I’m not proud to say it, but this year’s Folk Festival was my first.

Like most folks inexperienced in the ways of the festival, I was drawn in by the acts performing on the main stage. It’s where Hey Rosetta! rocked Bannerman Park on Friday night, where Fred Penner made those listening feel like kids again the following afternoon, and where legendary folk guitarist Bruce Cockburn headlined last night. Those are some great talents, but there’s so much more than just the main stage.

I visited the vendors, ate international food, and drank a seven-dollar beer (or three), but the real magic of this year’s folk festival was on the small tent stages spread through out Bannerman. These four tents held a variety of super intimate performances on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, given by a wide range of artists.

On Saturday, it was possible to hear Jim Payne and Fergus O’Byrne in the Oral Traditions tent, watch Duane Andrews and Bruce Cockburn perform together in the Instrumental Tent, before learning African dance and hearing Mary Barry sing en français.

It was more of the same on Sunday, with a brilliant country performance, a blues jam, and an intimate acoustic songwriters circle that featured Catherine MacLellan, Brianna Gosse, and more.

It’s an amazing feeling to wander through Bannerman Park, popping in to the tents along the way to hear folk and traditional music from Newfoundland, and the rest of the world, the way it was meant to be played – outside with a small, engaged crowd and no amplification. Where else can you hear an audience sing a traditional song back to a performer in three-part harmony?

These small stages have a real special vibe that allows performers to get up close and personal with their music and their audience, and the four tents provide plenty of different sounds for those who are willing to listen. The tents put music in all corners of the park, and it’s worth hearing.

A word of advice for those who have never visited a Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival: check out the tents. The main stage artists have been fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but this is a folk festival after all, and the small tent stages are where the folks are.