Regina Folk Festival 2021: Summer Satellites

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Eekwol performing at RFF on Saturday night, giving the crowd both some great vibes and some serious outfit envy. Megan Keller of Yellowbird Photography

Regina’s summer staple keeps it fresh with pandemic return for 50th annual festival

The COVID-19 pandemic has persisted long enough that simply cancelling events or rescheduling to a time when things settle down is no longer feasible. All sorts of events –

festivals, parties, workshops, and other local programming – have been forced to develop new ways to do the work they are setting out to do. While some organizations may look at having to create new ways to meet their missions as an inconvenience, others have embraced and stepped up to the challenge – working hard to ensure the safety and entertainment of their audiences.

The Regina Folk Fest (RFF) started in the Campion College cafeteria in 1969. Ashley Martin’s detailed article in the Leader-Post from 2019[1] on how it was that the Regina Folk Fest started, how it evolved, and the people who kept it going is an excellent trip through memory lane. This crash course in the history of Regina’s art scene discusses the key people and events that helped to shape the festival as we know it in 2021. Some of these highlights include overcoming rowdy and unpredictable Saskatchewan summer weather, battling rogue sprinkler systems spraying down equipment, and bouncing back after a $14,000 deficit that cancelled the 1994 festival. With those issues having been successfully conquered, it’s safe to say rolling with the punches is in the RFF’s DNA. Bringing the community music and togetherness during a pandemic is just one more chapter in the Folk Fest’s rich history.

Regina Folk Fest’s Summer Satellites series took place from August 6 to 8 this summer, a new twist on a much-loved summer staple festival in Regina. Summer Satellites launched with 13 artists in various configurations across the city and online for maximum flexibility. The Regina Folk Fest and their care for the community with this approach can be seen on their website, stating: “We also figured that the constellation of in-person outdoor and online micro-concerts would be a gentle way for the community to ease back into concert-going.”

A focus on providing a safe environment for their community was at the center of their mission for the shows this year, and the community responded in kind. Artistic Director of the Regina Folk Festival Amber Goodwyn offered some reflection after this month’s concerts: “I think that many of our guests felt relieved to have clear health and safety protocols in place so that they could relax and enjoy live music! Folks definitely miss our classic summer festival, of course, so we hope to return to some kind of normalcy in 2022.”

The process of developing a new hybrid version of the Regina Folk Fest was not an easy one. “It was definitely challenging as we had to pivot between different plans for several months to meet changing restrictions,” Goodwyn admits. When asked how the roadblocks in planning a partially online, partially offline event were tackled, she mentions that “[i]n the end[,] the partnership with the Conexus Arts Centre granted us [the] use of their Brandt Community Stage[,] which was a huge help by taking the pressure off of having to build infrastructure for the event.”

The Saskatchewan community has always been at the heart of the RFF, and this year was no different. The Summer Satellites format leant itself especially well to re-establishing, strengthening, and celebrating the Folk Fest’s focus on local talent after an especially tumultuous and isolating year. Unforeseen benefits of developing a new delivery method for this summer’s festival were discovered along the way, Goodwyn says. “It was an absolute pleasure to feature an all-Saskatchewan based line-up! There is so much talent in this province and it was amazing to see audience members soak up the good vibes at the shows.” This new approach also allowed RFF to find new ways to showcase local artists. Goodwyn explains: “The exclusively on-line micro-concerts were a bit of an experiment for us as we travelled to Saskatoon and Forget to meet up with the artists, mostly in non-traditional music venues. Those were exciting challenges to figure out as we’re still pretty new at creating on-line concert options.”

Taking on a new way to deliver the event also has had an effect on the future of the RFF. Goodwyn says that they “definitely want to continue with on-line concert and music engagement options moving into the future[,] regardless of how COVID evolves.” Another unexpected benefit was also uncovered, according to Goodwyn, who says that “[t]he online content increases accessibility to the artists we present as well as helps people learn about musicians they may not have heard of before.”

This month’s event demonstrated just how eager the community is to be able to engage with the arts and each other again. Attendees of the RFF were able to gather and enjoy the festival in the way that felt the safest to them. “It was really meaningful for music lovers to gather safely after so much time apart. Also[,] we ourselves as volunteers, staff and technicians were just so grateful to be able to get back to work” Goodwyn commented. “The performing arts sectors have been severely impacted by COVID.”

Re-planning a music festival with complicated safety and health considerations at the forefront was no easy feat, but the Regina Folk Fest Summer Satellites series showed that it could be not only be done well, and done with the community’s protection as the foundation, but that this kind of creative problem solving actually has short-term and long-term benefits. When asked about her favourite moment from this year’s series, Goodwyn replied “my favourite moment was sitting on a blanket with my young daughter, listening to Dale Mac’s music and stories with geese flying past the stage on Sunday afternoon. Sharing great music with her in a chill, low-risk space was something I’ve missed for a long time.”


[1] See here: https://leaderpost.com/entertainment/local-arts/from-the-archives-keeping-the-regina-folk-festival-alive-has-been-a-group-effort

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