When lifelong West Ender Jennifer Machado was not chosen to participate in the Winnipeg Folk Festival (WFF) STINGRAY Young Performers Program (YPP) in 2019 she wasn't too worried.
"I was like, 'oh, it's fine, I still have three more opportunities,'" said Machado, meaning three more years before she turned 25 and aged out of the festival's mentorship program for youth.
Then the pandemic took two festivals, and two of her opportunities, away. The relief she felt at being chosen to be part of the YPP this year is not subtle.
"When I finally got in I literally cried, tears of joy, I was so excited. I can't even tell you how excited I am to be part of this program, honestly."
Machado is one of 31 individuals and groups taking part in the YPP this year. She will spend a day being mentored by singer-songwriter and 2022 WFF performer Ndidi O (Ndidi Onukwulu), and then take to the Shady Grove stage to perform on the Friday of the festival, running from July 7 to 10.
Machado, 24, has been playing the guitar since she was 12. The summer she graduated high school she discovered CaRaVaNOpen Mic and Open Stage, an open mic run by The Purple Room at The Cube in Old Market Square on Monday nights.
"It changed my life, it was so good. I met so many amazing people and it's welcoming and, honestly, playing at The Cube is so much fun."
Playing cover tunes made her feel like an "imposter," so she gravitated to playing her original songs. Five of those originalsare destined to be released on her first EP, The Retrospective Heart, early in 2023 with help from Adam Fuhr of Yes We Mystic at his House of Wonders studio. She describes her music as a mix of Halsey and Taylor Swift, and says the songs on her EP chart a retrospective story of past relationships, and how "everything that I've ever been through has led me to this moment," which includes a healthy, loving romantic relationship.
In spite of being an open mic veteran, Machado says she gets nervous before a performance.
"My stomach is just, like, I get nauseous, and my palms are sweaty. I get terrified, but once I'm actually on stage I have so much fun."
She also knows that, regardless of what happens on stage, she's doing what she loves. She's "learned to just not care" about making mistakes, and knowing that she's performing at the WFF takes some pressure off.
"Folk Fest is such a welcoming and positive environment."
WFF artistic director Chris Frayer says the YPP, which accepts young musicians aged 14 to 24, is the festival's "farm league where we cultivate local talent."
Many past YPP participants have gone on to become professional touring musicians and WFF performers, he says.
As part of the program, which started in 2000, about 30 young musicians and groups are matched with veteran musicians for a day of songwriting and mentorship.
"It can be everything from showing them technique or adding a part to the song, song structure, or it can deal with the professional aspect of (performance and a music career)," says Frayer.
Mentors share what the realities of being a touring musician are, he says, which can help the youth decide if they want to pursue a career in music.
"Some of them quit, and maybe do it as a hobby, and others become full-on professional touring artists. It's great. It's great either way."
In Machado's case, it sounds like there's not much doubt about the path she will choose.
"Music has always been the thing in my life that I'm just most passionate about. It's all I think about, it's all I want to do."
Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf