The weather gods may be feeling a little nostalgic this weekend as the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Festival gears up for a weekend of music and entertainment.
For nearly three decades the festival has been reinventing itself, bringing bigger and better musical talent from around the country, and around the world. Thousands of people have enjoyed this Brandon-run event over the three decades of its operation, and though some years have been difficult, organizers have persevered.
But that first festival so many years ago was a different animal than the one taking place on the Keystone Centre grounds.
The first folk festival was held in mid-September in 1985 on the Brandon University campus. According to Brandon Sun archives, although 400 people were expected, only 250 entered the gates to catch what was then a 12-hour musical extravaganza with 21 individual and group performers, ranging from folk to jazz to rock. In fact, most of the performers were local.
Then-organizer Clark Marcino said poor weather may have deterred some potential festival-goers that year, and the festival was organized in a short period of time, which limited the amount of planning and promotion that was possible.
As an aside, we note that the festival may have to suffer through some unfortunate weather this weekend, as Environment Canada is calling for cloudy or stormy skies today and tomorrow, with highs of only 22 C and 21 C. The weather gods can be cruel.
Since that fledgling year, however, the festival has drawn some amazing musical talent. To echo a column written by former Brandon Sun entertainment writer James O’Connor in 1988, the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Festival grew from being a local talent showcase to a legitimate regional entertainment event.
And from there, it began to draw provincial, national and indeed international talent. Several high-profile names have taken the outdoor stage to the delight of local music fans, including the Crash Test Dummies, the Dave McLean Blues Band, Tom Jackson, the Sheepdogs, Hawksley Workman, Martha Wainwright, and this weekend, Martin Sexton and Cold Specks, to name just a few.
Former event organizer Drew Caldwell’s words were prophetic in 1990, when he suggested that the festival would continue to grow, not only in scope but in scale.
“As the festival develops, I think you’ll see a three-day festival evolve out of the Brandon festival,” Caldwell said. “We’ve discussed this at the board a number of times and weighed the pros and cons. It’s a direction I can see ourselves moving into it.”
Situational cash flow problems have popped up over the years, when grants have been lost or poor weather has hurt attendance. But the longevity of the festival is a credit to the organizers and the many volunteers who have put in thousands of hours to not only keep it going year after year, but make it a successful local venue.