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Thanks for the Good Times Mariposa Folk Festival

As the sun sets on the Mariposa Folk Festival, I wonder where the three days have gone. Just the other day I was setting up camp with Twila next to grassy patch near a baseball diamond in Tudhope Park. I knew the festival culture was upon us when I could hear the quiet strumming of a few acoustic guitars at the campsite. A baby on a tarp playing with an array of plastic toys as his mother arranged the coolers and a metallic thud came from his father hammering in the tent pegs to secure their family sized tent. This site would be our temporary home for the weekend.

Lining up at the festival gate to get into the grounds for Mainstage, the sensation that was immediately prevalent was this sense of calm.

“What is going on?!” Twila asks me in disbelief.

There was no frenzied 7 AM color lottery to set up a tarp, no snaking lines out into the parking lot, just smiles from the festival volunteers and courteous patrons. A mini utopia created for a few days with great music, friendly people, sunshine, and a festival site bordered by the lake. There were also many activities for families with children. It was lovely to see children running around in their barefeet with woven wreaths in their hair, wading into the shallow waters of the lake to cool off, and and peeling off corkscrew segments of a Tornado Potato.

I felt calm in this idyllic atmosphere. I would often set up my chair under the shaded canopy of trees to work on my iPad while enjoying the breeze from the lake and the musical tinkering from children at the musical petting zoo. Every volunteer I met was so friendly, whether they were helping to sort through my compostable trash or find me areas with charging stations for my electronics. It felt like I could do no wrong as a guest. Not once was I told to vacate an area I shouldn’t be in or have my ID and bag checked at security. I was even allowed in the backstage performer area to work on my laptop because I was sporting a golden ticket wristband. It gives me a glimpse into a classless society and how it works when its community is united in this vision. All the staff, volunteers, vendors, artists, audience members – they’re all working together to produce something greater than themselves: a safe haven for music and people. Mitch Podoluk mentioned that Mariposa is his hometown festival and I can see why.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised at how quickly Twila and I were accepted into this community. All we brought with us on our 2.5 day commute was an open mind and memories of how other folk festivals function. My folk festival crowd survival instinct was subdued and attending Mariposa felt more like a vacation than anything else. There is a chill energy that comes from rolling out of a tent, successfully washing ones hair from a water bottle, grabbing a breakfast frittata from a foodtruck, and sauntering over to a workshop stage by 11 AM. I’m glad Mariposa has been able to return home to Orillia after being hosted at other locations throughout Ontario. Orillia has something really special and I’m glad I got to be a part of its world for the past few days.


Ukulele’s Unite!

Yesterday I built a ukulele. True story, I rose up from our tent in the social acoustic camping and built a uke. Well technically first thing I headed for a coffee. But second, I visited the folks a Wolfelele to discover the secrets of the luthier, and build my first ukulele.

There were many options to choose from: trilele, soprano, alto, tenor, or baritone. But I chose the soprano, small enough to be extremely portable but large enough to have four strings to strum for all my imagined car sing-a-long sessions (Winnipeg may seem like a longer drive for Sable than me).

Wolfelele visits many schools, teachers conventions and festivals; and they assured me that anyone can build and play a ukulele. So once you’ve selected the size of ukulele you want to build and purchased the kit they take you through the process step-by-step. By the end of it you will have glued enough pieces of wood together to satisfy even the most enthusiastically crafty of individuals. You also learn the importance of patience and precision.

The kit comes with pre-fab parts: front, back, three sides, neck, fret board, bridge, pegs and strings; and tiny laser cut guide marks. Working methodically you join the neck and front piece; then add the walls of the body to each other and then to the front. The back is then fastened to the rest and clamped gently to maintain constant but moderate pressure on the glue seams. By now you have a contraption that is beginning to resemble a recognizable instrument. Adding the bridge and fret board with screws (make sure the screw goes in straight and doesn’t twist sideways) the final step is to attach the 4 tuning pegs, with 2 microscopically tiny screws each. Each step requires the builder to apply the glue carefully and evenly followed by holding the joins together. Leaving lots of time to chat with those around. The whole process is clearly addictive, and the passion that the Wolfelele crew has for the instrument was obviously present as they rummaged through the boxes of supplies trading pun after pun about strings and frets.

About two hours later I had a nearly finished ukulele, tomorrow it’ll be strung (you don’t want to put too much tension on the instrument before the glue is completely set and dry), and when we get back to a Edmonton I will apply a couple of coats of varathane (sanding in between) to complete the finish.

I am now the proud owner of a beautiful instrument, I hope I can coax some equally beautiful tunes out of it in due course.

Winnipeg Folk Festival Camping

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.