One night at the Winnipeg Folk Festival: A Quest to see Todd Snider

Winnipeg Folk Festival
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
7 July 2012

Chris Hearn checks out the Winnipeg Folk Festival – although he’s only got one artist on his mind; Todd Snider.

We just moved back to Winnipeg, (You know the one in “One Great City” by the Weakerthans) just in time for the biggest music weekend in the province of Manitoba: The Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Ya, sure it’s called a folk festival, but a pretty broad range of artists end up at this impressive event. This is probably the best festival in Canada.

There are a few folk festivals (Calgary and Edmonton for example) that draw bigger artists and are a bit flashier. The Winnipeg Folk Festival, however, focuses on newer, lesser known talent which makes it a great place to discover new music along with the old.

Now, I wasn’t up for doing the entire folk festival weekend (which included Feist, Billy Bragg, Blitzen Trapper, and others), but there was one guy I wanted to see: Todd Snider.

So, despite being bleary eyed, stressed and a bit sick, I made my way to Bird’s Hill Provincial Park just outside the city to hang with the freaks, the hippies, the hipsters, the folkies, the farmers, the old, young, and in-betweens and the annoying girl who thought it would be cool to start hoola-hooping in front of me while Bahamas played (and I thought I was annoyed by the “Free Hugs” people!).

Anyway, the festival is just a nice, laid back, relaxing enjoyable place to be regardless of whom is performing, so it was great to be there. The Carolina Chocolate Drops were on stage as I made my way into the grounds after paying 86 bucks at the gate!! Their old-time blues, country, soul, gospel sound was pretty cool and the crowd seemed to be right into them though I missed the vast majority of their set. I found a spot on the grass and got ready to enjoy Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, up next.

Oh man, this Bradley guy has got soul coming out his ears! It was like being back in the 60’s or 70’s, an Al Green style showman filled with a whole lot of love, soul and emotions! He won over the crowd with his passionate singing and his dance moves (which included plenty of pelvic grinding for a man well into his 60’s).

Next up, Todd Snider, the man I drove out there to see. I am not ashamed to tell you just how much I love Todd Snider. I’ve been able to see him a couple of times now, but this was the first where he had a band with him. By band, I mean a drummer and a bassist: just a small band. It’s also the first time I’d seen him play electric guitar.

Now, Todd Snider is the ultimate hippy, folk, country singer ”“songwriter dude, well known for his hilarious, rambling stories that sometimes make up the bulk of his shows. I was looking forward to some good story telling. It never happened! What was the deal, Todd?

Fortunately, his songs are great stories in themselves. Second song in was “Conservative Christian, Right Wing Republican” , a personal favourite which gave me a chance to sing, though no one else around me was.

What I like about Todd Snider is that he sings about the underdogs of the world. In many ways, he was the voice of the occupy movement before the occupy movement, but somehow didn’t become the actual voice of the occupy movement. He’s got a whole bunch of songs about the poor, downtrodden, bullied, misunderstood, the good lefties and the bad right-wingers, the corporate giants screwing the little guy, the disenfranchised employees who feel like just a number, and the odd celebrity criminal (D. B. Cooper).

So, he did his set, and despite no rambling stories, it was pretty darn good, from a very biased perspective. I took a ton of pictures, and his eyes were closed in every one of them because he was on stage right as the sun was sinking, blinding the poor guy and his friends.

Next up was a set of complete and total blandness by The Head and the Heart which was one of those bands where they try to stick as many quirky looking people on stage to play boring, dull music”¦very well. They were talented, no doubt. But they were dull.

By now, the whole festival grounds smelled like a giant grow-op had caught on fire, so I don’t think it mattered what was on stage, as long as the food booths were open.

Fortunately, the amazing Bahamas (Afie Jurvanen) filled in with a couple of well-crafted classic style pop songs and a pair of back-up singers during the stage change (in betweener) and saved things. Man, he’s good. Why have I still not picked up his albums? (Note to self: Buy Bahamas CDs).

Final band of the night was DeVotchKa, who were very impressive, good to listen to, had great songs, and disguised the fact that they were from Denver, Colorado by playing Balkan, Spanish, Tex-Mex, gypsy and every other style of music that is not synonymous with Denver. Plus, they had a tuba.

Unfortunately, they were on right about when I was ready to head home. Had I known it would take me an hour or so to find my car after forgetting where I left it, I’d have stayed for their whole set and left after everyone was gone and only my car remained. Oh well, there’s always next year, right?

All words and image by Chris Hearn. You can read more from Chris on LTW here.

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Deep in the heart of Canada, on the north shore of frigid Lake Superior, is a town called Thunder Bay. That\'s where I am from. That\'s where I started to write. And that is where I started to discover music. Now, I\'m a married man with two boys. I still love music. I still go to shows. And I still visit Thunder Bay, even though I haven\'t lived there for many years. What will you find on my iPod? You\'ll find lot of Americana, classic country, heavy stuff, punk and plenty of “guilty pleasures”.


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