There is a community that exists beyond the Winnipeg Folk Festivals’s main site. Tucked away in the neighbouring groves, a sea of tent canopies emerge out of a clearing in the wood. The sound of guitar strumming and piano playing is heard, the earthy smell of barbeque smoke wafting from nearby campsites, and friendly campers beckoning patrons to take a seat at the grass table. This is the Festival Campground. There are two campgrounds run by the Winnipeg Folk Festival, one being the Festival Campground, housing 6000 campers, and the other being the Quiet Campground, home to 2000 campers during five day festival.
There is an unspoken social etiquette that exists amongst these campers that join annually to construct this peaceful temporary community. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is open to share. Everyone is taken care of by the collective community. It serves as an escape from reality, in addition to being an environment the fosters and encourages displays of creativity.
Camp sites display banners of personal art at their doorway, whether it be cardboard pop-outs of allegiance for Star War characters or the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. A grove of RV trailers are parked together at the back of the site, their own trailer grove, where individual personalities emerge with the display of RV art. A quick step into the wooded areas shows a dense network of woodland tent dwellers and suspended hammocks.
Larger pieces of infrastructure are also assembled by campers arriving at the campground – not because they were asked, but because they wanted to. Festival Communications Coordinator and camper, Kelly Romas reveals why she chooses to camp at the festival: “It’s magical how a community forms. [The campers] come. They set their tents up. They plan all year to build structure, to create art and animation… it just happens out of nowhere. We just provide the space facility and infrastructure.” Indeed, there is a working collaborative model between campers and Festival organizers. The Festival provides a blank campground canvas and the inhabitants join together to colour the site.
While the site is a mosaic of self-initiated Art initiatives, there are some traditional installations that return every year.
The Castle Boys assembled a Space Barn on site that is open to patrons open to having a jam sessions throughout the day. Evening programming showcases talents of fellow campers and a members are always welcome by walking through the open wall beams.
Popes Hill serves as a central evening meeting point for camp attendees. In fact, the Pope delivered an address there when he visited Birds Hill Provincial Park. Since the hill is still owned by the Catholic Church, the Winnipeg Folk Festival obtains permission to use the space every year and the hill remains an alcohol free zone. While the Hill is uninhabited in the day, it transforms into the evening into a blur of glowsticks illumination, the cacophony of drumming circles, open fire shows, and programmed events such as sing-alongs. The Popes Hill service continues well on into sunrise, fuelled by the energy of it congregation.
The Big Games exhibit is composed of large family game favourites such as Jenga, Scrabble, Guess Who, Backgammon, Connect Four, Battleship, Family Feud; ultimately, creating yet another avenue to interactive with your neighbours.
Free of the social confines and expectations of everyday life, the festival campground embodies the ideals of equality, peace, and transparency. It is a glimpse into a functioning, although temporary, unified society. I can see how campers beginning planning for next years’s Winnipeg Folk Festival camping experience as soon as this one ends, looking forward to the arrival of a community that will congregate once more.