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.
This year’s CityFolk Festival got off to a good start at Lansdowne Park with some stellar performances by Ruth B, Post Malone, Allan Rayman, and more. Our photographer Els Durnford got in nice and close to get some shots throughout the night. Check out the gallery below.
It’s that time of year when we descend on Lansdowne and the Glebe for CityFolk Festival. This year’s main festival and Marvest lineups pack some punches, and we’re excited to hit the pavement and start checking out some of the performances. One of the great things about festivals like CityFolk is that music lovers can exit their comfort zones and experiment with new artists they’ve never heard before. There’s nothing quite like unexpectedly walking to a stage and hearing something great for the first time. We’ve compiled a list of some of our top picks for this year’s main festival, and we encourage folks to get off the beaten path and try something new. We hope you have a great time!
Top Picks for CityFolk
The Suitcase Junket
Thursday, September 14, 10:15pm – 11:30pm – RavenLaw Stage Friday, September 15, 6:00pm – 7:00pm – RavenLaw Stage
The Suitcase Junket is one man band Matt Lorenz from Massachusetts who combines a guitar, old instruments and items from junkyards. His guitar jangles and slides, his voice is raspy and his percussion is played by his stomping, sometimes 3 or 4 different instruments at once. This one man band thing isn’t a gimmick to cover anything up, it is so well done that if you close your eyes you would think you were watching a full band. But I recommend you keep your eyes open and take it all in.
Thursday, September 14, 7:30pm – 8:30pm – RavenLaw Stage
To put it simply, Jenn Grant is Canadian indie music royalty. She is a highly decorated musician winning Nova Scotia Music Awards early on in her career, only to soar to greater heights with a collection of wins over the years at the East Coast Music Awards. Even more, she’s been nominated for the Polaris Music Prize longlist and JUNO nominations for her albums Honeymoon Punch and Compostela. She has toured the world endlessly and broken new ground with soundscapes and themes that electrify the soul on her new album Paradise. Her live performance at CityFolk is one to circle on the schedule.
Broken Social Scene
Friday, September 15, 7:30pm – 8:30pm – City Stage
Broken Social Scene isn’t just a band—they’re a music collective synonymous with modern Canadian indie music. The band is widely recognized as being at the epicentre of Canada’s indie rock revival in the early 2000’s, bringing together the varied talents of all its members and associated acts (including members of Metric, Feist, and Stars) and stunning the world with its orchestral, yet modern brand of “baroque pop.” While members Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew, and others have since splintered off to pursue solo projects, Broken Social Scene continues to play for audiences far and wide, demonstrating why their extraordinary catalogue is timeless.
Sunday, September 17, 5:30pm – 6:30pm – City Stage
Alfie Jurvanen, a.k.a. Bahamas, broke out onto the Canadian music scene with his acclaimed album Pink Strat. Songs such as “Hockey Teeth” and his cover of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World,” Bahamas took the fast lane into the hearts of Canadian music fans. It wasn’t long until his following albums received further critical praise, with multiple JUNO nominations and a couple wins to take home with him. He’s shared the stage withThe Lumineers, Feist, Howie Beck, Jason Collett, Jack Johnson, The Weather Station, and many others.
Sunday, September 17, 8:30pm – 9:45pm – City Stage
Rodriguez who some of you may know from the great film “Searching for Sugar Man” made about him recorded his first song 50 years ago. The singer-songwriter from Detroit, Michigan, is an inspirational poet armed with a guitar, countercultural thoughts and a lot of life lived to regale you with. Seeing Rodriguez perform will be like living a chapter of an American music history book, and not to be missed.
Tank and the Bangas
Sunday, September 17, 7:30pm – 8:30pm – RavenLaw Stage
Tank and the Bangas will be the most original and different act of the entire festival. Hailing from New Orleans, they mix vocal stylings ranging from rap, classic hip-hop and soul while pairing it with some funky musicianship. Their shows are energetic they will bring you to your feet to dance and take you on a trip to bangaville.
Sunday, September 17, 4:30pm – 5:30pm – RavenLaw Stage
Is a young vocalist from Guelph, Ontario, who draws on her skills as a spoken word poet, powerful voice and an acoustic guitar to capture her audience. She hasn’t just captured crowds’ ears and hearts, but also Timber Timbre’s Taylor Kirk who produced her debut five song EP, Mama.
Friday, September 15, 6:00pm – 7:00pm – City Stage
Raised by a preacher and a teacher for parents, he learned early on about the power of music and its importance. He channeled this to create guitar driven rhythm and blues which he has taken all around North America. In doing so he has turned a lot of heads, including The Roots and Mavis Staples, who he has collaborated with on a couple of tracks. That should speak for itself.
Friday, September 15, 7:15pm – 8:15pm – RavenLaw Stage
Having only been active since 2015, Brooklyn’s Big Thief has made some serious strides. Their most recent album, appropriately titled Masterpiece, are a collection of songs that are carefully composed and beautifully arranged. Fans of modern songwriters such as Angel Olsen, Waxahachee, and Frankie Cosmos will fall into Big Thief’s music with great ease. This band is definitely one of the hidden gems at this year’s festival, and I am honest when I say that I can’t stop listening to their music lately. So try them out, they’re a guaranteed hit.
Local shoutout: Danielle Allard
Saturday, September 16, 3:00pm – 4:00pm – City Stage
For a few years now, CityFolk has included an offshoot “mini festival” of sorts called Marvest. We’ve been lucky enough to help get the initiative off the ground and collaborate with the festival, as well as some kick ass local bands, in presenting Marvest shows over the past few years. This year, festival organizers have done a great job at stacking Marvest lineups to the brim with talent, and the Glebe is going to be overrun with the sounds of some of Ottawa’s finest musicians (whether they like it or not).
We’ve compiled some samples of all the local artists on board for Marvest this year, and included their venues and scheduled set times. We strongly encourage you to go explore the local component of CityFolk this year!
CityFolk (f.k.a. Ottawa Folk Festival) has announced an impressive list of artists for it’s initial lineup Tuesday. This year’s festival will see a diverse medley of musicians hit the stage, some of which are newer acts, but many of which are also veterans of the stage. Some of the long-time performers that are sure to well up some nostalgia are Jack Johnson, Amanda Marshall, Broken Social Scene, Matt Mays, The Philosopher Kings, and yes, the one and only Rodriguez (Sugarman has been found!).
Other stand-out acts that have been announced are Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Sin Little, Royal Canoe, Father John Misty, Bahamas, and many more talented artists that will rock Lansdowne in September. We’ll keep updating you as more announcements are made.
CityFolk will be offering a limited pre-sale offer that begins at 10 a.m. EST on Wednesday, May 17. General tickets go on sale Thursday, May 18. Check out the CityFolk website for more details and purchase information. Have a look at the schedule below (*Updated as of September 6, 2017):
NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS
THE SUITCASE JUNKET
HONEY & RUST
THE FAMILY CREST
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
A TRIBUTE TO JESSE WINCHESTER
THE SUITCASE JUNKET
FATHER JOHN MISTY
CORB LUND & IAN TYSON
THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS
TANK AND THE BANGAS
BSOMA UKELELE PRESENTATIONS
ROCK UNIVERSITY PRESENTATION