2019 STINGRAY Young Performers Program

Past STINGRAY Young Performers Program participant Taylor Janzen in 2017*

The STINGRAY Young Performers Program has been helping hundreds of young artists from around the country gain the knowledge to start their musical careers for the past 20 years.

Today, we are excited to share the incredible 2019 performers list! The young musicians selected will be mentored by artists from our current lineup and will play for a festival audience at Shady Grove on July 12. This year, a total of 39 artists were selected and make up 22 solos, three trios and two groups. See the full listing of young performers below.

This year’s stellar mentors include Christine Fellows & John K. SamsonDanny MichelJesse MatasSamantha Crain and William Prince who will be sharing songwriting and performance tips as well as their experience and knowledge of the industry.

*Catch STINGRAY Young Performers Program participant Taylor Janzen on Main Stage opening up the 2019 Winnipeg Folk Fest on Thursday, July 11!

The STINGRAY Young Performers Program has been proudly presented by STINGRAY Music since 2010.

The 2019 Artists Are…

Annika Marie | Altona, MB
Bryn | Brandon, MB
Carson Friesen | Winnipeg, MB
Cole Shway | Winnipeg, MB
Dayle Kroeker-Tom | Winnipeg, MB
Erika Fowler | Winnipeg, MB
Gavin Penner | Winnipeg, MB
Hailey Mierke | Winnipeg, MB
Heidi Wright | Winnipeg, MB
Jamboree | Winnipeg, MB
John Muirhead | Noval, ON
Katherine Fischer | London, ON
Keltie | Sherwood Park, AB
Kira Gregory | Winnipeg, MB

Lajla Jean | Surrey, BC
Lindsay Thomson | Kenora, ON
Mark Davidson | Winnipeg, MB
Mes Jolies | Winnipeg, MB
Mitchell Mozdzen | Brandon, MB
Ryan Boyes | Altona, MB
Scott Richards | La Salle, MB
Sophie Stevens | Winnipeg, MB
Sydney Beau | Abbotsford, BC
The Carmichael Girls | Beausejour, MB
Tuva Bergstrom | Winnipeg, MB
Victoria Turko | Winnipeg, MB
Virgo Rising | Winnipeg, MB


The STINGRAY Young Performers Program (YPP) is all grown up! For the 20th anniversary of the Winnipeg Folk Festival’s annual young talent showcase, we’re featuring YPP alumni who’ve taken the music industry by storm.

Brandy Zdan

STINGRAY Young Performers Program participant in 2001 and 2002 and Festival performer in 2004 and 2015. 

Brandy Zdan knew exactly what she wanted when she signed up for the Young Performers Program; her destiny was pre-ordained at a very young age.

“I was just a kid when I attended the YPP at the age of 15,” said Brandy Zdan, a participant from the 2001 and 2002 programs, “but even then, I knew what my path was gonna be.”

Brandy took the lessons she learned from the YPP and ran with them, carving out a career for herself as a pop-rock phenomenon. She founded Juno Award-nominated goth rock duo Twilight Hotel with singer/songwriter Dave Quanbury and jammed with Austin-based Americana group The Trishas before settling in Nashville to work on her solo career.

She’s returned to play Folk Fest three times – twice with Dave Quanbury in 2004 and 2011, and once on her own in 2015 as both a performer and a YPP mentor.

“With all the festivals I’ve played in North America and overseas, the Winnipeg Folk Festival remains my favourite,” Brandy said. “Maybe ‘cause it’s my hometown, maybe it’s because the programming is always outstanding and I always discover someone new.”

Brandy’s sophomore album, Secretear, is available now on Spotify and Apple Music.


Ila Barker

STINGRAY Young Performers Program participant in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

One of the greatest lessons Ila Barker learned from her three years in the Young Performers Program was how to trust herself, even when surrounded by some of Winnipeg’s most talented young performers.

“I learned quickly that what’s so awesome about different artists is that they’re individuals,” said Ila, a participant from the 2013, 2014 and 2015 programs. “They’re very authentically true to themselves. That’s something that I’ve been really, really working on for really my whole career: staying true to myself and being proud of what comes naturally.”

In 2013, Ila released her debut self-tilted EP, launching the track “Home” to the #1 spot on the National Aboriginal Countdown the very next year. Since then, the singer/songwriter has brought her soul-infused folk sound to dozens of festivals and venues across the country, including the Honey Jam Showcase in Toronto and this year’s Canada Day at the Forks.

“The [YPP] is really incredible because it gives you a stage like no other,” says Ila. “And when it comes down to it, it was just really, really fun – it’s kind of like being at summer camp.”

Ila’s second studio album is slated for release in summer 2019.


Jesse Matas

Jesse Matas was a STINGRAY Young Performers Program participant in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and is a Festival performer and program mentor for 2019.

After a lifetime spent at Folk Fest, Jesse Matas leapt at the chance to participate in the 2001 Young Performers Program – and just kept on coming back.

“[The YPP] in particular is so great and I don’t think I’d be touring and releasing albums the way I am without that program still,” said Jesse, a participant from 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 programs. “I’m eternally grateful for it.”

After five years in the YPP, Jesse banded together with fellow local musicians Darwin Baker and Matt Foster to forge The Crooked Brothers, a multi-instrumental folk trio that’s rocked the world with its genre-spanning sound. Together, The Crooked Brothers have played The Great Escape in England, Spring Bluegrass Festival in Switzerland – and the Winnipeg Folk Festival Main Stage, as both a performer and a mentor in 2016 to newer generations of Young Performers.

“I was a Folk Fest baby,” says Jesse. “The one thing that always amazes me about the Folk Fest in Winnipeg is that it’s the best example of thousands and thousands of people coming together and working to create a kind of pop-up community.”

Jesse’s debut solo album, Tamarock, was released in November 2018 and is available now on Spotify and Apple Music.


Roger Roger

STINGRAY Young Performers Program participants in 2014 and 2015 and Festival performers in 2018.

Roger Roger have been going to Folk Fest together literally since the womb. But this past festival, the sibling folk/roots duo had the chance to experience the Main Stage from a different perspective: that of performers, instead of audience members.

“It felt really surreal to be facing the other direction, looking out at the field of festival-goers that we know so well,” said twins Madeleine and Lucas Roger, both participants from the 2014 and 2015 Young Performers Programs. “We definitely both cried a little.”

Unsurprisingly, given their folk origins, Roger Roger’s debut album Fairweather received national attention, claiming the number one spot on the National Folk/Roots/Blues charts just one year out of their second and final round of YPP.

“We loved the atmosphere of gathering with our musical peers to learn from seasoned pros in the industry,” Madeleine and Lucas said. “We saw that with great songs and a lot of honest work, it was possible to build a career.”

While Roger Roger continue to write and perform together, Madeleine Roger has also released a solo album, Cottonwood, available now on Spotify and Apple Music.


Roman Clarke

STINGRAY Young Performers Program participant in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and is a Festival performer for 2019.

Growing up in Brandon, a young Roman Clarke felt isolated in his musicality, surrounded by peers with little interest in the arts.

“Brandon is a nice town to grow up in, but it’s not super artsy or anything,” Roman said. “I found it hard to make any friends that were interested in doing the same thing I was doing.”

A veteran of the 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 Young Performers Programs, he still remembers how it felt to find people his age with the same musical aspirations.

“It was just really nice to know that there were other people out there that were my age that were doing music and being successful at it and enjoying it,” he said.

In their final year of the YPP, Roman’s band The Middle Coast – known then as Until Red – won the coveted Rising Star Award. Since then, they’ve continued on to tour the globe and returned to play the Fest as Wandering Minstrels in 2017.

“It was really funny because half the time I forgot we were there with a job to do,” Roman says with a laugh.

Roman’s debut solo EP, Looking for Mine, is available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.


Vanessa Kuzina

STINGRAY Young Performers Program participant in 2005 and was a Festival performer in 2011.

When Vanessa Kuzina of Oh My Darling played the Festival in 2011, it felt like a landmark moment in her music career.

“Every show we played before was with the goal of one day playing the Winnipeg Folk Festival,” said Vanessa, the “cowboy poet” of the country-roots quartet.

Vanessa participated in the 2005 Young Performers Program, an experience that, in just three short days, taught her confidence building, live show song selection, how to network with fellow musicians, and – not least important – wardrobe selection, a vital lesson for the scorching Winnipeg summers.

“It was a hot one!” Vanessa remembers.

Oh My Darling has taken their show-stopping country-roots act around the world, headlining three consecutive European tours and opening for Blue Rodeo and Tegan & Sara, receiving three Western Canadian Music Award nominations, and returned to play the Folk Fest Main Stage in 2013.

“Our shows throughout the weekend were a homecoming for us,” said Vanessa. “After years of touring abroad we were all together, the original 4 Darlings playing on the stage that meant the most to us, surrounded by the people we loved.”

Vanessa now works as an artist management associate with Six Shooter Records.