This year’s edition of Arboretum Festival was something special. Each year the organizers find new ways to captivate audiences and provide the ultimate community-oriented experience. Whether on Albert Island surrounded by the humbling rapids of the Ottawa River, or bringing Sloan and their ravenous following under one tent, Arboretum Festival has given us music fans some memorable moments over the years.
The organizers tried something completely different this year, and it was unlike any other festival most of us had ever been to before. First of all, the location moved once again. The wonderful people at Rideau Pines Farm welcomed the idea of hosting Arboretum on-site with open arms and were tremendously accommodating. Just twenty minutes outside of Ottawa in North Gower, ON, Rideau Pines Farm proved to be a near-perfect choice as a site.
While Ottawa prides itself on being a hub for music festivals of all kinds—large or small—one might get the sense that there are too many festivals trying to do the same thing. Well, that wasn’t the case with Arboretum Festival,
Art installations, neat lighting, and multiple stages in interesting locations made country folks out of us city dwellers for a couple nights. Although the Pond Stage got washed out with mud, the Bang Bang Barn (yes, in an actual barn) and Forest Stages filled that void nicely. There were even a few secret shows by Her Harbour and Toronto’s Giant Hand in the hang out area behind the food truck, both of which were intimate and set appropriately under the shade of umbrellas and trees for all to experience. People picked fruits and veggies, stoked their campfires, and soaked in the breathtaking sunset on the horizon over the fields.
They also scaled back the lineup and food options. Having a single food truck with rotating vendors kept things simple, and on Saturday night I had the opportunity to gorge myself with a Pork & Octopus hot dog from two six ate and two portions of delicious perogies from House of TARG. I’m a big guy, ok? Oh yeah, and the farm’s corn was the best I’ve had in years. While the food was top notch, one improvement would be for them to have more food options or at least one more truck. Many of us got caught watching TOPS and Deerhoof in line waiting (albeit with a great view) as the prep couldn’t quite keep up with demand. Props to the workers for handling the pressure well, it was worth the wait.
Beyond The Pale was the local beer sponsor, and I couldn’t get enough of the Pink Fuzz. While beer prices were a little higher than years passed ($7/$8 for a tall can), those who enjoy delicious cold craft beer certainly get what they pay for. It might have been nice to have a few options that weren’t as hoppy for those who enjoy a lighter ale, but most people seemed to keep coming back for more.
The lineup featured some incredible musicians, too. A transcendental and unforgettable performance by NYC’s Le1f was a highlight of the entire weekend. Toronto’s Yamantaka//Sonic Titan cranked up the energy and dawned on the stage with typical face paint, electrifying audience members for the entire set. Cedric Noel and Gianna Lauren were backed by some members of Pony Girl at the Forest Stage, and blew minds as folks arrived off the shuttle buses. Boyhood took the barn by storm by playing a rare and powerful set which included new songs never before heard. Deerhoof lived up to their legend, playing a jaw-dropping headlining set which featured incendiary guitar parts and complex arrangements across the board. These are just some of the sets that stood out—each brought something exceptional to the experience as a whole.
All in all, this was the Arboretum which organizers had envisioned from the start, and that fans had been craving. This quaint, yet exciting gathering of individuals felt good, really good. Let’s do it again.
Check out our photographer Els Durnford’s gallery from both nights below.
For the past five years, Arboretum Festival has been a crucial part of Ottawa’s music infrastructure. It’s beginnings as a boutique music festival in the capital followed the spirit of other small-scale indie fests across the country, such as Sappyfest, Hillside Festival, and Camp Wavelength. However, those of us who have had the joy of experiencing or being a part of Arboretum Festival know one thing’s for sure—this is no ordinary music festival. In fact, music is just one component of this celebration of all that is local. Gastronomy. Craft Beer. Fashion. It’s all been represented at Arboretum over the years.
This year will be different, as organizers have opted for a scaled back lineup (less is more), as well as a brand new rural location just outside Ottawa at Rideau Pines Farm on August 18th & 19th.
Showbox is once again honoured to be partnering up with Arboretum Festival to co-present the emerging artist stage this year, fondly dubbed the “Bang Bang Barn.” Emerging local music is sort of our jam… okay, it’s what we live and die for. Joining us as co-presenter of this stage is NAC Presents, an organization that supports music locally and all across Canada year after year. We couldn’t be more excited about the lineup, which includes some faces that are new and some we’ve seen before. But each one was hang-picked for their outstanding songwriting and performance capabilities, and what better place to see a great show than in a barn under the stars?
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been five years since the first Arboretum Festival went down at Arts Court. The first edition that took place back in the summer of 2012 amazed us all, and featured artists such as Cadence Weapon, Jokers of the Scene, Ohbijou, and local powerhouses Steve Adamyk Band, Crusades, Boyhood, Bondar, and more. Since then, Arboretum has grown and featured artists such as Sloan, Constantines, Austra, Mykki Blanco, U.S. Girls, Tim Hecker, just to name a few. However, the festival is scaling back the lineup this year and focusing on the experience as a whole.
Creative Director Rolf Klausener and Managing Director Stefanie Power have always envisioned Arboretum Festival actually keeping true to its name – having it take place in the wilderness. The original conception will become reality August 18-20, 2017, as this marks “year six in the sticks” and will be the first time the festival moves outside city limits and into the countryside. It will happen at Rideau Pines Farms in North Gower about 25 minutes from downtown Ottawa. While on-site accommodations won’t be an option for attendees this time around, the organizers have made it clear that shuttle transportation will be made available for attendees living in Ottawa.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled about Rideau Pines Farms” says Power. “Hosting the festival on a rural site, close to downtown, has always been our dream. We love the idea of escaping your own city, but being surrounded by familiar faces. This smaller, more intimate setting is likely be the closer to our original vision for the festival when we started in 2012.”
“Our first meeting with Rideau Pines was one of mutual admiration and excitement. We’ve known their head farmer Matt ‘Spicoli’ Vandenberg since he headed our corn roast at our 2013 edition behind Arts Court. He’s ebullient, charming, and deeply passionate about his work, as are all the Vandenbergs. The farm is a family run business as is ARB, really.”
The 2017 lineup includes Deerhoof, Le1f, TOPS, DIANA, Cadence Weapon, Un Blonde, L.A. Foster, as well as local powerhouses Claude Munson, Future States, Isaac Vallentin, Boyhood, Gianna Lauren, and FEELS DJs. More will be announced in the coming months, but this is a strong start.
“We made a conscious decision to create a really tight line-up of friends and dream shows,” says Klausener. “LE1F (NYC queer rap trailblazer) has been a dream booking for a while, and we’re expecting his headlining show to be a ridiculous party. We’ve been mega-fans of Deerhoof (Oakland art-punk legends) since their 2003 album ‘Apple O’, and are basically an incendiary case study on lifelong, uncompromising artistic expression. TO/Edmonton hip hop icon Cadence Weapon and electro-pop friends DIANA come back, and represent past artists we really admire as both creators and leaders in their own communities.”
Even more, the organizers have announced that there will be a hand-built stage, swimming pond, forest dance parties, intimate barn shows, all-night cinema, vast fields of pick-your-own fruit and vegetables, concerts in the fields, local cooks, farm-to-table food, communal meals, and plenty of room for the kids to run around.
“The main stage area is an intimate clearing, stockaded by tall evergreen, featuring a sweet hand-built wooden stage,” explains Power. “Beyond the main site are vast fields of fruit and vegetables, with 200+ varieties. Festival-goers will be able to buy pick-your-own baskets from the farm store, and pick their own fresh food all weekend long. It’ll also supply the hot meals prepared by our restaurant partners. Beyond the fields is a small red-clay pond, beside which smaller solo-ish acts and late-night DJ’s will play. And then there’s a gorgeous barn with a back slatted wall that let’s the light – perfect for late afternoon sets.”
Arboretum Festival has always been more than just a music festival. The organizers have made a point to incorporate many names in Ottawa’s food and cooking community, affording attendees the opportunity to try out food from spots in town they might not otherwise visit. Being on a farm, the festival is truly embracing a farm-to-table approach this time around.
“The fact that Rideau Pines supplies so many of the great cooks and restaurants we’ve worked with in the past isn’t lost on us,” Klausener explains. “I don’t think I know of any music festival where you can literally pull meals out of the ground. I remember when I was five, eating my first carrot pulled fresh from a neighbour’s farm in the Laurentiens, and my taste buds exploding. It’s a chance for us to really give the city a fun way to connect with the wild abundance that surrounds Ottawa.”
While Arboretum takes steps towards a new experience for festival-goers, it stays true to its core values – staying a strong supporter of Ottawa’s music scene and local businesses, as well as working hard to represent marginalized communities through diverse and boundary-less programming.
Full weekend passes are available online now for $75, and includes “Pizza Bus” transportation to-and-from the festival or a parking pass. Day passes are not yet on sale, but keep your ears open for more announcements soon.