A Great Groovy Gathering!

It happened again this month.

A cheerful crowd settles in for another evening of great music at the Winnipeg Folk Fest.

In fact, it happened again for the 46th year in a row: The totally amazing Winnipeg Folk Festival!

Betty & I had heard good things about the Winnipeg Folk Festival (WFF) before moving from Calgary in 1987. We had always intended to go, but never quite got around to it for the first 25 years, despite living a few doors down from the festival’s artistic director.  Block parties at his home were always a treat – with a wide range of musical instruments and styles coming out to join the fun, food and frolic.

One of seven well attended daytime stages at the WFF.

So about six years ago we finally got around to it, and immediately wondered how we could have missed so many great years of this groovy experience. We were hooked and mesmerized right away by the amazing idyllic world created in Bird’s Hill Park for four days each year.

Here are just a few observations:

Our angel granddaughter checks out an artistic pair of wings at the WFF.

The Vibe:  The festival attracts a huge crowd, from the very old in wheelchairs and walkers, to very young newborns cradled in their parent’s arms. Every race, colour, creed, and sexual orientation is represented, with the common sense of respect, love, peace and harmony everywhere. WOW! Somehow, once attendees enter the park, they immediately become mellow. There is no fighting, yelling, swearing, or other form of bitterness. Somehow people get along with each other for a few days. Yeah!

John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful entertains a mainly older crowd at a daytime stage.

The Organization:  After 46 years, the festival organizers have learned a few things about what works, and what doesn’t, in creating this special vibe. About 2,800 volunteers each year – many of whom have faithfully volunteered for 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years – attend to every possible detail, from parking to check-in to stage set-up and take down, to people conducting guest surveys, to garbage removal and so much more.

A younger crowd chased bubbles around the park, while dancing barefoot under sunny skies.

Garbage: Back in the day when Woodstock birthed rock festivals everywhere, garbage was a prominent by-product, both during and after the event. (BTW, the above-pictured John Sebastian actually played at the original Woodstock!) But despite many thousands of attendees at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, you’d be hard-pressed to find any litter on the ground. Volunteers attend to recycling bins around the park, and any leftovers from the many food kiosks are dutifully directed to the correct recycling bins. Water spigots dot the park, with participants encouraged to bring and use refillable bottles for free clean water.

The physical structure:  Seven daytime stages provide a wide range of musical options, with folks congregating in front of the main stage for evening

Betty & her friend, Laurie, relax at our day tent on the edge of the main stage site.

entertainment. Often much of the anxiety and frustration at concerts without assigned seating occurs when you settle in, only to have someone stand or sit in a tall chair in front of you, blocking your view of the performances. The WFF has developed a number of respected traditions to address this issue. A tarp walk is organized each day, allowing those who want to sit on tarps front and centre to select their spot in a planned process. Those itching to dance to the music are encouraged to do so on one side, where they can move to the groove without disturbing others. The wheelchair section is on the opposite side, with seating areas for those in short chairs, and other areas for

On another day, granddaughters Georgia & Isabella joined us at our day tent in the welcome shade of the bordering trees.

those in tall chairs. Day tents and hammocks border the woods that surround the venue, and a large children’s area is well occupied by family groups, with bathrooms and room to run at the back of the site. It seems there are people constantly on the move between stage areas, but it all occurs fluidly and respectfully, with no bumping, pushing and shoving along the way. Wow, what a beautiful experience!

Toubab Krewe of North Carolina bring some West African Fusion to the stage as Lousiana’s Rebirth Brass Band looks on.

The Music:  Of course, the main event is the music.  While past headliners have included Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Cockburn, and the Barenaked Ladies – to name but a few, some of the best music comes from what are called “workshops” during the day. The organizers apparently pick disparate groups of musicians and

The Rebirth Brass Band adds some funk to a session entitled “Southern Fried Vibes”.

put them on the stage at the same time to entertain and challenge each other. Ideally the session ends in a jam, with a group from Los Angeles making sweet music with another from Nunavut, and another from the Netherlands.  Usually these musicians have never before met, but they end up united in a shared evocative & magical musical experience.

Alabama’s Steel City Jug Slammers round out the group of 16 musicians who ended up making beautiful music together.

Obviously volumes could be written about this event and its music, but I would like to end with an observation from this year:

I arrived at a daytime stage just as one group was finishing. In short order the volunteer sound staff removed their equipment and set up for the next performance, which included three groups totalling 16 musicians playing 16 different kinds of musical instruments. Each group also had vocals, so the sound crew needed to mike everything and everyone so that the voices and instruments could be heard without interference at the correct volume. What an amazingly professional job they did in a very brief turn-around period, with the audience and all musicians able to enjoy the experience without annoying feedback or other sound distortions. This was repeated over and over again at every stage and on the main stage, with many musicians noting how well they were treated at this special event.

The 46th Winnipeg Folk Festival is now over, but Betty & I are already planning our schedule for 2020, so that the 47th is another we hope not to miss.


Tarps, flip flops, and dragonflies: Betty captures some key Folk Fest ingredients. (Tarps mark your spot,  flip flops connote summer, and dragonflies keep the site clear of mosquitos, so chemicals are not necessary.)

Some Thoughts on the Development of Truth and Use of Knowledge in the 21st Century

For some reason, my Time Machine has not been backing up my MacBook for the past couple of weeks. As I watch and wait for a back-up to complete, I am contemplating the questions of truth and fake news. They may or may not be pertinent to a travel blog, but here are my basic thoughts:

Back in the day before the written word, there was an oral tradition whereby information was passed on by tribal elders to subsequent generations. This was their truth, whether or not they were told the world was flat, or the tribe next door was evil and they were good.

For many centuries, recording and passing on the written word was a laborious task. Only a few had access to parchments, and most people remained illiterate.  Then the Gutenberg printing press was invented, and the written word was more easily copied and shared.

But over time, the gatekeepers of this information were publishers and editors who became a wealthy elite, deciding which information was valuable, true, and worthy of reproduction. Many more people could write, but few would be published. Their stories mattered, or maybe they didn’t. Only the wealthy publishers would decide.

Similarly, many could afford a guitar or other musical instrument, but only the elite record company executives would choose whose music was valuable and worthy of reproduction on vinyl record albums, and then played on radio stations. Were the musicians talented or not? Only the wealthy record executives would control broad public access.

In the 20thcentury, cameras became more available, and an increasing number of people were able to purchase them to record their activities. They then either developed the film in a dark room, or sent it away for processing. But only the elite were able to determine what was valuable and worthy of reproduction in television programs. The television executives were the gatekeepers of what stories could be shared in an increasingly popular medium.

Then came the digital revolution!

In the 21stcentury, there is a significantly higher level of literacy, with many people around the world knowing how to read and write at least one language. Computers like this one allow almost anyone to share their thoughts (for better or worse, lol). Self-published books are now a thing. Musicians are able to record and publicly share their own songs, and private videographers are able to produce reasonably high-quality videos and movies. It seems almost everyone has a smartphone, able to capture and share images instantaneously around the world. There are still gatekeepers at Google, YouTube, and Facebook, among others (with some arguing that more gatekeeping should occur to reduce the nefarious spread of racism and hate speech), but it has become much easier for individuals to share their perspectives with their friends, and anyone on Earth with an Internet connection.

And that is the current rub:

When predominantly white, privileged elite decided what was true, and what knowledge was worthy of sharing, the world was almost forced to accept their perspective. I think back to school projects and the textbooks and Encyclopedia Britannica referenced. If those texts stated the information as facts, then it must be true! In most cases, encyclopedias provided the last word on truth, without question.

The 1852 gate of Upper Fort Garry in Winnipeg, Manitoba, saved to commemorate the European presence in central Canada.

There are now countless examples of how perspective matters. When I was growing up, I learned that Louis Riel was executed as a traitor to Canada. Now that we live in Manitoba, I have learned that he was a respected Metis leader and father of our province, with statues and celebrations of “Riel Day” accepted and honoured by all who love Manitoba.

A plaque at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I remember taking for granted that residential schools were the best options for aboriginal children, facilitating their assimilation into Canadian society. How could they survive and thrive if they didn’t know the correct language and customs?  Of course, our dominant language and customs were the only correct and permissible, so all others needed to be repressed or forgotten. We now consider that a cultural genocide.

A plaque to Louis Riel, provisional government leader, at Upper Fort Garry.

In Betty & my travels across Canada and the United States, we have come to see and appreciate the different perspectives of communities, provinces, and states visited. One of my biggest concerns is that certain elites are still attempting to control the message received by various publics through narrowly-focussed television broadcasts, radio, newspaper, and on-line content that limits informed dialogue and enhances polarization among societal groups.

The digital revolution has facilitated a democratization of accessible information that was heretofore impossible. It has given voice to the voiceless, and brought alternate musical and visual cultural expressions to the forefront.

But this explosion in diversity has also created a great deal of confusion.

If what we took for granted as truth growing up is either no longer true, or just our perspective – what is truth, and what is fake news? How do we sift through the many huge mountains of accessible information that have come to light as a result of the digital revolution? I won’t get into Wikileaks or American election results here. These issues are way too big to easily resolve.

In the overall scheme of things, we are still at the dawn of this digital revolution. It is premature to know what the outcomes will be. But our best hope might be to not immediately dismiss other opinions outright, but to use current technology to dig deeper in order to separate fact from fiction.

My Time Machine back-up is now complete, so I’ll end with a perspective heard from the pulpit this past Sunday:  13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other…  22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”   NIV Bible translation of Galatians 5: 13 – 15, 22,23.

Peace & Cheers!