Driving out of the parking lot at Birds Hill Park last night, after listening to Bruce Cockburn end off another perfect day, I listened to this song on my new Fruit cd, and I thought, yes, this is the place where I find peace. (You can hear the song on their site – it’s worth it.)

Twenty years of attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and it is indeed a place of peace for me. It is also a place where I find inspiration, contentment, fullness, refreshment, and so many, many other good things. It’s like filling the soul with a tall glass of cool spring water after a marathon run on a hot day. It’s like that first stroke of brilliance after a long writer’s block. It’s like candy after Lent.

Some people marvel at my long-time dedication to this festival, and it’s hard to describe what it does deep in my soul to be at this place, but it is a place and time like no other. It is my Mecca, my pilgrimage, my centre of the labyrinth. Sound too spiritual and perhaps a little sacrilegious? Well, in the words of one of my co-workers who just discovered Folk Fest for the first time this year “this is what heaven is supposed to be like – people are so friendly, there’s an air of peace and contentment and trust. I have never experienced anything like it before.” I believe that there is a little piece of God at the Folk Festival.

As I bask in the glow of another glorious weekend, let me attempt to capture the things I love about the Folk Festival.

1. The spirit of the place. You know how people on vacation are almost always more friendly than when they’re on their way to work? Well, picture a crowd of thousands – all of them on a mini-vacation – feelin’ the groove, soaking in the sun (or the rain – even when it’s pouring, people have a good time), and listening to good tunes. I normally hate crowds, but these crowds are just so different. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere there – it’s just a little bit of magic.

2. Community. Complete strangers support each other at this place. I have a high level of trust that if one of my children would go missing, for example, there would be someone there to protect her. One year (before kids), when I got separated from my brother and sister (who I’d come with) and couldn’t find them, I ended up spending the whole evening hanging out with a group of friendly guys from Toronto. They were gracious and funny, and at the end of the night, they helped me find my ride.

3. Colour. It is such a colourful, delightful place to spend a few hours (or days) people-watching. Even people who wear drab business suits in their “real” lives, show up in tie-dyed sarongs and other colourful costumes. There’s something about this place that brings out the inner-hippie in all of us, and it makes for a fun spectrum of colour.

4. Music. Of COURSE there’s the music. The Winnipeg Folk Fest has a solid reputation in the world of folk (and other) music, so they draw exceptional talent from all over the world. Each year, I discover a few new favourites, and revive a few old ones. This year, some of my new faves are Fruit, Jeremy Fisher, Oh Susanna, Ruthie Foster, Chad VanGaalen, Crooked Still, and Dan Frechette. Some old favourites – The Wailin’ Jennys (though I was a little disappointed I didn’t hear any new stuff), Richard Thompson, James Keelaghan, and of course, the always amazing Bruce Cockburn. In fact, I think Bruce Cockburn is one of the reasons I fell in love with folk music. He performed at one of my first Folk Fests nearly twenty years ago, and I discovered early on that he has a way of stringing words together that makes my poetic heart go pitter-pat.

5. Trust. It may sound corny, but there’s an element of safety and trust at the Folk Fest. We usually set up our tarp in the morning, abandon most of our belongings for the day as we wander around to the different workshops, and in twenty years, we have NEVER had anything go missing from the tarp. It’s quite remarkable.

6. Magical moments. Each year, I have at least one (and usually several) magical moment that feels like absolute perfection. The kind of moment when your heart feels so full of goodness and beauty you practically burst. This year there were a few. There was the moment I wandered the edge of the labyrinth just as the sun was setting behind a cloud and the drumbeat of African music drifted across from the Firefly Palace. There was the moment I sat at the edge of the family area eating a picnic with my daughters and watching Maddie dart back and forth between her sandwich and the hoola hoops and other delightful things to play with. There was the moment I sat alone and wrapped myself in the richness of the voices and guitar pickin’ of Ruthie, Bruce, and Richard. There was the moment I sat and watched my sister nurse baby Abigail and I was filled with memories of years past when I nursed my own babies there.

7. Food and other fun things to buy. The Folk Fest draws out some of the best international food there is to be had in Winnipeg. There’s Thai food, Indian food, groovy vegan food, Greek food, whale’s tales, homemade lemonade, kettle corn – ummm… a foodie’s delight. I have to pick carefully, because I could spend a fortune in food alone. There’s also an amazing Handmade Village where you can buy pottery, djembe drums, funky jewellery, tie-dyed sarongs, hemp clothing, purses made from old seatbelts – you name it. My only purchase in this economically tight year was a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes. But of course, it’s no ORDINARY hat – it’s colourful, funky, and handmade. (If you visit Nikki’s blog, you’ll find out what she and her sister bought.)

8. Inspiration. I think most people (at least people who have any drops of artistic blood in their veins) feel inspired to create when they see or hear great art. When I sit at the Folk Festival, I want to write poetry. I want to craft ballads. I want to fingerpaint. I want to throw splashes of colour at the walls. Even if it’s lain dormant for awhile, I feel creativity pulsing up through my veins.

9. Nature. The Folk Fest is in a beautiful setting, with lots of mature trees, flowing prairie grass, gentle rolling hills, and wildflowers sprinkled around the edges. You can’t help but feel close to the Creator when you sit in a place like that, listening to and seeing the wonders of his creation and of all that people have been created to create.

10. Family. My children have all grown up going to the Folk Fest. They absolutely love it – almost as much as I do. They’ve learned to appreciate good music through their exposure there and they’ve also experienced what gracious community can be like. Children are valued there. They not only have amazing children’s entertainment, but they have so much for kids to do – face painting, crafts, hoola hoops and big balls, stilts, juggling, a reading tent, etc., etc.

I could probably write a longer list, but I think that’s enough for now. (Plus I don’t want to bore you or make you insanely jealous.) Have I convinced you yet? Next year, we could plan a bloggers’ meet-up at the Folk Fest! I’ll reserve a tarp for you.

Sorry, Michele, for going on and on about something you had to miss this year. But think of it as a prelude to next year.

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