Imagine, for a moment, a place where there is no social pretension, a place where the people around you are quick to smile, easy to talk to, and helpful, caring and compassionate.
In this place, is a relaxed multi-generational family where grandparents, parents, young adults, teenagers, children and infants are found, dancing amongst each other, where the sounds of laughter and joy whisper through the trees. There’s music here, and it’s folky, funky, jazzy and ultimately, danceable. Little girls wear wreaths of daisies and the boys are running and playing. The skies are big, wide and ever-changing with the phosphorescence of clouds. Adventures beckon like mysterious hands towards both young and old souls to explore the grounds, create rock bridges, discover fascinating creatures of the Manitoba wilderness, and anything else one can think of.
No it’s not a scene or setting from a novel or movie. While indeed rather utopian in nature and experience, it’s not a fantasy, but a dream come true with forty years of history. Welcome to the Winnipeg Folkfest. A draw for people across Canada and the United States, in 2013 it boasted more than 57,000 people coming through over the five day period. And after forty years of festivities, permament structures have been erected for the first time. An expanded food court offers space to even more vendors. A new symbol for Folkfest reaches towards the sky in a gentle twist. The energy of the crowds at main stage is infectious, fun, and above all, happy.
But Folkfest isn’t just what the festival itself is. The festival campground is a synergy of creative people in an multi-generational setting dedicated to a community that flowers once a year. Reminiscent of the creative efforts seen at much bigger festivals like Burning Man in Black Rock, Nevada or even Boom in Portugal, one can find an incredible array of creative diversity and novelty just in the festival campground. What that diversity exactly is can be, well, anything.
A big part of what Folkfest symbolizes and represents to many people, is that adventure, mystery and beauty, almost a sense of magic, to the festival campground.
One group that has been attending Folkfest for more than ten years and building the largest, most incredible structures are the Castle Boys crew. In 2012 they conjured a 20 foot tall Mayan temple in the middle of Birds Hill Park. This year they brought the whole farm, complete with haybales, a barn, henhouse and hired hand. They run socials in February to raise money for their endeavors. Their socials are so successful that they have had to turn people away at the door because they are at capacity.
Other creative endeavors at the campground include ginormous sized board games like Battleship, Scrabble and Connect Four. Little things are found hiding everywhere. The Flaming Trollys is a marching band that marches through the campground at intervals through out the weekend as well, often sporting attention grabbers at the helm.
Friday and Saturday evenings though are where things get visceral. People come out in costume, glowsticks and good vibes. It’s like watching a night-butterfly emerge from the cocoon of daytime, spreading wings of wonder that envelop the senses in a surreal trip into the fantastic. Anything goes in this Wonderland. Bring something crazy you never thought you’d wear, and people will tell you it looks amazing. Jam sessions run all night with the Castle Boys. Shapes emerge from the darkness, and it may be Spiderman, Hulk Hogan and they will be your friend if you ask them. Out here, the Milky Way is our ceiling, our bare feet tread the earth path, and for a night or two, it is a wander through a wonder of delights and impossibilities. And if you’re lucky, like we were in 2013, you may even see the celestial magic of northern lights pulsating with the breaths of the universe overhead.
The festival and it’s stages are a big part of the Folkfest show, an integral part of the community. But the high magic of the party lies behind the trees in the festival campground, where the nature spirits come out and play at night.