Native North America: Winnipeg Folk Fest brings Grammy-nominated box set to life

This is the final post in a three-part series leading up to Native North America: A Selection of Musical Trailblazers on Stage at Winnipeg Folk Fest. The showcase will take place on the Bur Oak Stage at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 9.

With artists like Ryan Adams, The Head and The Heart and Coeur de pirate, this year’s Winnipeg Folk Festival lineup is as stacked and sublime as Manitoba music fans have come to expect. But what takes the 2016 edition to the next level is an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime workshop that folkies won’t soon forget. NNA_CD

On July 9, Native North America: A Selection of Musical Trailblazers on Stage will showcase a handful of artists whose music – and in some cases, careers – were revived by the 2014 release of Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985. Compiled and curated by Vancouver-based DJ Kevin Howes, the Grammy-nominated box set features 34 remastered tracks by a lost generation of indigenous musicians who were overlooked in the prime of their careers.

Featuring Willie Thrasher, Willy Mitchell, Eric Landry and Duke Redbird, the Folk Fest workshop will be the first time more than two artists from the NNA V1 compilation appear on stage together. The 75-minute set will also feature a special appearance from Shingoose and tunes from local up-and-comer William Prince.

We recently chatted with Chris Frayer, artistic director of Winnipeg Folk Fest. Here’s what he had to say about the upcoming workshop.

How did the partnership between Winnipeg Folk Fest and Native North America come about?

Back when we had our music store, we actually brought the box set in and a bunch of us here really enjoyed listening to it and we sold a lot out of the store. Kevin (Howes) and I have a few mutual friends, and he got in contact right around the time we were selling the box set out of the store and we talked about trying to do something special this year.

We have a long-standing songwriter tradition at the festival, and it just kind of fit right into our wheelhouse. If Folk Fest wasn’t gonna do it, who was gonna do it?

What was your first impression of the Native North America compilation?

A lot of the artists on the box set were actually new to me, but it definitely appealed to the audiophile in me. I’m a huge music fan, and I only collect vinyl, so I loved the idea that this music fan had gone out and found all these rare recordings. And for me, I like how unfinished some of the recordings sound. I just love some of the garage-rock and psychedelic stuff on it.

Chris Frayer, artistic director of Winnipeg Folk Fest

Chris Frayer, artistic director of Winnipeg Folk Fest

And also, I love the booklet that it comes with, I love the pictures of the bands and the artists. I think it was just kind of the whole package that appealed to me.

According to Kevin Howes, he pitched the idea of a Native North America showcase to other festivals, but WFF was the only one interested. What attracted you to the project?

It was just the perfect time. It was near the end of the booking cycle (for Winnipeg Folk Fest), and I felt if we didn’t do it this year we might not get the chance. With the age of the performers and also the fact that they were just coming off the Grammy nomination, the timing just seemed right.

I also think it has a lot to do with Winnipeg. I don’t want to put too much social value on the project, because at the end of the day it’s about the music, but we live in a city with a very large urban-aboriginal community and we want to embrace that. We’ve got the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, we’ve got The Forks, and we really want to contribute to a higher consciousness of truth and reconciliation and healing in the community. I feel if we can’t do that, then how will we ever live in a truly great city? Not to get too heavy, but there’s definitely that commitment to bringing people together – and music is a great way to do that.

If the success of this compilation proves one thing, it’s that music doesn’t have to be contemporary to be relevant. What makes a reissue like this so timeless?

Artistically, the songwriting is really strong on it. I think it deserves the attention it’s getting on its own merit, not just because it’s Aboriginal and historic. Just from a music perspective, everything else aside, it’s truly great.

Kevin Howes said his goal for Native North America is to “bridge generations, cultures and eras of technology.” What’s the overall goal of the workshop?

Eric Landry is among the handful of trailblazers who will perform at Winnipeg Folk Fest on July 9

Eric Landry is among the handful of trailblazers who will perform at Winnipeg Folk Fest on July 9

We’re always looking for ways to engage the aboriginal community, and I think that’s what got me most excited about doing this. I think it’s so important for non-aboriginal people to see people in the aboriginal community being vibrant and healthy and contributing meaningful, high-quality artistic content. This will be a wonderful way for people to see and experience that.

What can folkies expect at the show July 9?

We’re gonna hear the artists play songs off the box set, we’re gonna hear some storytelling, we’re gonna hear some great poetry from Duke Redbird. It’ll be people’s first introduction to a lot of this, and I think they’re gonna hear some really great, inspiring songwriting. And because the guys are performing at just this workshop, it really is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them.

The other thing people will get is some songs from William Prince, a young singer/songwriter from Manitoba. Hopefully by adding that contemporary aspect, it won’t leave this all in the past. In a way, what we’re doing is bringing this box set to life, and I think people will really appreciate it.

Read Part 1 of our Native North America series here, and Part 2 here

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