Rosalie Goldsein — An Unforgettable Character

by richardflohil on 18/06/2015

(Originally published on February 28, 2011)


All is not well backstage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. It is 1987, and the festival’s new artistic director, Rosalie Goldstein — a tough. short, red-haired woman — is discussing the programming with an equally feisty woman who manages the Scottish band Run Rig, which is making its Canadian debut at the festival.

“What’s this?” says the Scottish woman, waving the festival programme in Goldstein’s face. “What’s this workshop thing on Sunday?” “A workshop,” responds Goldstein equably. “It’s like a little concert, but with other musicians sharing the stage.” 

“Well,” says the band’s manager, with a air of finality, “they will’na do it. My boys are members of the Wee Free Kirk o’ Scotland, and they cannae do their jobs on Sunday. They can play soccer, chase girls, gae to th’ films, but they cannae do their job. And their job is playing music.”

Furious, Goldstein walked away to reorganize the whole Sunday afternoon programme.

Saturday night’s mainstage show is a stunning success. Around 11 p.m., Run Rig hits — and within seconds, 10,000 people are up and dancing. The band’s heady mix of rock and roll, Celtic drive, and roots folk has already earned them accolades such as “Scotland’s Bruce Springsteen” — and the audience, an hour later, is screaming for more.

The band’s manager charges up to Goldstein, standing side stage. “Ye’ve gotta give ‘em an encore,” she shrieks, “Get ‘em back upstage. Now!”

“We don’t have encores at this festival,” Goldstein responds. Then she looked at her watch.  “And it’s one minute past midnight.





Three years later, at the same festival, the French band Les Négresses Vertes are singularly not going over well. The audience in confused — this is a strange mix of different kinds of world music and alternative rock. And the lead singer, Helno, is a serious heroin addict and wanders unsteadily around the stage, haranguing the audience, in French, for their indifference and lack of appreciation.

As the set ends to tepid applause, Rosalie Goldstein tackles their road manager. “I’m not paying you,” she says. “Your band insulted my audience. I will not forgive them for that.”

Before the road manager could respond, she continued: “I’ve told my crew to impound your instruments and equipment. You’ll go back to the hotel, pack up, and check out. When I hear from the hotel that you have not damaged anything in the rooms, you can come back and we’ll return your gear.

“Never, never insult an audience — anywhere — ever again.” And she turned and stalked away.

The lesson, as anyone who knew her learned fast, is that you never messed with Rosalie Goldstein. An enthusiast, a firecracker, a committed lover of the arts — she had come to the folk festival from working as a fundraiser for Contemporary Dancers — she threw herself into her work.

She brought a fresh approach to the music the Winnipeg Festival presented. She took musical risks — and not all of them worked. She was abrasive and bloodyminded. She cared — about music, about musicians, and about the audiences.

And on Christmas Day, Rosalie Goldstein died of congestive heart failure. She was 73.

Odd, because she had the biggest of hearts, and I always thought she was in her early 40s.


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