Regina Folk Festival

Kobo Town Campion College, Regina Serena Ryder

The Regina Folk Festival (RFF) is an annual music festival held in Victoria Park in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. A three-night and two-day event usually held the second weekend of August, the RFF attracts more than 35,000 people.[1] It runs with the help of approximately 650 volunteers[2], 11 board members, and seven paid staff members,[3] including Sandra Butel, artistic director since 1999.[4]

The year 2019 marks the RFF’s 50th anniversary; the festival is scheduled for August 9 to 11, 2019.[5]

In addition to the summer festival, the RFF hosts a concert series throughout the year.[5] Since 2016, it has hosted an annual winter festival, Winterruption, in January.[6]


Early years

The Regina Guild of Folk Music hosted the first ever RFF on the University of Saskatchewan’s Regina Campus (now known as the University of Regina). “Newman’s First Annual Folk Festival” was held from March 14 to 16, 1969, at the Campion-Newman Centre, a cafeteria in Campion College.[7] Humphrey and the Dumptrucks[8] from Saskatoon and Roberta Nichol[9] from Regina were among the “35 modern Canadian groups” to perform, as described on the festival poster.[7] Shows started at 8:30 p.m. nightly. Tickets were $1 at the door, or $2.50 in advance for all three nights.[7]

Ken Chesko, Terry Yuzik and Dick Jack started the Regina Guild of Folk Music.[10][11]

In the early years, the festival was collaboratively run, with an emphasis on local and regional musicians.[12]

The Regina Guild of Folk Arts (not “Music”) was registered as a non-profit corporation in Saskatchewan on Feb. 7, 1975. Its objectives were “to preserve and to promote the folk arts in its traditional and modern definition primarily in Regina, Saskatchewan,” and “to educate the people of Regina as to folk traditions in the arts upon which their lifestyles are based by means deemed by the directors.” Richard Wegrzyn, Peter Sawchyn, Peter Hilsden, Gayle Warren (now Bryanton) and Craig Mahood applied for incorporation and were its first directors.[13]

In 2006, the Regina Guild of Folk Arts’ name was changed to the Regina Folk Festival Inc., in a vote by its membership.[14]

In 1975, the fee for an annual membership was $10. In 2018, it was $15 or 15 hours of volunteerism.[15]

In its first two decades, the festival changed venues numerous times.[11] It was hosted at the University of Regina in various locations: the Newman Centre at the year-old Campion College in 1969[16] and the Education Auditorium (1970, 1973, 1975, 1981-84) on the newer south Regina campus; and the Fine Arts Building (1976-80) on the old campus (the former Normal School, and the current Canada Saskatchewan Production Studios or Soundstage).[17] In 1971 and 1972, it was held in the Jubilee Theatre at the Centre of the Arts, now known as the Conexus Arts Centre. In 1974, it took place at the Globe Theatre, then located at 2124 11th Ave.

Moving outdoors

In its first seven years, the Regina Folk Festival took place in March. It was scheduled in later months as the years progressed — four years in a row in April, then four in May.[11] By 1984, the 16th festival, it took place in June, which allowed for two outdoor stages to be part of festival at the University of Regina.[18]

In 1985, the RFF moved outdoors to Victoria Park, where it has remained. k.d. lang was the Sunday night headliner that year.[19] Through 1993, it was a free event.[20][11]

“It was our hope that the move to a free, out-of-doors festival would introduce to a whole new audience the world of folk music, contemporary and traditional,” Folk Guild president Will Oddie wrote in 1986.[21]

Until 1997, the festival took place in June. It has been held in August since 1998, except for 2005, when it occurred the last weekend of July. [11]

Hosting an outdoor festival has had its challenges. Even in that first year, “after two days (Friday and Saturday) of near perfect weather, the festival site was swept with high winds and rain on Sunday.”[22]

In 1993, the “steady rain and strong winds often made the experience feel like standing in the bow of a freighter fighting through a storm in the North Atlantic.”[23]

In 2007, City and Colour was cancelled on the mainstage due to a storm. He performed at the after-party at the Royal Canadian Legion, to a fraction of the festivalgoers.[24][25]

In 2014, Royal Canoe played through a power outage at the after-party at The Exchange. Headliner Sam Roberts, who had been stormed out from the main stage, also performed.[26][27]

In 2018, record-breaking heat proved a challenge for organizers.[28][29][30]

Battling debt

Today, the Regina Folk Festival charges admission for its evening shows, by single-night ticket or weekend pass. The daytime concerts are free to attend.

When the first festival was held in 1969, it was $1 for a single night ticket or $2.50 for all three nights.[7]

From 1985 to 1993, this wasn’t the case. To draw a larger audience, organizers opted to offer free admission to the festival, now located in Victoria Park. It became increasingly difficult to fund the festival, which relied on grant funding, fundraisers and donations to fund the annual event.[31][32][33]

In 1991, it offered a beer garden for the first time — a controversial decision for a family-friendly festival — because “we’ve got to do something to generate some sort of income so (the festival) can stay free of charge,” said artistic director Norma Cyr.[31]

The 1987 festival had a $10,000 deficit. In 1990, there was a $1,800 shortfall. Its performance budget in 1991 was $24,000.[34] Its total costs were $150,000 in 1991.[35]

In 1992, “Regina came perilously close to not having a folk festival,” as Brigdens Printers Ltd. sued the folk guild for $21,000 and threatened to garnish its bank accounts and revenue from ticket sales from a Friday night pre-festival cabaret.[32] That was related to printing the 1991 program and the fundraiser calendar.

“In reality, it is getting tougher and tougher to keep it free,” said festival general manager Karen Haggman.

It trimmed its budget by one-fifth in 1992.[36]

In 1994, with an accumulated deficit of $14,000, organizers decided to cancel the festival. Part of that was due to a failed fundraising initiative, a lottery calendar that lost $8,000. Despite successful fundraising efforts, the 1993 festival lost $9,000.[33]

“We’ve been paying last year’s bills with this year’s money for the past three years,” Haggman told the Leader-Post. “(Cancelling) gives us the chance to clear up this situation and go into 1995 with a good, workable plan.”

A donation from ticket sales to the musical Hair, which toured to the Centre of the Arts in late April 1994, helped pay down more than $5,000 of its debt, and organizers felt confident they would return in 1995.[37]

There were some hurdles, however. Planning a ticketed event meant fencing off the stage area, but city officials at first disagreed with fencing off part of Victoria Park.[38] Moving out of downtown would have lost the festival $10,000 in Regina Market Square grant funding.

It never came to that. In 1995, the festival returned to Victoria Park,[39] its budget trimmed to $70,000.[38]

Admission was $10 per night, or $15 for a two-night pass.[39]

In 1983, a weekend pass was $25.[40]

“$10 doesn’t come anywhere close to covering the actual cost,” organizer Keith Fortowsky told the Leader-Post. “But 40 bucks a night would be a ridiculous cost.”[39]

“The reintroduction of a nominal gate admission for evening concerts could go a long way in addressing financial issues,” Norm Walker wrote in the 1995 program.[41]

Modern era (1995 - present)

Since 1995, the Regina Folk Festival has taken place — and grown — in Victoria Park.

With the mainstage set up in the northwest corner, there are three smaller stages spread throughout the park (including a children’s stage), and one on the F.W. Hill Mall.

Much of that growth has been due to Sandra Butel, artistic director who began working with the festival in 1999.[4]

When she began, she was the only paid staff member of the festival with a $100,000 budget. In 2012, the RFF had a $1-million budget, four full-time staff and contract employees.[4]

With a passion for accessibility, she has tried to build a festival that is appealing to varied age groups and demographics.

Daytime entertainment

The free daytime concert stages — which first became part of the festival in 1976[42] — are a priority for Butel and the RFF.[43][44]

Butel told the Leader-Post prior to the 2018 festival, “The diversity of the audience we see during the day is much greater than what we see at night. The free day time allows us to make it a welcoming place for everybody and that’s very important to us. We’ve been working really hard to find new sources of funding. We started a donor campaign, for those who actually afford it, they can contribute to that and make sure that it still exists for people that can’t afford a ticket.”[43]

During the day, patrons can also partake in activities, thanks to the RFF’s partnerships with Common Weal and MacKenzie Art Gallery.[45][46]

A children’s area offers a stage with child-specific entertainment, crafts, face-painting and a parade.[47]

Food and arts vendors

With the official opening of the City Square Plaza (adjacent to Victoria Park’s north side) in 2012,[48] the arts’ and vendor markets had room to expand.

The 2018 festival had 18 food vendors[49] — including Afghan Cuisine[50], Bon Burger, Michael’s Coffee Shop & Bakery, Selam Ethiopian Restaurant, and Malinche — and more than 29 arts vendors[51]— including Mortise and Tenon, Kat Cadegan Jewellery, and Naked Kitty Naturals.

Other details

Since as early as 1997, Calgary-based Big Rock Brewery has sponsored the beer garden.[52]

In 2016, the RFF implemented a new greening initiative, with volunteers specifically overseeing recycling, composting and waste. This was in hopes of diverting 90 per cent or more of the festival’s waste from the landfill.[53][54]

Year-round, the RFF relies on some 800 volunteers to help run concert series and the festival weekend.[2]

Concert series and Winterruption

As long as it has existed, the Regina Folk Festival (and its predecessor, the Folk Guild) has presented concerts outside of the festival weekend.

In the early days, these were known as “coffeehouses” and were initially held on a weekly basis.[55]

In the 1980s, this led to a concert series.[14]

In 2015, the RFF announced it would add a winter festival. The first Winterruption ran from January 21 to 23, 2016, in Regina, in partnership with the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon, which also had a festival. There were four shows.[56][6]

Winterruption has become an annual event. In 2017 and 2018, the festivals ran three nights with two shows per night.[57][58][59]

In 2019, Winterruption’s five-night series had one show per night, including an evening devoted to spoken-word poetry, featuring Word Up Regina performers, Zoey Roy and Shane Koyczan.[60][61]

Past line-ups

The Regina Folk Festival has hosted hundreds of artists in its five-decade history. Some past performers include:[62][63]

Walk Off The Earth

Tanya Tagaq

Neko Case


Michael Franti and Spearhead

Tegan and Sara

Buffy Sainte-Marie


William Prince

k.d. lang

The Barr Brothers

Vox Sambou

Terra Lightfoot

Blue Rodeo

Kobo Town

Lisa LeBlanc

Serena Ryder

Mavis Staples

Emmylou Harris

Blind Boys of Alabama

Hawksley Workman

Corb Lund Band

The Sadies

Rae Spoon

Jordan Cook

Spirit of the West

Humphrey and the Dumptrucks

Roberta Nichol

Bob Evans

Utah Phillips

Dave McLean

The Irish Rovers


Connie Kaldor

The 2019 festival line-up unveiling is to occur on March 13, 2019, at the RFF’s “50th birthday bash” at The Artesian in Regina.[64]


Since 1985, the RFF has been held outdoors in Victoria Park. In its early years, it changed venues numerous times. It was hosted at the University of Regina in various locations:


Artistic directors / music co-ordinators

[63] 1969 — ?

1970 — “For entertainment information” Ken Chesko, Glenn Wolfe and Dick Jack

1971 — ?

1972 — “For information on bookings” Linda Ewart, Nigel Lacey, Gayle Gustafson

1973 — ?

1974 — ?

1975 — ?

1976 — Entertainment co-ordinator Kendra Walker

1977 — “Festival benevolent dictator” Richard Wegrzyn

1978 — Festival organizer Kathie (Kate) Kokotailo

1979 — Co-ordinator Norm Walker; Bookings Brian Richardson

1980 — Co-ordinator Norm Walker; Bookings Brian Richardson

1981 — Artistic director Norm Walker

1982 — Artistic director Norm Walker

1983 — Artistic director Norm Walker

1984 — Artistic direction Norm Walker, Noele Hall, Mary Wilson, Beth Traynor and Hosken

1985 — Artistic direction Norm Walker and Good Fisch

1986 — Artistic director Gordon Fisch

1987 — Artistic director Gordon Fisch

1988 — Artistic director Gordon Fisch

1989 — Artistic director Gordon Fisch

1990 — Artistic director Norma Cyr

1991 — Artistic director Norma Cyr

1992 — Artistic director Rick August

1993 — Artistic director Rick August

1994 — Festival cancelled due to debt

1995 — Artistic director Norm Walker

1996 — Artistic director Norm Walker

1997 — Artistic director Karen Mondor

1998 — Artistic director Karen Mondor

1999-present — Sandra Butel


  1. ^ "Regina Folk Festival - Sponsorship". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  2. ^ a b Switzer, Tim (2017-08-11). "A Folk Festival family: Volunteers at the Regina Folk Festival come together as one". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  3. ^ "Regina Folk Festival Sponsorship Guide 2018". Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Martin, Ashley (March 15, 2012). "All access: Butel welcomes all sorts of folks". Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Regina Folk Festival". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  6. ^ a b Beatty, Gregory (Jan 15, 2016). "Winterruption". Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d “Newman’s First Annual Folk Festival 1969.” Regina Folk Festival poster. From RFF organization archives.
  8. ^ “It seems like only yesterday …” 20th Annual Regina Folk Festival program. 1989. From RFF organization archives.
  9. ^ "Roberta Nichol." 1993 Regina Folk Festival program. From RFF organization archives.
  10. ^ Walker, Norman G. “Looking back to the future.” 20th Annual Regina Folk Festival program. 1989. From RFF organization archives.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Martin, Ashley (August 6, 2014). "Keeping the Regina Folk Festival alive has been a group effort". QC (published by Regina Leader-Post). Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  12. ^ 1970-79 Regina Folk Festival programs. From RFF organization archives.
  13. ^ “Province of Saskatchewan The Societies Act Application for Incorporation.” Registered Feb. 7, 1975. Document from RFF organization archives.
  14. ^ a b "Regina Folk Festival Inc., ca. 1969- - SAIN Collections". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  15. ^ "Regina Folk Festival". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  16. ^ "Campion College Fact Sheet" (PDF). Retrieved Feb 23, 2019.
  17. ^ Pitsula, James (2006). As One Who Serves: The Making of the University of Regina. McGill-Queen’s University Press. pp. 216. ISBN 9780773530553.
  18. ^ 1984 Regina Folk Festival program. From RFF organization archives.
  19. ^ 1985 Regina Folk Festival program. From RFF organization archives.
  20. ^ 1985-1993 Regina Folk Festival programs. From RFF organization archives.
  21. ^ “Greetings!” 1986 Regina Folk Festival program. From RFF organization archives.
  22. ^ "A Folk Festival to Remember." 1986 Regina Folk Festival program. From RFF organization archives.
  23. ^ Davitt, Patrick. “Wind, rain can’t cool ardor of folk fans.” June 14, 1993. Regina Leader-Post. Page C7.
  24. ^ Krochak, Gerry. “Regina Folk Festival gets off to soggy start; Late rain disrupts opening-night program.” Aug. 11, 2007. Regina Leader-Post. Page B1.
  25. ^ Matte, Andrew. “More popular than ever.” Aug. 13, 2007. Regina Leader-Post. Page B1.
  26. ^ "That time when Sam Roberts and Royal Canoe fans went full zombie". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  27. ^ "Thunderstorms hammer southern Saskatchewan | CBC News". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  28. ^ "Regina Folk Fest adding cooling features to the hottest show of the summer - Regina |". 2018-08-08. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  29. ^ Giesbrecht, Lynn (2018-08-13). "Regina folk festival daytime attendance dips because of heat". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  30. ^ "How to stay cool at the Regina Folk Festival". 2018-08-10. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  31. ^ a b Pilon, Bernard. “Beer garden’s new.” May 16, 1991. Regina Leader-Post.
  32. ^ a b Doskoch, Bill. “Folk festival almost wasn’t.” June 17,1992. Regina Leader-Post.
  33. ^ a b Davitt, Patrick. “Folk Festival is a no go for summer of ’94.” Feb. 10, 1994. Regina Leader-Post. Page C12.
  34. ^ “Attention turns to local festival.” Feb. 16, 1991. Regina Leader-Post.
  35. ^ “First-ever beer garden a $ucce$$.” June 10, 1991. Regina Leader-Post.
  36. ^ Davitt, Patrick. “Regina Folk Festival ignoring ‘star status,’ but not quality.” May 9, 1992. Regina Leader-Post. Page D6.
  37. ^ Pilon, Bernard. “Folk festival debt trimmed.” May 2, 1994. Regina Leader-Post.
  38. ^ a b Pilon, Bernard. “95 Folk Festival plans hit snags.” March 14, 1995. Page A1-A2. Regina Leader-Post.
  39. ^ a b c Yanko, Paul. “Folkfest returns for 25th.” June 26, 1995. Regina Leader-Post. Page A3.
  40. ^ Regina Folk Festival advertisement. May 13, 1983. Regina Leader-Post. Page A11.
  41. ^ Walker, Norm. “Crossroads 1995.” Regina Folk Festival program, 1995. From RFF organization archives.
  42. ^ 1976 Regina Folk Festival program. From RFF organization archives.
  43. ^ a b DeDekker, Jeff (2018-08-09). "Regina Folk Festival has something for everyone". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  44. ^ "Regina Folk Festival - Donate". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  45. ^ "Regina Folk Festival - Common Weal Community Arts". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  46. ^ "Regina Folk Festival - Mackenzie Art Gallery". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  47. ^ "Regina Folk Festival - Children's Area". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  48. ^ "Regina City Square Plaza Officially Opened". 2012-06-09. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  49. ^ "Regina Folk Festival - Food Court". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  50. ^ Martin, Ashley (2017-08-10). "Live To Eat: Afghan Cuisine is a staple at the Regina Folk Festival". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  51. ^ "Regina Folk Festival - Arts Market". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  52. ^ 1997 Regina Folk Festival program. From RFF organization archives.
  53. ^ ""We Need Some Environmentally Conscious Volunteers. June 28th, 2016."". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  54. ^ "Regina Folk Festival aims to cut garbage with industrial composter". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  55. ^ 1970 Regina Folk Festival pamphlet. From RFF organization archives.
  56. ^ "New music festival, Winterruption, coming to Regina, Saskatoon". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  57. ^ "Give Us Winterruption". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  58. ^ "Regina Folk Festival Announces 2018 Winterruption Lineup | News | SaskMusic-old". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  59. ^ DeDekker, Jeff. "Winterruption continues to evolve and find its place in music scene". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  60. ^ Martin, Ashley (2019-01-18). "Working with students of Treaty 4 inspires Jolissa Simon's poetry". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  61. ^ Martin, Ashley (2019-01-24). "KNOW SHOWS: What's on in Regina, Jan. 24-30". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  62. ^ "Regina Folk Festival - Past Artists". Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  63. ^ a b c Regina Folk Festival programs, from the organization’s collection.
  64. ^ Artesian. "Regina Folk Festival 2019 Lineup Launch Party - March 13, 2019". Retrieved 2019-03-12.