2018 is the year that CityFolk celebrates its 25th anniversary, and this year’s lineup pulls no punches. There’s a mix of old and new, rookies and veterans, old dogs and fresh blood. Even more, there is something for everyone in terms of genres. The organizers reeled in big name acts such as David Byrne and Hozier, which will be sure to draw big crowds.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the top acts to check out at the main festival over the coming days, and this can serve as a primer for you going in. Have fun exploring!
Sunday, September 16, 9:00pm – 10:15pm — City Stage
Portland, Oregon’s The Decemberists have been active for nearly two decades. Over that time the group has released eight full-length albums, all of which are distinct in sound, concept, and approach. Principal songwriter and frontman of the group, Colin Meloy, has waded through changing tides and been the cohesive element throughout the years. The Decemberists are known for their rambunctious live performances, and seeing their expansive catalogue played on stage is one opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
Friday, September 14, 8:00pm – 9:00pm — RavenLaw Stage
William Prince is a JUNO award-winning singer-songwriter who has made a name for himself by composing raw, emotional songs that are rooted in memories and stories from his past. Raised on the Peguis First Nation of Manitoba, Canada, Prince picked up the guitar and piano at age nine and hasn’t looked back since. His debut album Earthly Days won “Aboriginal Artist of the Year” at the 2016 Western Canadian Music Awards and “Contemporary Roots Album of the Year” at the 2017 JUNO Awards. With his unforgettable baratone vocal timbre, Prince’s music is quickly becoming part of the story of true Canadiana folk.
Friday, September 14, 6:30pm – 7:30pm —RavenLaw Stage
Flint Eastwood is an indie-rock brother-sister duo from Detroit, and the past year has been a whirlwind of successes for them. They released their Broke Royalty EP on Neon Gold Records, and garnered a significant amount of critical praise as well as spots on key festival lineups such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. One gets the feeling that this energetic young group is just getting started on their road to stardom, so better catch them now before they blow up.
Saturday, September 15, 9:15pm – 10:30pm—City Stage
This list would be incomplete without the inclusion of Andrew Hozier-Byrne, a.k.a. Hozier. His debut EP came out in 2013, and featured the smash-hit anthem “Take Me to Church.” Not bad for a 23 year-old. The mild-mannered Irishman (and son of a blues musician) has taken his time releasing new music, and his new EP Nina Cried Power is the first release in four years. His deep, rich vocals explode in songs such as “Rose Wine” and “Like Real People Do,” and it’s no wonder why Hozier one of the most anticipated acts on the CityFolk lineup this year.
Thursday, September 13, 9:00pm – 10:30pm—City Stage
This man needs no introduction. David Byrne has had an undeniable impact on the course of music history, primarily as the gonzo lead member of Talking Heads in the 1970’s and 1980’s. But he has also distinguished himself apart from the band in more recent years, and collaborated with the likes of St. Vincent, Brian Eno, among others, to create truly unhinged music like no one else. 2018’s American Utopia is Byrne’s first actual “solo” album in 14 years, and delves into the American consciousness as it stands in these turbulent times. You can’t miss David Byrne—his live performances are simply legendary.
Thursday, September 13, 7:30pm – 8:40pm — City Stage
Ani DiFranco is an American singer, musician, poet, songwriter, and activist. Her music has always reflected her socially progressive core values (she has backed grassroots cultural and political organizations supporting causes including abortion rights and LGBT visibility, among others), and she’s always maintained an arms-length relationship with the corporate side of the music industry. In fact, she created her own record label called Righteous Babe in 1990 to give her more creative freedom and flexibility. DiFranco’s music draws inspiration from jazz, punk, folk, and funk, and she’s released twenty albums independently and sold over four million worldwide. But you probably won’t be hearing her on mainstream radio anytime soon, so be sure to catch a rare glimpse at Ani DiFranco live at CityFolk this year.
Steve Earle & The Dukes
Wednesday, September 12, 6:00pm – 7:15pm—City Stage
Let’s be clear—Steve Earle is a songwriter that transcends generations. As a three-time Grammy Award recipient and 11-time Grammy nominee, Earle could very well be the epitome of modern Americana music. Not only does his music career span over 40 years and 20 albums, but he is also known as a novelist, a film/TV/stage actor, a playwright, an author, a record producer, and a radio host. Catch him and his band live to see history in action.
Thursday, September 13, 8:00pm – 9:00pm — RavenLaw Stage
A short, soft-spoken, long-haired dude from Regina, Saskatchewan? Not exactly who you thought would make this list. But let’s be honest—his third album The Party was one of the best albums to come out of 2016. It was shortlisted as a finalist for the Polaris Music Prize that year. It’s the kind of record you put on while looking out the window on a rainy day. The thorough instrumentation and delicate vocals are just the beginning of what make The Party so magnificent, and Shauf translates the ornate arrangements and emotionally-driven songs perfectly on stage.
Saturday, September 15, 6:00pm – 7:00pm — City Stage
Say what you will about modern country music, Canadian artist Lindi Ortega is one who demands to be heard. Ortega’s music is somewhere between Lana Del Rey and a Quintin Tarantino soundtrack, with a bit of Dolly Parton thrown into the mix. Although she’s originally from Toronto, she lived for some years in Nashville, TN, and cut her teeth in the land where country music thrives. She’s released seven full-length albums, the latest of which came out in March of this year. There’s a narrative to her music that makes it undeniably attractive, and she’s an artist that those who don’t normally appreciate country may actually fall in love with. Worth a try, that’s for sure.
Sunday, September 16, 6:00pm – 7:00pm — City Stage
If you’re a couple of talented musicians who end up getting married, why not just start a band? That’s what Luke Ducet and Melissa McLelland did. Whitehorse is a beloved Canadian indie-rock duo that is rooted in marriage but known for their explosive music. They won a JUNO in 2016 for their album Leave No Bridge Unburned, and have been nominated for CFMA’s and the Polaris Music Prize. Check these guys out to see why they’re a staple Canadian band to see live.
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Wednesday, September 12, 9:30pm – 10:45pm — City Stage
The Tedeschi Trucks Band is one of the biggest and best live touring bands going right now. The 12-piece ensemble—led by the husband-and-wife team of guitarist Derek Trucks and guitarist-singer Susan Tedeschi—takes the stage by storm and doesn’t let up until the last chord is struck and final note is sung. For blues rock enthusiasts, this band is pushing the envelope and exploring new horizons of improvisation and collaboration that the world of blues music has never seen. Strap yourselves in—the guitar solos will blow your hair back.
It’s that time of year when we realize that summer is winding down and the air starts getting chilly. But there’s good news! Not only is the CityFolk lineup a solid one this year, but we’re giving away two full-festival passes!
Some of CityFolk’s heavy hitters this year include David Byrne, Hozier, Steve Earle & The Dukes, Lindi Ortega, Andy Shauf, Ani DiFranco, and many more.
To win the pair of full-festival passes, all you have to do is answer the question below correctly in the drop-down menu. The draw will happen on Wednesday, September 12, at noon so be sure to enter before then!
Which headlining act at this year’s CityFolk Festival released an acclaimed collaborative album with St. Vincent in 2012?
CityFolk returns to Lansdowne Park once again September 12-16, 2018, for their 25th anniversary, and they aren’t pulling any punches with this year’s lineup. The festival normally does a good job of balancing the old and the new, as well as mixing in different genres to appeal to wider audiences. The five-day festival will see many stand-out acts hit the stages—most notably of whom is David Byrne of Talking Heads fame. Byrne is bringing his American Utopia tour to the capital for the first time since he played Ottawa Jazz Festival along with St. Vincent in 2013. Known for his stage antics and stunning visual performances, the much anticipated return of Byrne to Ottawa is sure to bring out the crowds. Let’s just hope the thunder and lightning stay away for his set this year.
Other well-known acts playing this year’s CityFolk are Hozier, Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker), Belle and Sebastian, The Decemberists, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Steve Earle & the Dukes, Lindi Ortega, Tune-Yards, Whitehorse, and Andy Shauf, among many others. There could be more acts announced, too, so we’ll update this post as more information gets released.
Also returning this year is the free local music programming, called Marvest. While that lineup has yet to be announced, we can certainly expect a lot of great Ottawa acts to be playing this September.
Pre-sale tickets go on sale May 24 at 10 a.m. and regular passes for the general public go on sale on Friday, May 25. More ticket and festival info can be found on the CityFolk website.
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.
As Ottawa enjoyed its seemingly first weekend of summer weather, a lively crowd descended on Day 3 of CityFolk for some throwback nostalgia and some first glimpses of buzzworthy bands.
To start the night, Suitcase Junket played the Ravenlaw stage to a crowd split between fresh ears and those who were so impressed with his late show on Day 2 of City Folk, that they came out for a repeat performance. He was mindful of that dynamic and played a largely separate setlist, save for a few overlapping tracks. His folksy blues sound was a hit with the crowd, with songs like “Swamp Chicken” and “Busted Gut” particularly resonating. His ability to multitask with a seemingly endless array of instruments is mesmerizing, think Shakey Graves crossed with Owen Pallett (though there were no loop pedals in sight). Playing several tracks off of his recent release Pile Driver, he described himself as such, driving around a pile of instruments to win over audiences, something that he certainly achieved on this evening.
Following Suitcase Junket was Brooklyn’s Big Thief, a band with two incredible releases and a significant amount of buzz (particularly due to this masterpiece. They played with a pared down ensemble which fit with the intimate Ravenlaw stage. Lead guitarist and vocalist, Adrianne Lenker was magnetic, deftly weaving from whisper to wailing guitar solo. Highlights included “Paul”, “Shark Smile,” the aforementioned “Masterpiece,” and haunting “Pretty Things” (with lyrics like “there’s a woman inside of me, there’s one inside of you, too…” resonating even more live).
The unfortunate scheduling of Canadian indie rock legends Broken Social Scene 15 minutes into Big Thief’s set had an impact on crowd size as well as the atmosphere, with Big Thief’s intimate songs having a subtle backdrop of muffled Kevin Drew vocals. Though Lenker expressed some frustration to that extent, the band powered through, and we’re hopeful they return for us to have an opportunity to enjoy them under ideal circumstances (rather than take a Sun Kil Moon approach to a grievance with Ottawa Folkfest scheduling).
Though Ottawa has enjoyed live performances from various members of the Broken Social Scene collective over the past few years (Kevin Drew at Arboretum 2014, a particular highlight), seeing them all together (well, most of them) is a rare treat. About to kick off a North America wide tour to support their latest release, Hug of Thunder, the set was a power-packed hour of hits new and old (as well as a brief cover/singalong of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”).
New member Ariel Engle filled in admirably for Feist on Hug of Thunder’s lovely title track and both she and Amy Millan did “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” justice. While the crowd was enthralled throughout, a short passionate speech from Kevin Drew about the state of the world and a call for the crowd to cathartically yell as loud as they could made closing tracks “Cause=Time” and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement” particularly meaningful. As they closed the set (and for many, the evening), many wondered aloud why the heck they weren’t headlining tonight’s show.
Amanda Marshall bounded onto the City Stage next and she did her best to prove the scheduling skeptics wrong. Playing for the first time in more than a decade, she joked about the lack of Netflix and Uber when she last hit an Ottawa stage. There were no signs of rust, as she dove into her back catalogue with a tight seven piece band for an assembled crowd of passionate Amanda Marshall fans and curious BSS holdovers. As “Sunday Morning After” and “Trust Me (This Is Love)” began, many in the crowd exchanged an “Oh, I remember this song” look. Her biggest hit “Birmingham” followed and sufficiently delivered, sending many of her fans to the promised land (you know, the one beyond the lights of Birmingham…?).
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.
As summer winds down, there’s still some outdoor music that Ottawans have to look forward to. Although CityFolk typically signifies the end of warm days, it also consistently brings in some major international acts that bring out the big crowds to Lansdowne. Even more, the festival is an excellent opportunity to scope out some of Ottawa’s most exciting acts at Marvest, and find some lesser known and up-and-coming bands on smaller stages. Headliners this year include Jack Johnson, Father John Misty, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Jenn Grant, Matt Mays, Broken Social Scene, as well as many more talented artists playing Marvest, as well as others coming in from across North America.
Be sure to check out the CityFolk lineup here, and this year’s Marvest lineup/sampler here.
We’re giving away two full festival passes to this year’s CityFolk Festival! Read on below to enter and have a shot at winning the grand prize.
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So what does it take to win? Simple. Just fill out the form below and answer the question below. The draw will take place on Wednesday, September 13th at noon.
Which neighbourhood do the Marvest local showcases take place?
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!
Photo of Basia Bulat in NYC earlier this year by Elizabeth Durnford (Ottawa Showbox)
As I sat looking out at the grey, wet and cold Glebe, I considered just staying in the car and driving home. My Saturday had not been going as planned, and the idea of standing out in the rain for a few hours at a festival was pretty close to the bottom of the list of things I wanted to do. Basia’s latest album, Good Advice, was playing as I watched the rain hit the windshield and I knew that my Saturday would probably only get worse if added the regret of missing Basia Bulat, so I shut off the engine, threw up my hood and stepped out in to the rain.
I got to the main grounds area to be greeted by a sea of ponchos and umbrellas. People had been there for the long-haul of the day, seeing The New Pornographer’s set that preceded Basia, leaving the stage with high energy and smiles. I was ready.
This wasn’t the first time I had seen Basia live. My first experience was seeing her opening at the Bronson Centre in 2014. She stole the entire show for me, rocking the autoharp and charango, and I’ve followed her ever since. My most recent encounter with her was when I had the chance to see her do her birthday show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. The combination of rain and CityFolk policy made it so I wasn’t able to take in more then my phone for a camera. So I’ve included pictures from that show, because her majestic AF stage presence needs to be recognized and appreciated.
Basia has a combination of detailed lyrics, unique instruments, which set her out from other musicians, and of course, that stage presence that warmed up the freezing and soaked crowd. Putting herself on the very edge of the stage just so she could be with us in the pouring rain, she was appreciative of the crowd sticking around, checking in and thanking us multiple times. She sadly left the charango and auto harp out of this set, and one can only assume it was because fear of water damage, which is fair. Regardless, her set was unreal and everyone was more then happy to stand in the rain to hear her.
I’ve been describing the show as a musical cleanse. Basia’s sound and lyrics, mixed with the downpours that happened throughout the set, combined with the fact that I ended up going solo, meant that the set hit the soul, and man did it feel good.
Basia Bulat is on the short list for the Polaris Prize that is being announced tomorrow (Monday Sept 19th) in Toronto. As well she hinted that she would be back to play Ottawa at the National Arts Centre next year, though no set date could be found in my research. More to come on both of these items as things get announced.