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Winnipeg Folk Festival, In Its 45th Year, Honored for Cutting-Edge Environmental Practices

Winnipeg Folk Festival
Travis Ross

Young Americans perform at the 2016 Winnipeg Folk Festival.

"We’ve really worked hard to encourage our audience to treat the land that we’re on with great respect," festival's executive director says at International Folk Music Awards.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival, now in its 45th year, was honored for its state-of-the-art environmental awareness and sustainability practices Wednesday at the International Folk Music Awards in Kansas City.   

An anchor of the international folk festival circuit since 1974, the Winnipeg Folk Festival received the Clearwater Award, which was first presented last year to -- and named for -- the Clearwater Festival, established in New York by the late folk musician and activist Pete Seeger.

The recognition came during an awards show held at Kansas City’s historic Folly Theater and hosted by blues artist Ruthie Foster, a three-time Grammy nominee. The awards opened the 30th anniversary conference of the Folk Alliance International, the world’s largest gathering of the folk music community and industry.

In top categories, Rhiannon GiddensFreedom Highway was named album of the year, Molly Tuttle’s “You Didn’t Call My Name” earned the song of the year award and Ordinary Elephant -- the husband and wife duo Crystal and Pete Damore -- received the artist of the year award.

Bonnie Raitt received the second annual People’s Voice Awards in recognition of her longstanding commitment to environmentalism and “to issues of social justice and human rights, as well as royalty reform and music education,” the Folk Alliance announced.

”To those young artists out there, keep writing those great lyrics, go deep. We’ve never needed your activism more,” said Raitt in accepting the award from guest presenter John Oates.

Two veteran folk acts and one record label were honored with the Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor went to Peter, Paul and Mary, (posthumously to Mary Travers), to the late Richie Havens and to Elektra Records, known for signing numerous folk artists in the 1960s under its then-president Jac Holzman. Havens’ award was presented by the legendary Kingston Trio.

The Spirit of Folk Awards were presented to honor individuals and organizations actively involved in the promotion and preservation of folk music. This year’s honorees included musicians Kristian Blak, Martyn Joseph and Anaïs Mitchell; musician and folk radio DJ Richard Gillman; and Betse Siggins, founder of Folk New England.

The Clearwater Award was inaugurated at the International Folk Music Awards in 2017 and presented to its namesake festival, founded by Pete Seeger in 1966, to raise funds for the environmental work of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. The Clearwater Festival’s roots “are based in the environmental movement and the event strives towards zero festival waste, most recently diverting 12 tons of recycling and compost from landfill, totaling 80% of their waste stream,” the Folk Alliance stated in the announcement of last year’s honor. 

The Winnipeg Folk Festival, held each year in early July just outside of Winnipeg, the capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba, was recognized for “consciously embracing environmentally responsible business practices and minimizing environmental impact,” according to the Folk Alliance’s announcement of this year’s award.

“This is a tremendous honor for the Winnipeg Folk Festival,” said the organization’s executive director, Lynne Skromeda, as she accepted the award. 

The Winnipeg Folk Festival is on the cutting-edge of several environmental practices which have yet to be widely adopted in full by the mainstream music festival business. During 2017, music festivals in North America accounted for $263 million in ticket grosses, according to Billboard Boxscore.

The festival has made a commitment to composting of food and trash throughout the event site. “In 2016, for the first time, the total amount of compost accumulated at the Festival out-weighed landfill waste,” the festival states.

The festival offers a “park and bike” option to attendees as an alternative to driving to the event’s site in Birds Hill Park outside of Winnipeg. In addition, the Folk Fest Express is a free bus service that runs from downtown Winnipeg to the park during festival hours and a shuttle service runs between campgrounds and the stage locations. “This gives our campers the ability to get around the park without the need of their own vehicle for the duration of the festival,” the organizers state.

Campers receive recycling bags when the arrive for the event and recycling bins are positioned at waste stations and throughout the festival campgrounds. Volunteers separate and bag empty beer cans for returns and fees earned are used for campground improvements. The festival has contracted with Winnipeg-based Omars Environmental for its waste management.

Bottled water has not been sold at the Winnipeg Folk Festival since 2014 and fans are encouraged instead to bring their own reusable bottles and fill them -- for free -- at taps marked by tall blue flags throughout the festival site. By using tap water, “we are eliminating the emissions that would be directly caused by the production, transport, and disposal of tens of thousands of plastic water bottles each year,” the festival states.

In 2008, festival organizers signed the Manitoba Food Charter and made a commitment to offering LOFT meals -- local, organic and fair trade -- in backstage kitchens, at food vendors and in the campgrounds. In 2012, the festival was certified by Fair Trade Manitoba. In 2016, the festival began “Vegetarian Friday” for backstage meals “to further our commitment to sustainable food choices and low-impact food options.”

As a result of its efforts, the Winnipeg Folk Festival is the first event in Canada to be certified by the Eco-Logo Program, a sustainability initiative created by UL, the global safety and certification company. The event also has received Fair Trade certification for its purchasing standards. An 2013, it was recognized by A Greener Festival, a not-for-profit organization which helps events and venues to adopt environmentally efficient practices.

“I’ve attended the festival since I was six years old,” Skromeda told the audience at the awards show. “Growing up at the folk festival, I learned about environmentalism and the importance of taking care of the land that you’re on. We’ve seen those terrible photos that come out of some of the other festivals, where people don’t treat the land right.

“We’ve really worked hard to encourage our audience to treat the land that we’re on with great respect. I think that’s one of the things we all do as folk festivals. It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized. I know we all do it -- and all of our festivals will eventually will be there to receive this type of award.”

Festivals 2018


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