Fun on the tarp while the music plays as the sun sets behind us.
This shot shows the crowd in front of the main stage, Linda has been setting up her tarp this far back where there is a drainage ditch that Larissa and all the kids love to play in and terrorize the frogs. As you can see, parents bring all manner of wagons, carriages and contraptions to be able to have all the stuff they will need for daytime and nightime along so they can care for thier kids. Hey that is Marlow and Kelly with Kelly's nearly new baby in the bottom right corner.
Dobet Gnahore' from the Ivory Coast provided a breathtaking outpouring of African Song. A traditional African dancer and multilingual vocalist created a show as physical as it was passionate celebrating her debut album, Na Afriki. She only played the one show on Thursday night at 8:15 while it was still light and I had to run up to the front of the stage to watch her dance.
Her musicians were incredible, two white guys on guitar and base and a black drummer who was amazing.

Then she sat and played a djembe trading solo's and matching riffs with the drummer while the crowd went wild. The folks who come to this festival love a good djember player and they jump to thier feet and dance like crazy.
Below, Linda, Marlow (I've known her since she was about 5 years old, she is getting married in September and it looks like I'm going to stay in Canada long enough to attend her wedding. She is getting married on the same property that Linda and I got married on. Angel and Darrel live just West of Selkirk on a twenty five acre hobby farm and we all helped renovate the barn and garage for parties with a stage and room for dining and a bar. There is a campfire closer to the house for acoustic jam sessions and we all set up tents and campers every year for the summer solstice barbecue. Another mini Woodstock type event. I missed it for the last two years and next year is the 30th annual, but I'll likely miss it again. Sacrifices must be made!
Beside Marlow is Amanda, Lori's daughter who baby sat Larrisa a few times, and now she is a grown woman herself. Four Winnipeg beauties who grew up with the folk festival. Larissa was born 7 days after the festival in 1998 at 7 minutes to 7 Pm on the 19th day of the 7th month. There are 7 letters in her name and she weighed 7 pounds. There must be a 7th 7 in this equation somewhere but I just don't recall.

Above, we joined a throng of dancers and boogied to the 1960's funk band, The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker but we gave way to watch this woman (below) dancing with a hula hoop, she was very good, just someone in the crowd expressing herself.
Larissa crashed before the concert was over but she was all ready for the walk to our bikes and long ride back to our campsite. She even carried her own blanket with her and a pillow in her back pack. That's my girl, getting all independant. That's her mom giving her a hug goodnite!

Thursday night after the concert, Larissa and I went for a walk to "Pope's Hill" to watch the insanity. They call it Pope's Hill because the City of Winnipeg acutally had a hill constructed when the Pope visited so he could be higher than the audience so everyone could see him as he addressed the Winnipeg Catholic Community. The hill is right beside but just outside the campgrounds and it used to be off limits but about 10 years ago, when drums were not allowed in the campground for noise restrictions, the young drummers rebelled and went to Pope's Hill and drummed anyway. When ever the cops came to shut them down, they dispersed into the campgrounds and after the cops drove away, they simply returned and started drumming and dancing and whooping again. After two years of this, the Festival Organizers met with the Park Officials and now Pope's Hill is part of the campground (hey, its not like the Pope is coming back anytime soon!) and drums are allowed, in fact they provided a stage for the Poi spinners and ran electricity so they can feature bands some nights as well. Power to the People, Right On!
On our walk I took Larissa to see what kind of structures were built this year. There is a team of campers who come a day early with a load of lumber and other materials and they construct a temporary shelter party house with a different theme every year. This year is was a saloon with a bell tower (below). The round yellow part just above Larissa's head is a fake clock face.

This is the Saloon they built, I meant to take a daytime picture but it didn't happen. This place was huge with a 14 foot high ceiling (made of two by four spruce and covered with plastic) and full of tables, it had a stage and a piano, my God, someone brought in an upright piano and left it in there and took it home at the end of the festival, such dedication! One night I walked by and two guys dressed in cow boy duds with holsters and belts faced each other for a shoot out. One guy yelled "draw" and the other guy stepped up to an easel (that I hadn't even noticed) and started drawing. As far as I could tell, I was the only one watching this so it wasn't even a performance, just two drunken nut bars amusing themselves. What a hoot!
After wandering around the grounds I made my way towards "Pope's Hill" to catch the last number of a wonderful Poi group. Three drummers, a guitar player, four Poi spinners and two Belly dancers, what a show. I found them again the next night but I couldn't take any more pictures because the drummers were friends of mine and I had my drum with me so they invited me to play, I had a blast!
I found these really cool visors in Mexico for the kids to wear but it was so cold that they left them in the tent, I tried! It would have been so cool if they walked around the festival wearing them.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival has the greatest tents and they rent them out the rest of the summer, but for this one four day weekend, there are six stages like this one below that run at the same time from 11 am to 6 pm, the children's stage and a small, intimate setting they call Folk School where you can actually learn about folk music, history of Gospel, how to play folk instruments and write songs from some of the world's best performers in thier field. You simply buy a program, see who is playing where, check out the map to find out where that stage is located and wonder over there and set down your lawn chair and enjoy. Then you move to the next stage, all within short walking distance and the people watching on the way is awesome. This year the crowds were small because the weather wasn't so nice but when its hot, the insanity heats up as well and all manor of lunacy is expressed, Woodstock is revisited and peace, love and music fills the air.

This Friday workshop at the Bur Oak stage was titled Fretting About the World and it featured Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck, Shtreiml and Harry Manx. They were all set up at once and after each act did a solo song or two, they started to jam along and things got fuzzy and things got blurry and then everything was gone! No really, it was mind blowing, so much talent, Shtreiml's virtuoso Oud player started to sing in a totally ethnic way and Abigail and he traded solo's while the bands mixed Klesmer, East Indian Blues and Banjo picking quietly to let the vocalists go crazy for a while. Harry Manx studied the 20-stringed Mohan Veena with its inventor Vishwa Mohan Bhatt for five years in India. It sounds like a sitar but looks like a guitar and Manx is a blues player from British Columbia, mixing in Strrieml's Oud and harmonica with Turkish and Hasidic melodies with Bela's Banjo picking was insanly great!
Below, I looked around for Linda because I knew she wanted to see this performer as well and she was sitting just over my shoulder, I found her when I saw Tannis Slimmon walk up and squat down to say hello. Linda is one of the finest unknown vocalists in the world and Tannis has recently released her second solo CD called Lucky Blue and Tannis should have been a featured artist on Main Stage, her music is incredible, look for it at Its true that she is a dear friend and I'm totally biased because I love her but her two solo albums should be and have been winning awards and she should be world famous, she blows me away, my favorite lyric of hers comes from her first solos CD, Oak Lake (which is a town near Brandon, Manitoba where she grew up), "why can't you read my mind and hear the things I mean to say!"

Above and Below is Forro in the Dark from Brazil, free your mind and the rest will Forro! Notice the big drum second from the end. He strikes the bass with a mallet from above and gets a snare sound from a long stick played on the bottom skin. This was some crazy dance music, yeehaa!
Below is a picture of Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet Featuring Bela Fleck, with Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee, how is that for handle! Virtuoso Banjo, cello, fiddle and voice of a bird playing the best of Old time Americana with a wink and a smile.

I wandered the camp grounds after the main stage ended looking for a drum jam to join and I wanted to take pictures of the insanity but you just can't capture what is going on. Below is a structure in the shape of a pyramid that had some very cool lighting effects that just don't show up with a flash. The point is that these campers go way over the top to make the festival an experience, camping there is part of the event like no other. There was a village of TP's that I wanted to get a photo of but I didn't get back in the daylight. A buddy of mine builds a shower stall out of pvc pipe and if you bring your own bottle of water you can shower in privacy. There are guitars and double bases, banjos and mandolins, but mostly, drums, everywhere and they never stop. The Family area boasts a huge tent called the Chickadee Big Top with a stage, room to sit and tables full of crafts with volunteers who help the kids do the crafts and there is face painting and all kinds of activities for the kids outside the tent as well as clowns and costumed stilt walkers and a tight rope about one foot off the ground, a tug'o'war rope, a parachute to run under and much more. At Larissa's age we can now leave her there and go see the pe we want to hear knowing she is safe. We tell her which stage we will be at and where we will meet should things get crazy and everyone has a great time.
Nanci Griffith, grammy award winner in 1993, one of the finest voices in country and folk performing since the age of 14, decades of music, 20 albums, several famous compositions and she played her guitar on a few songs in spite of recent surgery and her hand still in bandages. If you don't know her music and you like folk songs, check her out, incredible writing and so sweet.
It rained Friday during the night with winds that destroyed Dance's tent and in the morning she went back to the city to buy a new one. I bundled up to take in some music but by the evening I was cold and damp. The winds were still blowing the rain right onto the mainstage so hard that they couldn't use it and had to use one of the smaller stages that faced a different direction to keep the musicians and equipment dry. Here I am watching Nany Griffith from Texas sing From a Distance, we went home for the night after her show, I am just not used to the cold anymore and couldn't stop shivering. Larissa was ready to warm up as well and Linda offered to take her home for the night and since Dance hadn't returned and I didn't think she would, I went home for a hot shower and a good nights sleep. No point in huddling in my tent listening to the wind blow. The sides of the tent were bending in and tapping me on the shoulder, that is what woke me the morning before and it was still howling at 7:30 pm, no thanks!

Chic Gamine, a local Winnipeg group of A'cappella singers with a kit drummer who also sang a bit, incredible voices and interesting percussion. Gorgeous harmonies exploring folk, soul, samba and everything in between.

I went back to the Children's tent often to touch base with Larissa, on this occasion I didn't find her but I snapped some shots of Winnipeg's wackiest and most inventive children's performer, this guy has won a Juno award and is currently nominated for another prestigous award, I think he said it was "the best Manitoban" award, but he made so many jokes about it, I'm not even sure if he was serious. Al Simmons, a very funny man. He works with a sound track and he is an actor/singer who builds his own props and works them into his show with such style and pinache, he is a one man show, except you could call many of his props, band members the way he uses them. Fascinating for all ages, I laughed till I stopped!

Here Al changed his costume as he told jokes, first he removed his coat, which was a set of tails, then he released some clips and the skirt dropped down, he pulled some cords on his chest and they pulled his pant legs up revealing his socks and put on the hat. Then he blew up the balloon, with much ado and jesting and attached it to his harmonica so as the balloon deflated it played a drone while he played an old Irish melody and it sounded like bag pipes, amazing!

This horn he is holding is another invention, he named it in four languages with names that were long sentences, but in Spanish he called it, El Trumpeta loco! It has about horns, twelve valves, three whistles and a bell. Most all of the sounds are triggered by holding down the right valves and blowing into the one mouthpiece but his hands are moving like crazy while he plays a familiar classic overture and he squirts water fountains, blows up balloons, sends ribbons and glitter into the audience, and finally squirts out a ping pong ball which lands in the net he is standing beside.
Above you can just make out the net, before he introduced his horn, he asks for a hand for his next assistant, Annette, Annette is a wooden cut out of a woman holding a net, then he introduces his other assistant, Mike and he brings the mic on stage so we can hear his horn.

Below ou see the New Yeas Eve party favor coming up out of the horn, in time and playing a note that seemed to fit in the 0verture, what a guy! What a clown! What a genius!

These next few shots show the tents that artisans can rent to sell thier crafts. All the products have to be hand made, you can't buy stuff from someone and sell it here, it has to be hand made locally.

It was time for Larissa to pick something to purchase, she chose one juggling ball, not three, but one. I don't know why, but she assured me she only wanted one, I saved ten bucks, but I think I should have bought the other two anyway, oh well, too late!

Back to the mainstage for Sunday night's concert. Nice to have warmer weather for the last day of the festival.
This shot is taken from the front of the mainstage area looking out at the throngs of people, you'll notice the tarps on the ground, this is a Winnipeg Folk Festival tradition. Folks actually line up before the grounds open to get a ticket to be in the line up to lay down thier tarps in front of the mainstage and then leave them on the ground all day until the evening concerts start. If it rains you have to wait until 5 o'clock to put your tarp down so the grounds have time to dry in the heat of the day, otherwise most of us put our tarps down and then go back to our campsites for another two hours of sleep before the daytime stages start. You will notice the "markers" stuck in the ground to help folks find thier tarps. These too are home made and many of them are real works of art, another unique tradition created by the group mind of the dedicated fans of this festival.
So that is about it for now. The festival was dampened by the wind and the rain but we endured and there was still some great music and great moments. I classic experience and I think, one of the best festivals in the world. Not a lot of super famous bands, but an interesting array of cultural folk music from around the world each year, about 95 acts and it takes over 1000 volunteers to keep this place running smoothly and safe for nearly 40,000 attendees over the course of the four day weekend.
It was great and now I'm going to have to get to work to cover my costs, fortunately I'm getting a real good response for massage work from many of my former clients, I may even extend my stay. Larissa goes to camp next week and she has holidays until September 8th so I may stay until she goes back to school.
Many blessings to all my friends back in San Pedro, I promised you pictures of the festival so there you are, I'll bring the festival program home with me if you want to read through it, it really is more of a book than a program with write ups of the festival and each performer.
Namaste, Master Zac, Not in Belize