Peterborough Folk Festival marking 35 years this August

Festival representatives and supporters gathered at Market Hall to drum up excitement while encouraging Emerging Artist Award nominations

When you’re closing in on 35 years, well, there’s no harm in drumming up a little excitement about that fact well ahead of time.

So it was that both representatives and supporters of the Peterborough Folk Festival gathered Thursday (April 4) at Market Hall to herald the annual event’s much anticipated 2024 staging on August 17 and 18 at its longtime home of Nicholls Oval Park.

While details of who’s playing when and on what stage — as well as information about a traditional pre-weekend festival-related concert — remain a work in progress, what is known is nominations are open for the festival’s prestigious Emerging Artist Award.

Awarded since 2001 (Serena Ryder was the recipient that year), the distinction recognizes an emerging local talent who the festival deems deserving of the wider community’s attention and support.

Other recipients since have included James McKenty, Beau Dixon, Melissa Payne, Dylan Ireland, Evangeline Gentle, and Lauryn Macfarlane. Last year, Amelia ‘Irish Millie’ Shadgett and Nicholas Campbell were named co-winners.

With nominations accepted until May 31st — the winner will be announced in June — the nomination form can be found online at

To bring attention to the call for nominations, 2009 recipient Missy Knott performed at the event, singing an original song.

Peterborough-born but with extended family in Curve Lake First Nation, Knott released her debut album For No Reason All in 2009.

Nominated in 2017 for an Indigenous Music Award for her EP My Sister’s Heart, Knott returned fulltime to Curve Lake First Nation and subsequently launched her non-for-profit record label, Wild Rice Records, in support of Indigenous youth outreach, mentorship, recording, and community connections. The label’s moniker is a nod to her spirit name of Singing Wild Rice Girl.

Also keeping her busy these days is her representation of Curve Lake First Nation as a member of the Ontario Arts Council. Knott was appointed to the three-year term last October — the first representative of Peterborough-Kawartha on the council in more than 50 years.

My oldest sister Erica is the incredible woman that always made sure that I was at the folk festival which, when I was 10, was better than Wonderland — there was beautiful jewellery and art and music everywhere,” said Knott of her initial festival experience.

After performing at the Market Hall kick-off event, she told kawarthaNOW that her 2009 Emerging Artist Award was “definitely a springboard” early in her music career, adding she was especially grateful to receive the honour just one year after singer-songwriter Sean Conway did likewise, also doing Curve Lake proud.

As part of the prize, they sent me to the Ontario Folk Festival Conference,” she recalled. “Being in a hotel with so many talented musicians in every room was a fascinating experience that provided more opportunities in terms of my community work and collaboration with other artists.

To those who are on the fence about sending in a nomination, whether for themselves or someone else, Knott is quick to say “Absolutely do it. Don’t hesitate. It’s an incredible experience.”

Also introduced at the gathering was artwork by artist Brooklin Stormie Holbrough specifically designed to commemorate the festival’s 35th anniversary. Her goal was to “convey a legacy of joy, community, and connection … as well as to pay homage to the river and natural space” that are focal points of the Nicholls Oval festival setting.

Also speaking from the podium was festival volunteer Olena Shtepa, highlighting a Ukrainian tradition that will be prominent in the festival’s Children’s Village this year.

The vinok, a head flower wreath, has traditionally been a national symbol of pride. With war still being waged in the country, it’s become something else: a symbol of regeneration and continuity.

Shtepa noted the head wreaths will be made in the Children’s Village on festival weekend. At the Market

After formally thanking the festival’s sponsors — longtime supporters such as kawarthaNOW and new supporters such Miskin Law — festival board chair Rob Davis spoke to the event’s enduring popularity.

It’s not August, but, boy, it sure feels like the folk festival here, doesn’t it?” he said.

Mostly the first half of the year leading up to the festival is about funding. The second half of the year is still about funding, but also about organizing the festival and spending the money we’re able to raise to put on the best festival we can. It’s a year-round thing, but this is a really nice event to kind of kick it off formally and get people excited about it.”

Davis said “dedication and commitment to this community” has kept the free-admission festival going since it began in 1989 as a half-day event at Del Crary Park, moving to Nicholls Oval in 1993 where it became a full-day festival. It has since continued to evolve, growing to a weekend festival with a second stage, a children’s village, ticketed concerts prior to the free festival weekend, and more.

There are a million moving parts behind a festival like this,” Davis pointed out. “Having everybody and everything arrive on time in Nicholls Oval doesn’t happen by accident. There’s a ton of organization and hard work.”

As for the very real threat that, with time, the festival will grow too large too quickly, Davis said that hasn’t happened yet, and won’t, adding the festival’s community feel remains entrenched.

It’s happened pretty organically with our very diverse and inclusive lineups,” he said, referring to the musicians invited to perform at the festival.

Last year’s festival included headliners Loreena McKennitt and Broken Social Scene, children’s music duo Splash’N Boots, Juno award winners Dan Mangan, The Sadies, Dizzy, and more. Local performers included Evangeline Gentle, Matthew Holtby, Brooklyn Doran, Sarah McInnis, Charlie Glasspool, Doses (Dylan Ireland), VanCamp (Calvin Bakelaar), Victoria Yeh, Nicholas Campbell, Little Fire Collective, and more.

We attract a different audience, with a big emphasis on families,” Davis added. “I think with it being a free-admission festival, people are just so chill and happy to be there. If we put up fences and gates and charge 200 bucks like most of the other festivals, then people would come with expectations, right?

It’s also a reunion for a lot of people. There are people who come who used to live in Peterborough. It’s a homecoming, meeting up with friends. It’s nice to be part of the fabric of people’s lives that way. It’s just a nice chill, happy atmosphere. We hope to keep it that way.”

For more information and updates on the 2024 Peterborough folk Festival, visit

By Paul Rellinger – KawarthaNOW