Published on July 3rd, 2014 | by The Editor0
Interview: Regina Folk Festival’s Sandra Butel
Did you know that the Regina Folk Festival has been around 45 years? We sit down for a chat with festival Artistic Director, Sandra Butel.
(Sandra Butel on Q — she’s the one in the middle, duh).
The Regina Folk Festival [RFF] is another great prairie musical institution that brings people to the front of the stage to see both local and international acts. It happens this year from August 8th to 10th and features acts like Serena Ryder, Sam Roberts Band, Indigo Girls, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Los Lobos, and Elliot Brood. Recently, The Feedback Society sat down with festival Artistic Director Sandra Butel to chat about how it all got started, what it brings to the prairie, and why she loves her job.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: What year did the festival start? How much growth has it seen since then?
SANDRA BUTEL: The festival started in 1969 when a group of friends got together and created the Regina Guild of Folk Arts Inc. The first festival took place in the spring on Luther College Campus in Regina and in the early years it moved to indoor venues on the old College Campus of the University of Regina. In 1985, with the assistance of a grant from Regina’s Market Square and in celebration of Saskatchewan’s 100th anniversary the festival moved downtown to Victoria Park where for eight years it was offered free of charge. In 1994, the festival had to skip a year due to lack of funds and in 1995 the RFF returned with its current format of a paid main stage area and free daytime activities. The festival has grown immensely over the years as the organization grew from a volunteer run organization to a professional arts organization with a budget of over $1.2 million and a staff contingent that includes 4 full-time staff and additional seasonal staff and contracts for service.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Do you think a lot more attention is being paid to music on the Canadian prairie from outside sources these days? In a way that pulls more artists here?
SANDRA BUTEL: The festival has worked hard to build a reputation and a brand within the larger community as well as relationships with agents, managers, and artists across the world. This in itself has had the most positive impact on artists deciding to perform at our festival. We take good care of artists, pay respectable artists fees, and offer great technical support to ensure artists (and audience) have the best experience possible. I do think that the development of our local musicians on the international circuit helps to put the city on the map around the world and may indeed have added to the interest that artists are paying our festival.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Who are you most looking forward to seeing in terms of non-local acts? I know, I’m putting you on the spot.
SANDRA BUTEL: As AD of the RFF my main goal is to have a positive impact on the audience. I noticed a few years back that instead of focusing on what was going on on stage I was more interested in watching the affect that the artists were having on the audience. My passion is creating a positive social experience for a group of strangers via music and nature and my tools are the artists I book. So given that description I am always most excited to see how the discovery groups affect the audience and this year those would be DakhaBrakha, Saidah Baba Talibah, Klô Pelgag, Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, Mexican Institute of Sound, and Blitz the Ambassador. These artists also end up being the most diverse and would not otherwise be touring in Regina, Saskatchewan if not for the existence of the RFF.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Why is it important to program local acts alongside international ones?
SANDRA BUTEL: It is important for so many reasons — investing resources in the development of our local artists, recognizing our local talent, and creating opportunities for interaction amongst artists at all levels of their development [including artists] who come from diverse cultural and musical backgrounds. It creates opportunities for growth and learning while celebrating the incredible talent we have right in our back yard. I also believe it elevates the status of the local artists to be seen on stages with international artists, but only if they are ready to put on a quality show. I do not want the audience to think an artist is there only because they are local. I want them to discover them at the same time they are discovering artists from around the world and to not see a disparity between their talent.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: What do you try to do to make each year a unique experience while still staying in touch with what the main mission of the festival has always been?
SANDRA BUTEL: Each year I am given the challenge of creating something new while continuing to respect the tradition of our 45-year-old festival and continuing to focus on our reason for being. In order to do this I work to mix up an artistic lineup that combines headliners — who sell tickets and who bring in the cash that allows us to continue to operate — with diverse artists whose work will be unknown and perhaps also challenging to our audience. I believe that music allows for the development intercultural understanding and the vibe of the RFF is a great place to have a positive impact on our attitudes towards those that are different than we are. I also work at having new programming opportunities to keep the audience inspired and involved. This year we have a Chill Lounge with DJ sets indoors in an air-conditioned space, a parade that will take place both Saturday and Sunday during the day, interactive art with Common Weal Community Arts, the Mackenzie Art Gallery and Paper Crane Inc., as well as free yoga classes to add to our regular programming.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: It’s called a folk festival, but how far beyond folk does it actually go?
SANDRA BUTEL: For me folk means people, and folk music means the people’s music, so that means a diverse array of musical genres representing a modern take on cultural traditions from all around the world. Folk is also the tradition of workshop sessions mixing up artists together around a theme and the community nature of how the festival is run and how decisions are made. While we are a professional arts organization and we need to think like a business in how we develop our infrastructure we are also open to doing things in a unique manner in terms of what values we uphold. We are not looking for big profits but are looking to keep being able to bring amazing diverse music and community experiences to our audience.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Tell me about the concert series that happens all year round?
SANDRA BUTEL: The year round concert series continues the great vibe of the festival with concert and workshops from diverse musicians from all over the world. RFF has partnered with a variety of venues in Regina including The Exchange, the Artesian, The Royal Sask Museum, The University of Regina, Bushwakker Brew Pub, Agribition, Moose Jaw Cultural Centre, and Darke Hall to bring great music for a variety of demographics. We have become one of the presenters of choice for visiting artists in Regina and often end up presenting the medium sized shows in our community. We have some awesome shows coming up this fall. Check out the RFF festival program for a full listing. We also engage artists with students in schools in a variety of teaching workshops and school concerts.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Why is it personally important to you to do your job? What do you get out of it on a personal level?
SANDRA BUTEL: I love my job. I have a great team of people that I work with and I get to have a huge effect on how they experience their day-to-day work by creating an infrastructure that allows for flexibility, fun, and creativity. I get to work with wonderful colleagues from across the country, sponsors, partners, and volunteers and I get to share my love with the audience by bringing diverse music from all around the world. My job is ever changing and developing and I have never been bored in my 16 years at the RFF. I have been able to learn and grow and develop and continue to do so more and more each day. The festival experience is one that I adore — the great energy on site and the smiles on everyone’s faces as they experience it — that is such a fantastic feeling to know that I had a part to play in making it happen. I have long been inspired by positive social change and somewhere along the line I figured out that the festival itself has such a huge effect on how people feel about living in Regina, about their neighbours, and about their ability to make things happen for themselves by working together.