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.
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
Another season, another beer festival, and the Brew Fest on Feb. 12th and 13th at Lansdowne followed a typical example of the phenomenon. Ottawa is rich when it comes to quality microbreweries, and the frequent celebrations are a testament to a thriving craft beer scene in the region. While Ontario’s microbreweries are creating plenty of unique beverages, those in the National Capital Region are luckier than most; we are close to the provincial border which brings another province’s products into easy reach. Attendees at the Brew Fest didn’t even have to cross a river to sample some of Quebec’s best.
I attended the session on Saturday afternoon, and had a great time familiarizing myself with new products. After a couple years covering the craft beer scene in Ottawa it’s become more challenging to find new beers to try, but the plentiful selection at Brew Fest brought a combination of old favourites and new brews. Scroll down to see which beverages won an award in my books, but first check out an exclusive interview with the festival’s General Manager.
A Festival is Brewing
In between samples, I caught up with Michael O’Farrell, the General Manager of both Festibière and Brew Fest. We spoke about the festival’s expansion into Ottawa last year, an opportunity which came about when Winterlude was looking to add programming to the renewed Lansdowne park – in fact, they were the very first event in the renovated Horticultural building. This year, the two events opened and closed Winterlude, engaging beer affectionados on both sides of the provincial border.
The proximity of the two cities is a feature of the National Capital Region that’s often overlooked, but it brings a lot of diversity to the region. As Michael put it, “I think a lot of people in this region are scared to cross the bridge”. Brew Fest featured many Quebecois breweries this year, which was an expansion from last year’s edition. “Logistically and legally, it is very time consuming [to arrange cross-border sales]. You have to go through a private distributor. The monopoly that the LCBO and the Beer Store have… they’re slowly letting their guards down but it’s still very controlled. When the Beer Store is owned by Sleeman, Molson and Labatt, that’s a big issue for me. It doesn’t bring a healthy competition.”
On that note, I asked O’Farrell about the decision to include Molson-owned breweries in the festival, i.e. Mill St and Creemore. It’s an interesting question, because does the ‘craft’ designation come from the model of ownership, the scale of production, the creation of unique beers, or something else? “ It’s a tough one. If I were an owner of a brewery and someone offered to buy it, I’d have to think about it. It depends on your morals, your values, and your business plan… The whole craft beer industry is about finding something unique and different that people don’t easily have access to, and a lot of that comes down to the ingredients.” One thing I will say in defence of corporate ownership of craft breweries, is that it allows them to use the distribution networks of larger companies. Put into practice, you can get tasty beer like Chicago’s Goose Island at Babylon.
In closing, I asked O’Farrell about his favourite breweries at Brew Fest. “I really love Beyond the Pale. They play a lot with hops, flavours, and aromas, and they always have something unique. On the Quebec side, Gainsbourg has the same concept – they have bitter, hoppy beers that use floral aromas.”
Winter Brew Fest (Photo by Aileen Duncan/Ottawa Showbox)
Unconventional Brewing Awards
Before the festival, I reached out to friends and foes, asking them to submit categories by which I could pit the festival’s beers against each other in fierce competition.
“Beer most likely to make me take off my under-roos”
The winner of this inhibiting award is Quebec’s Charlevoix Brewery with their Belgian strong ale Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus. While packing quite a punch at 10% ABV, this beer’s taste doesn’t reveal its mighty strength. The blonde ale is bright and crisp, with notes of citrus and apple notes, and a bready malted body. If you enjoy that “trappist” style yeast flavour, these will go down surprising easy. You’ll be drunk before you know what hit you.
Musical pairing: The chill guitar in this Bahamas song somehow suits the beer. They sing “I know you’re afraid of falling flat”, which you just might after a few of these strong brews.
“Best beer-related pun”
The nominees for this award were somewhat sparse, and the winner by default was Covered Bridge‘s Eternally Hoptimistic. Despite the lack of competition, this is a delicious beer in its own right. A pale ale that pours reddish-brown in colour, the intial impression is a bitter explosion of citrus-flavoured hops. The flavour quickly mellows into toasted malts that wash over your palate. Sessionable if you like hops, but the aroma makes this a great training beer for those who are less enamoured with the bitter beauty of hops. My fellow judge Stuart first described this beer as “a lawnmower on my tongue.” However, he soon admitted “it gets better the more you drink it, kinda like heroin”. And that, my friends, is how one gets used to hops.
Musical pairing: I might be in the minority here, but I love puns. NOFX aside, it’s hard to find musical examples of this particular form of humour. I’ve paired this beer with more conventional form of humour. As a side note, you can catch Radio Radio at Ritual in March.
“I don’t even like beer”
Many breweries boast that their double IPAs or triple imperial stouts are “not for the faint of heart.” While I’ll take a dark bitter beer more often than not, there are those who find hops overwhelming.
For the faint of heart, I recommend the Infusée by Brasseurs du monde. Marketed as a “tree tea white beer,” the brew manages to taste closer to peach juice than beer – yet still clocks in at 5.4%. It’s aromatic, delicious, and the best (only?) tree-infused beer I’ve ever had. I clearly wasn’t the only one who liked it, because it sold out pretty quickly.
As this is a tea infused beer, listen to this killer track by The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer while enjoying a pint, or two, of the delicious beverage.
We like beer. (Photo: Aileen Duncan/Ottawa Showbox)
The closer I got to RBC Bluesfest, with every step I took, the cloud looked angrier and angrier. And by the time I got in line to get in it was raining pretty steady. This rain never really seemed to stop, it slowed at times, but it also picked up to the point it felt like someone was standing above me dropping full buckets of water on me. But for the love of music, you power through.
John Carroll & The Epic Proportions performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 17, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
I was running late and unfortunately missed my good friends and awesome band, The Yips. So getting things started for me was John Carroll & the Epic Proportions. It was really cool to see him on the big Bell Stage, nice when they showcase local talent like that. John and his band played a great set, turns out it was even more impressive than I thought as he was pushing through even though he is suffering from E. coli. I love his tremendous voice and storytelling lyrics coupled with the great musicians he surrounds himself with. Always a treat.
Dropkick Murphys performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 17, 2015. ~RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo, Mark Horton
From mellow to rowdy it was time for Dropkick Murphys to take the stage. I couldn’t get over how many people were there in the torrential downpour for the boys from Boston. It was one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen for them. They played a lot of new stuff for most of the set and then finished really strong. Set it all up with some covers including “Irish Rover”, and a medley of “Taking Care of Business”, “We’re an American Band” and “Blitzkrieg Bop”. Finishing with crowd favourite “Shipping Off to Boston”. And to show some love back to the crowd, bass player Ken Casey said, “We’ve never played a bad show in 20 years because we play for people like you. Thank you.”
The Tragically Hip performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 17, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
The Tragically Hip, Canadian legends, kept the night rolling. I have seen the Hip several times, but they always impress. With that in mind we decided to take in half an hour of the set before making our way to see Bahamas. In those 30 minutes they crammed in a bunch of hits, “I come from downtown”, “Ahead by a Century”, “New Orleans is Sinking” and my childhood favourite “Courage”. It was a pretty awesome way to start. I am sure the rest of the set was much more of the same great classics and high energy.
Bahamas performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday,July 17, 2015.~RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Danyca MacDonald
From Canadian legends to another Canadian great, I was so excited to see Bahamas. The rain still coming down did little to hinder the performance or the atmosphere… nice try, Mother Nature. I believe there was no better performance at Bluesfest by someone wearing a cowboy hat than Bahamas. The songs were great, the between-song stories and banter were fun, and the band was very tight. They played all of my favourite tracks, including “I Got You Babe” and “Caught Me Thinking”. Then even through in a D’Angelo cover, “One Mo’ Gin“, which they performed perfectly. To top it all off he gave shout outs to what he called “great local venues” Babylon Nightclub and Zaphod Beeblebrox.
My shoes are just now finally dry, more than 24 hours after the show, but I have no complaints. The bands were all great, the vibe was positive despite the downpour and seeing music outside is such a treat sometimes you have to pay the price.
Alex Clare performing at 2013 Bluesfest on the River Stage. Photo credit to Marc DesRosiers
The capital’s most anticipated music festival of the year has finally arrived, Bluesfest 2013 is off and running.
Starting my festival experience this year was Barrie, Ontario’sBahamas. As I headed to Lebreton Flats the sky was full of dark clouds and a thunderstorm warnings looming. But Bahamas was too good for the sun to stay hidden and it finally rid us of the clouds and partied with us. Not only did Bahamas brighten our day, he had wonderful advice on how to survive the festival, ”Stay hydrated and drink light beer. Just kidding go really hard tonight and get your money’s worth.”
The only other time I saw Bahamas he was a solo act. This time around he had a full band and two amazing female back up vocalists which added so much depth. He played my favourite song, ”Hockey Teeth,” and then topped it off with a rocking cover of OutKast’s ”Hey Ya!”
I have always heard great things about The Cat Empire, but I had never seen them before. I decided not to miss it this time and am I ever happy I did. Their Latin gypsy styling with a dash of ska is pretty awesome, and even more so when you realize they are Aussies, not South American. Cat Empire had this one song that had absolutely everything. There was awesome brass, a bongo solo, a DJ scratching, two different vocals and a whole lot of dance. I like how almost every song became a jam session. A wonderful moment of the set was when they got polka circles going through out the crowd. Their new song, ”Still young,” had such an amazing super ska sound to it that now I really can not wait until The Specials.
With so many people flocking to headliners The Black Keys and Adventure Club, I made my way to Alex Clare for a combination of both, rock and some drum and bass.
The start of the set was the best ten minute delay ever, because I still got to hear three Black Keys songs while waiting. But once the Brit got going, it was easy to forget the Keys and be absorbed by the beauty. His incredible voice reminds me of Tracy Chapman during the ”Fast Cars” era. Complementing that voice was the excellent effects applied to the bass adding the DnB dynamics. I just wish it would have been louder. His originals were good, ”Caroline,” blew me away because I am such a sap. What really impressed me were his two covers, Etta James’ ”Damn Your Eyes,” and Lead Belly’s ”Irene (Goodnight Irene).”
Day one is in the books and it was a day of firsts. First time I saw Alex Clare, first time I saw Cat Empire, first time I saw Bahamas with a full band, first day of Bluesfest and first day of my vacation. Let’s go Bluesfest 2013, nine more days of music, sun and good times.
With Bluesfest kicking off tonight I thought I would share the one or two acts a day I consider must-see performers. I avoided naming headliners and went with lesser known acts, hidden gems and good alternatives to hopefully introduce our readers to some new talents. Agree/Disagree? Who do I need to see that I did not list?
Supporting local acts is always great and these three all offer something a little different. Adamyk with their rock, Fevers with their electro-synth-pop and Her Harbour with her dark and soulful songs. Adamyk, 1 PM Bell Stage, Fevers, 2 PM Claridge Stage, Her Harbour 4:30 PM Barney Danson Theatre.
Just one of, if not the, most influential Ska bands of all time! This is not only my must-see of the day, but my must-see of the entire festival! I am so excited to dance like no one is watching. 7:15 PM, Claridge Stage
More locals being plugged. Roberta Bondar have a dark space rock sound to them, while Mehdi Cayenne Club can only be defined as a lot of energy and a lot of fun, no genre can handle them. Roberta Bondar, 1 PM Bell Stage, Medhi 2:45 PM River Stage.
Alejandro is an excellent guitarist and writer who has been doing it for quite some time. Perfect for fans of Bruce Springsteen, The Hold Steady and Bob Mould. Dog Blood on the other hand is something completely different. It is the combination of two of the biggest names in dubstep, Skrillex and Boys Noize. Things will get loud and your heart will pound. Escovedo, 5:45 PM River Stage. Dog Blood, 9:15 Bell Stage.