Review: Winterfest 2017

With the long weekend of February just completed we are now officially past the halfway mark to lounging on tarps on a ski hill, while listening to world-class musicians. Winterfest now in its 9th year hosted by the Uptown Folk Club, marks this shift like a solstice to its summer counterpart. The event lasted for five hours on Friday, and many more than that on Saturday. If you need a pick-me up from the February blahs mark Winterfest on your calendar for next year (its always on the long weekend in February) and be prepared to be overloaded with all folk music, all the time.

Any good folkie will tell you that each stage at folk fest has its own feel dependent upon size, location and, of course, the musicians on stage. Some years it is as if the stars have aligned and every workshop I want to see happens on the same stage and I spend more time camped out on my little blanket than back at the tarp that I pegged on the Hill. Winterfest at the Uptown Folk Club is like that magical stage at folk fest, once you’ve got your spot sorted out you can just remain there and soak in all the wonderful music. Just like folk fest there are quick stage changes managed by a crack team of sound techs, and on Saturday afternoon there were two workshop sessions, one on songwriting and one for instrumentals that dissolved into the amazing jam sessions Canadian folk fests are known for.

Winterfest boasted everything from bluegrass to Beethoven and even some pyrotechnics, both literal and musical. Friday night kicked off with “Legion” of Folk showcasing the talents of many of the Uptown Folk Club volunteers who would spend the rest of the weekend devoted to manning the audio-visual equipment. These performers turned volunteers linked their songs back to inspiration gathered at previous Winterfests and shared part of their own musical journeys. In a similar vein “Legion” of Folk was followed up by the local Family Folk featuring Chris and Matt Gosse with their father Steve. Literal pyrotechnics ended Shane Chisholm’s set on his gas tank bass, when the salvaged-Chevy-van-part-turned-musical-instrument met his musical metal grinder. Rounding out Friday evening were performances full of musical pyrotechnics by American’s Molly Tuttle and Bluegrass Etc. their hands were a constant blur, and both Tuttle and Bluegrass Etc. were called back to the stage for encores.

Saturday started out with workshops before Edmonton’s Lara Yule Singh took to the stage sharing a number of fairy-tale inspired tunes. Performances by Rick Garvin and Chris Ronald both hailing (now) from the West coast bookend a brief supper break. Garvin drew song inspiration from family history in “A Hundred Dead Buffalo“. Ronald took us back to his beginnings as a singer-songwriter re-living one of the two songs his music teacher at school had him play to accompany the choir with “Streets of London“. The Great Plains (Saskia and Darrel) had borrowed instruments from the two Steves (Gosse and Spurgin) and started their set out with a borrowed tune too, having everyone singing along and miming the explosive snare drum in “The Boxer“.

One of the best things about live music is hearing the stories that accompany the songs, gaining some insight into the performer’s song writing process. Over the weekend Tuttle described struggling with wanting to make something perfect, and how sometimes it was “Good Enough“. While with “The Busker” Ronald explained that the opposite is also true and that at times songs appear in nearly complete form in your head. Steve Spurgin with Bluegrass Etc. noted that songwriters can become associated with songs not written by them such as was his experience with “Moonlight Motor Inn” (actually written by John Malcolm Penn) and “Walk in the Irish Rain” (written by Spurgin and NOT a traditional Irish folk song).

Winterfest was a great mix of local and imported music, and perfectly timed to cancel out the despair of a long winter with no summer music festivals on the horizon. The Uptown Folk Club continues its season mixing local and other performers with an open stage on March 17th and a concert featuring the Lonesome Ace String Band on April 7th, please see their website for information on tickets. If you were wondering where Beethoven came into this mix this weekend — listen out for to the “German folk song” in Bluegrass Etc.’s “Dueling” about 7 minutes and 20 seconds in.

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