Monday, July 15, 2013

Sunshine. songs and spliffs.

 I have never really been a really musical person – I have bought albums, owned a record player and even graduated to the more modern CD and MP3. But it has never been a huge part of my life. I have always been a more visually stimulated person – so sport, nice views and watching the stupidity of human beings going about their daily life have always been more of a past time that I enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, but the idea of being stuck in a field with thousands of other people, staring at minute figures on a faraway stage while being bombarded with ultra loud drum beats and slightly out of tune singing hasn’t ever appealed. Add to that the ‘camping experience’, of sharing another nearby patch of grass with hundreds of other campers intent on partying throughout the night whilst I’m trying to catch up on my beauty sleep and you don’t have a dream of mine – you have a nightmare.

The campsite - before it got mad!
So it was with these happy thoughts that I agreed to attend the Winnipeg folk festival and its 5 day camping extravaganza with Buffy, Joel and lots of other friends. You may be able to tell that I was a little bit nervous about the whole thing and had warned everyone that ‘If I get pissed off with it, just leave me to my own amusement!’

One day with no shoes!
Buffy stood on a stick - nice clean dressing

10 minutes later!

So, at 5.30 am last Wednesday morning, myself, Joel and Ariel, set off towards Birds Hill Park – a government run natural area just outside of Winnipeg itself.  The first stage of the weekend is getting a camp area set up and there is a big rush to bag the best spots. We arrived at the Park and found ourselves 154th in the queue of vehicles. An hour wait and another short drive until we saw we were in fact about 400th in an even larger queue that had been unseen to us earlier. We decided to carry out a flanking manoeuvre to get the best spot and I joined the shorter pedestrian queue, armed with a tent and my backpack.  Just a short 3 hour wait later and my group was finally let into the camp area and I managed to bag a reasonable spot in the shade of some trees and far away from the drug addled main field where the majority of the partying and crazy stuff would be happening.

My wristband

Nuff said

Sunset day one
Eventually the cars were let in and over the afternoon everyone else arrived from work of home and took up a spot I had saved by putting down tarpaulins, bits of tent and even a shopping bag to stop anyone else moving into our area. Stage one complete.

The festival itself started late that afternoon and we all went to the main stage about 20 minutes walk away. This stage looks over a field with a capacity of a 4 or 5 thousand people and we enjoyed the evening, even though to be honest, I was a little disappointed with some of the music on night one.

The main stage at night

and again
Back to the camp area and every conversation we heard on the way seemed to be about weed, acid or mushrooms. I’m not a drug user myself and never will be and to be honest I have no time for anyone who takes drugs. To me it’s a loser’s game and I see no fun in it at all – but most people here seemed to be in the complete opposite stance. However, I was pleasantly surprised that there was no real trouble and everyone seemed friendly enough and happy to chat and have fun without going completely crazy. It actually ended up as a nice mellow night with a few beers around the camp fire and a look around Jurassic Park – a small fun installation just by our site, run by a guy who does it just for fun. That’s one of the great bits about this festival –the camp ground is a whole new world, with its own weird areas. There is a couple of barns and small wooden shacks where you can just pile up and play instruments with strangers, jamming like the people you have just watched on the stages. There are huge wooded versions of board games that you can just go up and join in a game with anyone who is passing. At night the party really begins at dusk, when all sorts of costumes come out and there is always someone passing by dressed in glow sticks or whatever other costume they can find.

Next to the camp site is Popes hill, where a drum circle goes on all night and there are fire dancers and people dressed like robots complete with led lights and lit up faces. There is also a lot of wandering minstrel bands, such as Dirty Catfish Brass Band. They just wander around entertaining everyone and generally having a good time. It really is a carnival atmosphere.  

Someone in a lit up costume...

Robots? Human? Who knows?

1000 peoplesat on a hill - going mad - I was a little drunk, hence the shaky photo!

Firedancing? I dont know!
On Thursday, after a short night’s sleep we woke up to bright sunshine and a roasting hot day. The festival didn’t start again till the evening, so most of the day was spent visiting the various sites around the camp ground and taking a cold shower every now and then just to keep cool. I was getting a little hot and bothered it was so hot and it did take away from the enjoyment a little, so I was glad when in the evening I had to return to town to feed the cat we are looking after and get a good night’s sleep before returning on Friday morning, when it was much cooler.

Heres a few of the wonderful and weird sights around the Fest

The festival had started in earnest by now and all 7 or 8 stages were live – with bands and singers taking turns to sing and entertain the crowds in ‘workshops’, where they all work together and just have fun for the crowds entertainment.

A few more interesting sights and strange people

For me these workshops were much better than the huge main stage. We saw so many different bands and singers; it is hard to remember them all. Some were good, others great and a few were shit, but all of them tried their hardest to entertain. In the small intimate stages set in the forest, where just a few hundred people sat around enjoying weird and wonderful acts from around the world, I actually started to enjoy it – quite a lot actually.  When you can get to within a few feet of the stage and watch everything from the stage being set up and the bands preparing their instruments through to sitting right in front of an hour long show, looking eye to eye with the singers, it becomes much better than just a loud noise. I really enjoyed the banter from people like ‘The Milk Carton Kids’, who had a joke with and took the piss out of ‘The Dunwells’, a British band from Leeds.     Josh Ritter had a great time messing about with Dr Dog and we watched with open mouths from right in front of the stage as the brilliant Kaki King did unbelievable things with her guitars. Slapping them, banging and playing them in unheard of ways - probably one of the greatest female guitar players alive – and we watched her from two feet away on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I could go on about a whole lot more acts, but there were just too many to mention. Suffice to say, I actually really enjoyed it and surprised myself. 

Some of the bands, musicians and workshops

Josh Ritter

Dr Dog

Josh Ritter and Dr Dog

Crazy Danes!

Del Barber sleeping on stage

Kaki King

The final night in the campground was mental. Just when everyone is normally starting to party, we were being given a tour of Jurassic Park when it started to thunder and rain really suddenly. The wind whipped up and quite a few tents were blown away across the fields as well as the electric fence from Jurassic Park itself! Just like in the movie!! Then as quickly as it had begun, it stopped and people appeared from nowhere, dressed up for a final night of drug addled madness. The drums started and the music played till way past dawn with most people getting little if any sleep. I managed a couple of hours but still enjoyed chatting as people passed by and even had a while watching a surprising show of the northern lights!

One of the small stages in the forest

Someone had a good night....

Raffle tickets?

The awesome Milk Carton Kids

The Dunwells

What the hell is that? An ancient chinese Harmonica thing!

Another weird but cool instrument
Sunday was the 5th and final day. We watched ;The Blind Boys of Alabama’ and a few others perform a gospel type show before The show with The Milk Carton Kids with their dry humour, super guitar playing and melodic tunes play alongside the Dunwells. Our last show was a Harmonica showcase where we were shown how to play the harmonica by a member of the band ‘D’harmo’. As well as
 some weird harmonica type instruments including what looked like a laser gun from ancient China.

It now feels a little unreal. Like when you come back from a good holiday – I feel a little tired but have memories good and bad from the last few days of madness. I wish I could tell you every little detail of what happened but there was just so much going on the blog entry would be about 10 pages long. There were lots of sculptures and a big robot just standing in a field. The early morning alarm was the sound of the shit sucking truck, emptying the contents of the portaloos at 8am combined with its sweet sickly shitty smell. I haven’t told you about the fireworks, the giant scrabble game or the great English style chips we had for lunch. There were so many interesting people to take photos of I couldn’t use my camera fast enough – unless they were collapsed onto an upturned chair, comatose from some form of excess! The costumes and the poles with various puppets, heads and toys attached to find your way back to your spot by the stage were great.

I have to be honest – I didn’t expect to enjoy it and there was an afternoon where I nearly left to come home, but I am glad I persevered. It was a great overall experience and the more I think back on the last few days the more I realise just how much I really enjoyed myself.

I’m glad it’s over as 5 days sitting the hot sun, drinking till dawn and getting little sleep takes it out of you (Even though I did manage a night at home). But I kind of miss having minging dirty feet and listening to the sounds of madness around the camp ground. Especially when a shout goes up from far away and its copied and passed along like a wave of right around the field. It’s a cool noise and I liked that a lot.

Watching Kite fly on Popes Hill

Close to the main stage

Crowds and their tarps

Kaki King again

Just a normal canadian
I’m not so sure I would enjoy huge festivals like Glastonbury with tents right on top of each other and music played too loud, but little old Winnipeg has something really unique and special in the Folk Festival. It’s been going on for 40 years this year and you can see why people come back time after time. It’s not small as an estimated 90,000 people attended the last few days. Maybe in a couple of years there will be 90,001 with a short arsed Gypsy from Manchester, sitting just in front of the stage, trying to stay in of the shade.  Stranger things have happened – but what goes on a Folk Fest, stays at Folk Fest.

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