The headliners that will grace the stage at Mooney’s Bay include Sam Roberts Band (21st), Broken Social Scene (22nd), Wintersleep and Hollerado (23rd), and Matt Mays (24th). If all those Juno award winners and Polaris Prize nominees aren’t enough to get you excited for these free concerts, note that they will also be joined by Crown Lands, Amos The Transparent, M. T. Walker, Dizzy, Ellevator, Gianna Lauren, Fast Romantics, Rebelle, Old Man Grant, Birds of Bellwoods, Midnight Vesta, Rory Taillon and Craig Cardiff.
So mark your calendar, stock up on sunscreen and get ready to head down to Mooney’s Bay in late June to cheer on some racers and take in some most excellent performances.
If there’s one thing Ottawa has no shortage of, it’s festivals. Tons of festivals. Festivals, everywhere. Here in the capital, we love to celebrate pretty much everything. Festivals are a major part of Ottawa’s tourism and provide lots of opportunities for local musicians. But how does one navigate the mysterious, and often daunting, festival application process?
It isn’t as hard as you think. Well, not if you are prepared. Festival applications are generally straightforward, but there is a degree a vagueness with respect to what exactly the organizers want from artists. In this article, I attempt to clear up the process and highlight certain aspects that may make or break your application.
Do your research
Festivals come in all shapes and sizes, and draw in certain audiences. Doing some research into who’s organizing the festival and what kind of music they’re programming can go a long way to increasing your chances of success. Do a bit of digging and learn what the event is all about, what kind of music they’ve booked in the past, and how your music would fit in. Do not assume the gender or identity of the organizers, and learn their names if you can.
Think of it like applying for a job with an organization. Would you go in to an interview blind, without learning anything about the company? Chances are, no. The same goes for festivals, and if you’re a solo singer-songwriter, you’re probably not going to fit into the lineup at a punk festival like Ottawa Explosion. If you’re a metal band, CityFolk probably won’t be calling you back. And that’s okay, but save yourself some time and target festivals that can accommodate your sound.
Bio: Less is more
Band bios are tricky. What do you include?How much is too much? For music festivals, less is certainly more. In almost all cases, festivals will ask you to include a band bio in order to get a better idea of what you’re all about. This is where preparation is key. Think about it—do you think organizers want to hear about how you, Steve, Carrie, and Dan met? No, they do not. What they want is a short and succinct explanation of who you are, where you’re from, and some of your top achievements. It shouldn’t read like a detailed history, but more like the synopsis on a book flap. Organizers are short on time and want to know all the good stuff in as little time as possible. So, if you have a long bio on your website, take some time to cut and condense it into under 150 words.
I.D.A.L.G. at Megaphono 2017 (Photo by Els Durnford)
Live videos: The Key
A good quality live video can go a long way. Why? Because it gives organizers an accurate picture of what you’re like on stage, in the flesh. There is nothing worse than vetting bands and having to scour YouTube for poor quality fan-shot videos. They are like nails on a chalkboard.
A well-shot, well-produced live performance or session video can be the deciding factor in accepting one act over another. It’s a worthy investment to hire a videographer or participate in live sessions that are being professionally recorded, as these videos can be put in your back pocket and used as your golden ticket.
Don’t act like you’re famous
Please do not act like you are famous. Please. There are few things less attractive to organizers than a band that over-hypes itself. Organizers are not dummies—in fact, they are usually music industry veterans that have been around bands their whole careers. So, you’re not fooling anyone. Saying that you are “the next Arcade Fire” or “the best thing to happen to Canada since The Hip” will do nothing to help your application. It comes off as pretentious and unbecoming. In many cases—especially in Ottawa—festival organizers want to find new bands and give them an opportunity to play in front of larger audiences. Talking about your achievements in an honest and sincere way can go a long way.
Try, try again
Lastly, don’t be discouraged if your band doesn’t get chosen for a given festival. There are thousands of applicants that attempt to play festivals in Ottawa. The best thing you can do is learn how to improve your chances next time. Festivals aren’t going anywhere, trust me. Before next festival season, do that video shoot. Hire a good photographer for band shots. Try to get some positive reviews in local music publications and blogs. Go to shows, meet people, find bands that have had success and try to get on a bill with them. The music industry can be a tough one, but if your band can weather the bad times, then you’ll eventually get an opportunity to showcase your music on a bigger stage. Hard work always pays off . . . just make sure you’re working hard on the right things.
This article appears in the February edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.
It was another snowy day in Ottawa and another great day for a Megaphono showcase. This time it was an afternoon show at the Record Center with Ottawa’s Mushy Gushy, Area Resident, and Saint John, NB’s Little You Little Me.
Mushy Gushy blasted out of the starting block playing their first four songs with no breaks, and barely slowed at any point during the set fitting in as many songs as possible. The boys were on fire and so tight as they rocked songs from both their tapes and even treated us to a new track. They played “Summer Lusting” off their first tape Tight Snake. Not a much better way to remember that sunny days will in fact return than a song with the opening line of “Everyone wants to fuck in the summer time” while the snow was really coming down outside. The band played an assortment of fun and energetic tracks from Tight Snake and their more recent release, More Butter. The crammed in crowd at the Record Center was really digging the music with a lot of heads bobbing around. The new song they played was pretty smooth and I hope that means the band will have a new release for us this year.
Cory from Mushy Gushy laying down some riffs. Photo by Els Durnford.
Opening for Mushy Gushy was Area Resident, which is the musical project of CBC traffic man Doug Hempstead and friends. On an afternoon like this one, he was probably much happier behind his drum set singing his songs than talking about traffic in a snow storm. Doug is a story teller, whether it is the lyrics of his songs or between songs, the man has tales to share. I guess it pays off to spend your days working in a news room. With help from fellow CBC web and radio personality Kristy Nease, and Carleton University music instructor John Higney, Hempstead impressed the crowd and filled the room with warm vibes all around.
Kicking things off with the smooth and catchy song “Riverside,” they caught the crowd’s attention right away. Not only are the songs really good, but a lot of them actually have comical back stories. One of the funniest pieces was that while he was crowdfunding for one of his albums, a friend of his said he would donate but only if he wrote a song based off a bizarre OPP press release. The release was about some young kids who broke into a cottage in Lanark County and then drove away in a pickup truck, only to end up in the river. Then, of course, they refused to turn themselves over to the cop and just sat in the truck for 20 hours. Hempstead would have been remiss not to write a song about it, and “Lanark Double Soaker” ended up on the final cut of Area Resident’s latest album Delano. Another great track was “Warm It Up First” which is about the man who stole gold from the Canadian Mint by smuggling it out by putting it up his…well, you know. All in all, things really picked up as Area Resident played to the full house.
First up on the bill was Saint John, NB’s Little You Little Me. These guys have been around for quite a few years now, and their energy on stage showed no signs of slowing down. While I only caught the last few songs of their set, they set the mood for a snowy Saturday afternoon in Ottawa by playing some crunchy rock and roll for us to forget about the cold. Their brand of pop-laced garage rock is something that Canadian music fans are soaking up, and the guys took the stage with big smiles and set the tone. They played songs from deeper in their catalogue, and newer ones from their most recent EP entitled In Under Fourteen Highly Concentrated Minutes. These guys do a great job a sharing vocals and rocking their respective instruments. Each song got the crowd grooving along with them, and the band was clearly having a great time. Not to shabby for a bunch of guys who drove from Saint John to Ottawa the entire night before. But hey, that’s what bands do! Looking forward to these guys making their way back to Ottawa soon. All in all, it was another successful show at The Record Centre, and everyone left with smiles on their faces.
Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews Band, Beck, Jethro Tull, Courtney Barnett, and more to headline Ottawa Bluesfest 2018
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest has released its initial 2018 lineup, which will hit the stages July 5 – 15, 2018. Many whispers of Dave Grohl and his band of Foo Fighters being added were making their way around town, and the explosive rock band is one of many exciting inclusions in this year’s edition. The Dave Matthews Band, which was confirmed a few weeks back, will also headline the festival and give festival-goers a reason to get excited.
Other notable acts include Blue Rodeo, Jethro Tull, Beck, Zeds Dead, the War on Drugs, Courtney Barnett, BROCKHAMPTON, Chromeo, Colin James, Shaggy, Oh Wonder, Ghostface Killah, Passenger, Machine Gun Kelly, Shawn Mendes, Naughty by Nature, the Strumbellas, Keys N Krates, Grandtheft, Hanson, Benjamin Booker, Noname, Dear Rouge, Kimbra, and more.
Some stellar Ottawa acts were also announced, including Catriona Sturton, Alanna Sterling & The Silvers, Amos The Transparent, Cody Coyote, Graven, Her Harbour, Okies, TAPAS, and many more.
A one-day pre-sale will begin early on February 15 at 10 a.m., with an adult festival pass starting at $209 (+ HST). A full-festival pass will start at $139 (+HST). All tickets will go on public sale February 16 at 10 a.m.
Check out other options and more details on the Bluesfest website. Have a look at the line up (so far) below.
With the snow lightly descending on the nation’s capital, the NAC’s Fourth Stage was a perfect setting for a Friday night Megaphono showcase featuring Trails, Luka, and Keturah Johnson.
This was my first time at the Fourth Stage in a long while, and what a beautiful room it is. It really helps create a very intimate setting for a performance, especially when it is a sold out standing room only show like this one.
Trails performing on the Fourth Stage of the NAC during Megaphono 2018 in Ottawa.
Headlining the night was Ottawa’s Allie O’Manique, better known to most as Trails. In just a few years she has really gained a lot of momentum in Ottawa as one of the truly up and coming artists in town. Now you may find it hard to call someone up and coming when they have already opened for Andy Shauf in the UK, but Trails stills feels so new and fresh to me. She has so much potential, which in itself is pretty scary but mostly exciting.
O’Manique certainly knows how to turn on an eerie haunting edge to her vocals which melds perfectly with the instrumentation of the backing band on this night, Especially on songs like -“Mourning/moaning/morning/snowing ” from her debut full length album The Past Is Coming Fast. Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have local musician extraordinaires—Philippe Charbonneau, Pascal Oflaki, and Jamieson Mackay—as support on stage.
While much of the music has a much more mellow and psyche feeling to it which can both serenade you to sleep or ease you into deep meditation, the band did switch things up a little on one song. The rowdier jam was maybe a little too much for them though, as guitarist Jamieson Mackay blew a string. Like a true champion he powered through. However, there was a moment of worry when he told the crowd he might not be able to play the “sweet lick” at the end of their powerful finale “Leave Her Be.” Luckily for us, he found a way and capped off the absolutely song which she wrote and arranged with Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns, and really shows the growth and immense potential for more.
Luka impressing the NAC crowd at Megaphono. Photo by Els Durnford.
Setting up Trails’ set was poet and crooner Luka Kuplowsky and a group of smooth rock n roller from Toronto who perform as Luka. Kuplowsky, rocking an acoustic guitar with no strap, reminds me of early Lou Reed in how he almost speaks over the music more than singing most of the time and delivers poetry with the upward intonation in his voice at the end of his lines. I was immediately hooked from the first song “City By My Window” to the amazing closing track “O My Heart Is Full” which is a near perfect song in my opinion, have a listen.
If the singer’s smooth stylings weren’t enough, he is surrounded by very talented musicians, including an extremely entertaining drummer and a dynamic flutist—yes, a flutist. I believe there were more flute solos in the performance than guitar solos, which is not something you see every day. One of my favourite songs from the night was “Quick Reflex” off his latest album What Kind of Animal, which tells the story of a hand-me-down baseball cap with a beautiful melody and finishing with a roaring crescendo in the live performance. This was just one of many very impressive moments of pure chaos with the soft vocals, off beat drumming, rapid guitar and bass strumming and racing the flute that really took the performance to the next level.
Keturah Johnson serendating the NAC crowd during Megaphono. Photo by Els Durnford.
Opening the night was another stellar local performer, Keturah Johnson, who on this night was flying solo and without her The Heavy Medicine Band companions. Johnson is absolutely masterful at looping her own guitar and incredible vocals, then playing and singing over those loops. It had my jaw dropping right away. Johnson’s vocals are so powerful and filled with passion and sometimes darkness that there are moments that make your spine tingle.
Her solo performances takes the time to fully craft the song, but the end result is beautifully layered beyond any a regular solo performance delivers, and the process is like watching someone play a bunch of smaller tracks that perfectly fit together. It is comparable to watching and old-school DJ craft a mix on vinyl from scratch, except this is being performed with very different instruments. And Johnson has no fear of the sounds of the classics even with the “modern” looping technology songs like her finisher “Conduit” shine on her influences like Pink Floyd in all the right ways.
TD Winter Jazz Fest: Feb. 8-10, 2018 La Nouvelle Scène, 333 King Edward Ave.
The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, which had its initial run in June-July, is set to re-capture summer’s heat (and sweep you off your feet) with a roster of eclectic and steadfast names in jazz. The festival has consistently brought household names to the city since its humble inception as a weekend-long event in Major’s Hill Park, back in 1980. Founded by musicians for musicians, this year’s winter installment makes good on its roots with designated time slots for open jam sessions, bringing together jazz troubadours from near and afar in unlikely musical encounters. If that’s not honouring the spirit of jazz, what is?
More information and tickets can be found at the Winter Jazz Fest website here.
Thursday, February 8th, 9PM –Studio A
“Subtlety “and “grace” are traits that continually crop up in describing Barbra Lica’s take on vocal jazz. Though her restraint is key, she possesses universal humour and infectious wit, tackling love and love lost with the singularity required to sell her heartthrob telltales. Her voice is a marvel in itself, an old friend betraying warmth and wonder, emphasizing authenticity over acrobatics. Her third release to date, 2017’s Juno-nominated I’m Still Learning, has all this in spades. Don’t miss her performance this Thursday, which features an all-star quartet to boot.
Quartetski Does Bartók’s Mikrokosmos
Thursday, February 8th, 6PM – Studio A
These improvisational mad scientists launch the work of contemporary composers into the future, deconstructing and re-imagining the sonic possibilities of timeless compositions—employing “violin synthesizer,” melodica, and turntable, to name but a few notable deviations from the traditional jazz palette— through live experimentation with mood, colour, tone, and more. Sound daunting? Fret not (and excuse the pun). Though this sextet casts you into uncharted waters, they’re just as good at reeling you back in.
Steve Boudreau Trio
Saturday, February 10th, 5PM – Studio B
Steve Boudreau is an Ottawa gem, a jazz pianist and educator that’s more than earned his badge of instrumental virtuosity. He has long functioned as a secret weapon on the sidelines, jumpstarting the careers of young performers at Carleton University, as well as contributing compositions and performance to a number of productions across North America and Europe. With this trio—featuring John Geggie on bass and Michel Delage on drums—Boudreau has come into his own with a slew of original music and captivating tributes to Canadian composers. Ace arrangements, all seasoned players… what’s not to like? Be sure to check out this beacon for local talent.
Thursday, February 8th, 10PM – Studio B
Angeli’s Sardinian guitar is a truly unique instrument, boasting three sets of criss-crossing and parallel strings atop one another, motorized fingers and propellers—which often hammer out a bass or counter-melody to Angeli’s own melodic musings, and a modified bridge and headstock that allows the one-man orchestra to bow cello parts atop the instrument’s traditional acoustic guitar base (horizontal strings, contrarily, function more like a dulcimer). Armed with a looper and a soundscapist’s arsenal of pedals, Angeli jams with himself in real time, exploring exponential musical ideas that defy easy categorization.
Friday, February 9th, 9PM – Studio A
Ever experienced synesthesia? Chet Doxas’ “Rich in Symbols” comes close, fusing the saxophonist’s love and knowledge of visual art with modern, electronic-infused jazz exercises. Inspired by the art movement of New York City’s Lower East Side from 1975-85, Doxas wrote the music for this performance by ear while studying his favorite paintings in various museums throughout New York City. These very paintings will be projected in HD behind Chet and his accompanying quartet as they play, fusing the senses for a symbiotic smorgasbord of sax, vintage synths, and infectious grooves (keep your ears perked for that unmistakable 80’s influence). Expect a show as vibrant as NY graffiti.
Beau’s Oktoberfest kicks off this weekend, Sept. 22-23, in Vankleek Hill, just under one hour outside of Ottawa. It is an epic two day celebration of craft beer, local food and of course music.
We have been going for years now and having the best time year after year. Last year members of Showbox entered the team challenge and came out victorious. We will be defending our title this year if you happen to be around early Saturday morning.
More importantly, we figured that this year you should get to know the bands that will tickle your ear drums while we suggest beer pairings, suds, that will also tickle your taste buds. Here are some of our recommended pairings:
Flight Distance with Three Knocks
Friday – 7:00 PM on the Black Forest Stage
Flight Distance seem like the odd band out as the only hip-hop act playing the festival. This makes them a rare breed in the midst of all the rock and roll, which makes pairing the trio with Three Knocks, a special, rare version of a German-style altbier perfect. I know they won’t be intimidated at all and will carry the flag for Ottawa hip-hop with pride when they hit the stage. So while they spits slick bars you should hit the bar yourself and get wild and freaky with Three Knocks.
NOBRO with Spiced Principle
Friday – 8:20 PM on the Black Forest Stage
My favourite song by these rockers is “Call The Doctor.” Spiced Principle is a complex and lively beer which features a mortar and pestle on the label, tools traditionally used in pharmacies to crush various ingredients to fill your prescription after your visit to the doctor. So take a trip to the Black Forest Stage to come rock out to NOBRO and sip on some Spiced Principle to cure what ales you.
John K Samsom and the Winter Wheat with Maple Rush Porter
Friday – 8:45PM on the Main Stage
Sure pairing the Winter Wheat with a wheat beer would make a lot of sense here, but John K Samson, formerly of The Weakerthans and Propaghandi, is Canadiana and Canadian-indie music at its core. And what is more Canadian than maple coffee beer? Nothing. So Friday night when the sun goes down and you’re ready to be swooned by the lovely musical stylings of John K, order yourself a Maple Rush Porter and toast this living legend of Canadian music.
Dead Tired with Vambrace
Friday – 9:15 PM on the Black Forest Stage
A Vambrace is a piece of armour, most specifically a piece that protects the arm. Now I don’t know how much a pilsner will protect you, but you certainly might need some armour to survive the onslaught from this hardcore band lead by former Alexisonfire frontman George Petit. I do however know that this crisp, refreshing and easy drinking beer won the 2016 Beau’s Oktoberfest homebrew contest and will make for a great late night drink while you headbang to Dead Tired.
Jon Creeden and the Flying Hellfish with Lug Tread
Saturday – 3:45 PM on the Black Forest Stage
The Lug Tread is Beau’s flagship beer, tried tested and true. This makes it the ideal pairing for Jon Creeden and the Flying Hellfish as they are an Ottawa Showbox favourite who are always refreshing, never disappoints and great at anytime of the day, just like Lug Tread. So make sure to be there early enough on Saturday to enjoy this pairing under the hot afternoon sun.
Partner with Farm Table: Hopfenlager
Saturday – 4:30 PM on the Main Stage
The Hopfenlager is taking something common, like a crisp and refreshing lager, and spicing it up with herbal flavours and aromas. Partner have taken rock and given it their own original fun take, while breaking down barriers and also spicing it up with some herbal aromas from time to time (check out their song “Everybody Knows You’re High”). So try a new beer while enjoying a new twist on an old classic.
Julie and the Wrong Guys with Jänis
Saturday – 5:30 PM on the Main Stage
First off a juniper beer named Jänis just has to be paired with Julie given that I’m a sucker for alliterations. Julie is of course Julie Doiron, an award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter from the Maritimes, who along with her band will continue to rock the main stage following Partner. The music will make you bob your head and even hop up and down, possibly like the rabbit on Jänis’s label.
The Planet Smashers with Parliament of Trees
Saturday – 6:45 PM on the Main Stage
Parliament of Trees’ label has a space ship on it and the beer has a hint of campfire in every sip. The Planet Smashers are one of Canada’s greatest and longest standing ska bands around. Their super fun approach to ska will make you want to dance and sing, the perfect activities for around a camp fire with friends.
The Creeps with Sergeant Stripes
Saturday – 7:50 PM on the Black Forest Stage
This export stout is dark as the night and deep in flavour. It promises to keep you warm while the ghastly punk rock stylings of The Creeps give you shivers under the moonlight. This beer and band pairing might just have you howling at the moon as you cap off your Oktoberfest 2017.
For more information on the beers themselves, click here.
We hope everyone attending has a wonderful, safe and responsible time at Beau’s Oktoberfest. And for anyone that doesn’t have a ticket yet, I believe some are still available here.
The final day of Ottawa’s CityFolk was the perfect end to a festival with a lot of highlights (my personal favourites thus far included Broken Social Scene, Matt Mays, and Suitcase Junket). The Ottawa weather finally cooperated with the entirety of a music festival for the first time this summer and though the fatigue was starting to show in the crowd, the best was perhaps yet to come.
The first act I was able to catch was Guelph’s “Nefe“, who was a pleasant surprise. Her debut EP Mama was released early this year and successfully combines R&B, pop and reggae elements into one smooth package. Her powerful, soulful voice made the crowd take notice, as did her harmonies with her band. Highlight of the set was her solo performance of “Mama,” a powerful R&B ballad that segued into a standing ovation.
Bahamas next took the stage in what almost seemed like a disguise, sporting a camo hat and a large, billowy t-shirt. His trademark banter was in rare form and with the outfit, he almost resembled a fun uncle at a backyard BBQ. Appearances aside, his classics sounded as good as ever with backing vocals from the always lovely Felicity Williams (who also performs with Bernice). Highlights included the classic “Lost in the Light” and a rare performance of “Stronger Than That”. He also debuted a handful of new songs, which seemed to intermittently connect with the crowd, which led to some jokes regarding the seagulls circling overhead. Encouraging crowd participation with his new song “Bad Boys Need Love Too,” he talked about the advantages of blowing a kiss instead of flipping a bird to those that may have let you down (“you know what I’m talking about”). With the sun shining down, his chill vibe and positive messages were warmly received.
Up next was the first Canadian performance for New Orleans’ Tank and The Bangas, the band that I was most excited to see all festival. For the uninitiated, the past year has been a whirlwind for the band after having won the 2017 contest to get on the famous Youtube series “NPR Tiny Desk“. Having been chosen from 6000 entries by a panel of judges, the video has been seen over 2 million times and has won them legions of fans across the globe (myself included). It’s the type of experience that has to be seen (at least until their recordings catch up to where they’re at now) but even I could not anticipate the force of nature that was this band.
Tank herself is aptly named, demolishing everything in her path with a powerhouse presence and voice that seemingly effortlessly changed on a dime, from playful Nicki-Minaj style raps to Saul-Williamsesque impactful poetry to soulful gospel vocals (perfectly complimented by her back-up vocalist Anjelikla “Jelly” Joseph). Packaged into “Quick” was an unexpected verse in which Tank proclaimed “I’m not the sea, I’m the ocean, I’m not the water, I’m the well”, a statement which now seems an understatement. The band rapidly oscillated between hip hop, soul, funk, R&B, spoken word poetry (and more) and had the crowd more lively than any in recent memory. So much so that they returned to the stage to play a cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” for an unexpected encore.
The absolute highlight of the set was their song “Rollercoasters,” a song which Tank describes as her first discovering what love could look like. It takes place at a New Orleans theme park called Jazzland, which takes on added meaning as it’s never reopened since Hurricane Katrina. The song took the crowd on an emotional ride, and the refrain “I’m getting back in line” seemed a perfect one. Wherever they’re going, I suggest going there and getting in line early (they play Toronto on September 19th).
Rodriguez hit the City Stage next, to a crowd of adoring fans. His mythology is well known (if you’re not familiar, please go watch Searching For Sugarman on Netflix) and his current success is a heartwarming story, following 40 years of relative obscurity. He played a collection of originals and covers, with the assistance of a solid backing band (one of his many across the world). While his covers of The Doors “Light My Fire” and the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” were pleasant, it was his folk anthems “Sugar Man,” “Rich Folks Hoax,” and the upbeat “I Wonder” that had the crowd most engaged. It was a treat to see the man in action, and his banter was well received. He remarked that the simplest way of practicing peace is to smile. After 5 days of solid festival tunes, it was likely that most in the crowd already were.
Saturday night at CityFolk delivered. Throughout a jam-packed lineup that featured not one but two performances by Fred Penner (the later performance was just for adults), there was no shortage of quality in spite of the quantity. Father John Misty’s thunderous closing set was backed by an opening lineup seemingly hand-picked to complement the dynamism and stage presence of Mr. Misty. This was a night of huge personalities performing captivating sets.
At first glance, the odd man on the schedule was Penner, whose musical stylings are most often associated with the children’s section of Chapters or CBC in the 90s. But there seems to be a very strong contingent of Fred Penner fans amongs those of Father John Misty, and nostalgia was strong on the air as a hanger full of nineties kids belted out “sandwiches are beautiful, sandwiches are fine” as a 70-year old man serenaded them.
Penner’s set was wholesome fun. He puts on a great show, and is still just as charismatic as he was when his catchy-as-anything kids tunes first hit the playgroups. He has the energy of a man still doing what he loves after what he admits is quite a long time. Forgetting the lyrics to the second verse of a song requested by an audience member he exclaimed that he hadn’t played the song in 30 years, something of which most of the room’s occupants had no concept.
Also on the Ravenlaw stage, Common Deer played a dream-poppy dynamic set, with long harmonies over tight beats and fantastic musicianship across the stage. With cello, guitar, keas and violins blaring, the group is a great example of what can be achieved when innovative musicians approach indie rock tropes. Also, their name is good.
On the City Stage, The Philosopher Kings capitalized on a bit of the nostalgia thrown into the air by Penner. The Canadian band, best known for their cover of the Godley and Creme song “Cry” in 1998, is staging a comeback with the release of their first album in eleven years and a stylish new music video for the song “Still The One” (no, not the 1998 Shania Twain song).
The Kings put on a great show, and frontman Gerald Eaton proved that the 90s are most certainly not dead with his Timberlake-esque dance moves and microphone technique. To their set, there could be no greater contrast than that of Corb Lund and Ian Tyson which followed. The two legends sat throughout a beautiful set of country and blues tunes, harmonies echoing across the Lansdowne lawn. The audience followed suit, sitting in rapt silence as two of the greats did their thing. But soon the stage cleared for the main event.
Father John Misty is a thing to behold. So much could be said of his look alone. The bearded, longhaired man in tight pants and a sport jacket look has taken off in large part due to this man, and I can confirm that many people at the concert on saturday were sporting said look. It’s a good look, don’t get me wrong. But no one wears it like Father John, whose real name is Joshua Tillman.
Interesting side note about Josh Tillman: he has played in many of your favourite bands, including Fleet Foxes, Pearly Gate Music, Demon Hunter and many more. To me, Father John Misty seems like a persona of his, to which I attribute much of the over-the-top theatrics associated with the act.
That look of his features heavily in the show he is putting on. We know this because at every opportunity the lighting director (excellent job, by the way) found a way to backlight Father John so as to emphasize his form as he danced wildly, throwing his arms up like Michael Jackson used to do.
Misty himself takes on a role similar to that of a cult leader, asking his followers to eschew the foibles of modernity (cell phones, texting, etc.) and play acoustic guitar in heels. It’s a little funny to be lectured about modern life by a walking brand, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe the hipsters are onto something after all.
Unfortunately for Yours Truly, Matt Mays was so crowded no one was able to get in. I’m sure he was very good.
Gee, the Ottawa Folk Festival sure has changed. Since 2011 when the Bluesfest producers took over, CityFolk as it’s been so recently dubbed, has become an extension of Ottawa Bluesfest. In all but name, size and location, CityFolk is indistinguishable from its older festival brother. That old “where is the blues in Bluesfest?” criticism can and has been applied.
But for the second night of 2017’s CityFolk, the festival seemed to harken back to its roots, presenting a lineup of artists who likely wouldn’t be offended at the use of the term folk to describe them. Jack Johnson headlined the night, and his acoustic sensibilities informed his openers, from Nathaniel Rateliff to local favourite Honey and Rust.
However, because there is so much overlap between these artists, many fans may have found themselves double booked, which is the other major criticism levelled at festivals like Bluesfest: you can’t see everything you want to. So it was Thursday night as Jenn Grant took to the indoor stage as Nathaniel Rateliff took the outdoor. Though the word was that both shows were great, Nathaniel Rateliff’s set was the highlight of the night for many.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have recently exploded out of Denver with their song “S.O.B.” reaching number one on the American Adult Alternative Charts in 2015. It’s a catchy song with a swear in the hook, so its popularity is to be expected. What was unexpected, at least to the casual listener, is the degree to which Nathaniel Rateliff backed up that hit with a solid set, characterized by country-folk-esqueness.
Rateliff is a born performer, and he certainly looks the part. With his ten-gallon hat and wide gait, his appearance lent authenticity to a new band playing a very old style of music. I don’t want to say he’s making the organ cool again, but he’s certainly trying. With horn-blaring crescendos aplenty, Rateliff’s band had the crowd stamping their feet to his well-written music.
Fitttingly opening for Rateliff was The Family Crest, a recording collective whose music is a loving homage to the folk music structure. Overtop of excellent melodic work, the group’s talented musicians create a beautifully textured sound, replete with horn, keys and multiple guitars. Because they’ve refined this sound to such an extent, their sound is pretty consistent. There are negatives and positives to this, but one clear negative is that no one song stood out to one unfamiliar to their music. However, the band performed exceptionally, and while they may lack a certain memorableness, they make up for it by putting on a great show.
Inside at the RavenLaw stage, Ottawa’s Honey and Rust performed an intimate set of music from their self-titled album released last year. Despite some shakiness, most likely due to the inclusion of two temporary (?) new members to their duo, the band’s sound was clear and refined, with the instant hook of Jo Beattie’s voice. Her singing brings out the sadness that is so often a feature of the band’s music, and Cristy Williams’ drumming compliments it perfectly.
From the emotional intensity of Honey and Rust, we turn to the closer of the night, Jack Johnson, whose emotional intensity was that of a bag of cotton balls. Judging from the crowd at his show, it’s unclear if he’s a musician or a party entertainer. Chalk it up to “shitty Ottawa crowds” if you like, but most people at J. J.’s concert seemed more interested in their conversational partner than the stage. Whether he was making banana pancakes or being all positive, Johnson wasn’t able to hold their attention.
And yet the park was packed. Clearly Johnson has a following in this city. It seems that Johnson just isn’t great live, and despite their love for him, his fans are more used to having him on in the background of a party.
The show was pretty lackluster. Johnson swayed his way through his repertoire, pausing every so often to make low-energy comments to the crowd about the weather. I do understand that low energy is Jack Johnson’s style, but for an outdoor festival with a huge stage, it felt incongruous, even boring.
At one point, his keyboard player crowd surfed for about one minute. Crowd surfing to Jack Johnson is a very odd thing to do, and even Johnson seemed confused, demanding the crowd return his keyboard player for the next song. And it is that image of the gangly keyboardist riding a wave of people as Jack strummed his acoustic guitar, swaying ever so gently, that most encapsulates the mixed tone of this show.
Part of that mixed tone is due to CityFolk’s own identity crisis as it seeks to draw more crowds, growing a festival that is trying to stay dedicated to its folk roots while putting on shows for thousands of people. Maybe folk and stadium crowds don’t go together? Tell that to Bob Dylan and Neil Young, I guess.