Written by Shayna Stock
As Artistic Director, it is Sandra Butel’s challenge and joy to orchestrate a festival that strikes a chord with every one of the diverse audience members that attend.
She is unique among her colleagues at other festivals in that, by her own admission, she is not a music geek. She loves music, and she could certainly name more musicians than the average festival-goer, but she’s more inspired by how the music affects the audience’s experience at the festival than she is by the music itself.
“And the experience,” she tells me in an interview in Victoria Park, “is as much about what happens to you when you wait in line for the port-a-potty as it is standing in front of the stage experiencing the music.”
This perspective fosters an attention to detail that Sandra brings to all aspects of her role – from managing finances to booking artists to managing the festival team. And, if the festival’s steady growth throughout her 12 years as Artistic Director is any indication, I’d say it’s working.
Tell me about your process for creating the line-up for each year.
It’s an organic process. Each year’s lineup actually takes a few years to put together. There are always artists I’ve been interested in for a few years but it hasn’t worked out, or international artists that happen to be touring then. I start off in September or October with my dream list of what might be possible.
What do you look for in potential performers?
I’m looking for artists who have created something that belongs to them. I’m looking for people’s personal expression – that’s more interesting to me than being completely true to the genre of whatever music it is that they play.
I think a lot about what it’s going to feel like in the park, and what it’s going to feel like as an audience member to hear this artist for the first time. That affects where I place the artist in the lineup – whether they’re first, second or third, and whether they’re on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
This is an international festival, but it always highlights local artists as well. Can you talk about the balance between local, national and international music?
I think it’s important to support the development of local artists. It takes a very long time to build an audience in your own town, even more than in other towns, so being able to support that is important. But I don’t want people to come away with the impression that local artists are only on the stage because they’re local; I want the audience to hear them and say, ‘They’re fantastic, where are they from?’, find out they’re from here, and be very proud and excited about it.
k.d. lang played at the Regina Folk Festival in 1985 – the year the festival first moved downtown. It must feel pretty special to be able to bring her back this year.
Having k.d. lang back this year is pretty phenomenal. For long-time festival-goers, dancing in the rain to k.d. lang and the Reclines in 1985 is a powerful memory, and she was pretty unknown then. It’s raised the profile of the festival for the people who didn’t know it, and for those who come every year regardless, having her back is like a big gift.
What’s new about this year’s festival?
I’ve been hassled for years that I don’t book enough blues music. I started looking at past lineups and thought, ‘You know what? I don’t.’ Because I like music that takes a genre and personalizes it for that artist, and I wasn’t seeing a lot of blues that was doing that. So this year, I decided to organize a blues project called Planet Blue. It includes Taj Mahal, Etran Finatawa, the Sojourners and Shakura S’Aida, who are all performing on the main stage. I think that these performers will not only bring some blues to the festival, but they will also take the blues audience and show them something new, which I always like to do.
To hear more from Sandra about the making of a good festival, be sure to take in the SaskMusic workshop:
Thursday, August 4, 2011, 7pm
Regina, Creative City Centre, 1843 Hamilton Street
Presented by SaskMusic and the Regina Folk Festival
It seems that more and more music festivals are popping up all over the world, but for emerging artists, landing a slot at a festival, even as an opening band, may seem out of reach – a goal for “later” in your career. Festivals can be an invaluable way of exposing your band to new fans and industry insiders searching for fresh talent. But before bands and managers see a festival slot as their ticket to fame and fortune, they need to know how to get noticed and how not to blow it once they're booked.
The Festival Buyers Panel will feature three of western Canada’s leading festival buyers, Chris Frayer, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Kerry Clarke, Calgary Folk Festival and Sandra Butel, Regina Folk Festival. The panel will discuss tips and tricks of getting your submissions noticed and what to do once you have been selected.