By Martin C. Winer, www.martincwiner.com – Reprinted from Folkprints Magazine, Spring / Summer Edition, 2010 – Photos by Madelon Cooper
Record crowds attended the eight annual Winterfolk Roots and Blues festival held in downtown Toronto, over the weekend of February 12-15, 2010. Most of the venues were at, or over capacity. Similar to a summer park festival, schedule-toting attendee’s strolled from stage to stage to see their favorite artists. When Winterfolk joined the OCFF in 2003, folk festivals were customarily rural events, staged in parks scattered throughout Southern Ontario. When campgrounds fell silent, so too did much of Ontario’s folk music.
Brian Gladstone founded Winterfolk determined not to let Canada’s climate restrict the artform. Winterfolk was conceived to break the mold of a traditional folk festival and bring the music to the people in the city, in the depth of winter. In recent years, Winterfolk has been able to waive admission fees, and provide paid work for its artists. While the task sounds daunting, even more remarkable is that Winterfolk has now delivered its eighth successful run, fueled by a small army of 75 volunteers, all without salaried employees, with fundraising activities year round. “Our ability to survive and grow”, mentions Gladstone “is because we provided a win – win – win – win scenario.” The four wins that continue to bring Winterfolk perennial success are wins for the artists, commerce, community and the artform.
Of the over 100 artists at Winterfolk this year, about 80 were selected by an Artistic Director Committee. As with most festivals, once the AD committee determines the programming themes, it has a good idea which artists to hire. Winterfolk’s focus is on Southern Ontario talent, especially artists creating a ‘buzz’ and getting their name out there, but artists from across Canada are included.Seeking out emerging talent ‘under the radar’ of the AD committee, Winterfolk held six satellite pre-festival open auditions in several Ontario cities, for which twelve artists were selected. Some of the artists selected though the audition process were Swamp Ward Orchestra, Marc Charron, Rick Taylor, Reverend Max Woolaver, Rosemary Phelan with Jason Laprade, Amy Campbell, Phillip Brown, and more. An additional ten artists were selected from EPK and press kit submissions. “In order for any festival to be successful, money must change hands.” Gladstone accepts this reality while managing to keep the grass roots feel essential to its success. “Parking meters, bank machines, restaurants, and the venues all benefit from the thousands of people we bring into the neighbourhood.” The commerce win is significant at a typically slow time of year for the local merchants, in that it satisfies the bottom line that is required to keep festivals going without giving the festival a corporate 'odour' that clashes with Roots and Blues music. “A strong sense of community involvement is vital to the success, growth, and longevity of an urban festival. Winterfolk reaches out and engages the community,” says Gladstone. Winterfolk works with various music organizations to offer them stages at Winterfolk to increase their public visibility and membership, and overall build a stronger roots community. In exchange, Winterfolk gets top notch showcasing stages.
Of special note, are the workshops conceived and delivered by the artists themselves. The workshops included The Harmony Workshop, The Davids' (Leask, Gillis and Newland) Roots and Blues music is a dynamic artform that is best viewed live. Before Winterfolk, folk music was presented at a few scattered clubs or remote campgrounds, rarely in the city in concentration, and rarely in the winter. Winterfolk brings the music within reach of the people and brings home audiences to the artists. Paid work in the neighbourhood is always good for the artists. Accomplishing what once seemed impossible, Winterfolk VIII entertained and excited audiences with acoustic soulful music warming all in attendance spiritually and physically in the otherwise 'blah' and frigid month of February. Winterfolk has truly conceived a fresh template to carry on the roots tradition in harmony with the climate and culture of Canada.