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.
Sign up as a Showbox Insider to get exclusive access to contests and content.
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.
Every weekend we’re going to round up some great shows options for you to check out in Ottawa. That doesn’t mean there isn’t more going on in town, these are just the ones we think are a guaranteed hit.
This year’s CityFolk festival has arrived, and we’re happy to bring you our picks for the 2016 edition. In this one, we’re exploring a variety of artists – some more established and in their prime, some that have been around for ages and still conquering the big stage, and others that are emerging and creating jaw-dropping new music ready to explode onto the scene.
We implore you to have a listen to the artists we’ve carefully chosen, however it is also important to do a little exploring. Sometimes the best part of a big music festival is seeing an intimate performance on a smaller stage, discovering hidden gems on your own. So here they are, our picks for CityFolk 2016.
CityFolk takes place at Lansdowne Park September 15–18, and artists play on multiple stages around the grounds. See the full schedule and purchase your passes here.
City Stage Thu, September 15, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
There’s no way that we were going to make this list without giving some love to The Acorn. The brainchild of Ottawa’s Rolf Klausener, The Acorn is easily one of the greatest musical exports the nation’s capital has to offer. Although Klausener began this project as a series of home recordings in 2002, he has shown no sign of slowing down having just released the acclaimed album Vieux Loup last year. While dabbling in other ventures, Klausener has always stayed true to The Acorn and its intimate, textural, and poetic underpinnings.
Guided By Voices
RavenLaw Stage Fri, September 16, 10:00 PM – 11:15 PM
If there’s one band that has been relentlessly putting out music since the 1980s, it’s Guided By Voices. Mind you, the lineup has changed a lot over that time – however principal songwriter Robert Pollard has been the rock that has kept GBV’s creativity flowing. These guys are influenced by a lot of the British invasion garage rock (our kind of shit), psych, prog, and even post-punk, but no matter what you have to appreciate their gritty, DIY approach to music. This band is as genuine as it gets, and a breath of fresh air in today’s current mainstream music industry climate.
City Stage Fri, September 16, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
At just 19 years of age, Illinois’ Kwenku Collins has made a big name for himself not only as a songwriter, but as an MC and producer as well. His unique style and approach to making music have garnered him praise from major music critics around the globe – and he’s just getting started. 2016’s Nat Love LP has launched Collins into the big leagues, with ear-melting tracks like “Ghost”, “Vanilla Skies”, and “Stupid Rose” capturing listeners and never letting them go.
The New Pornographers
City Stage Sat, September 17, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
When you think of the Canadian indie rock renaissance over the last decade and a half, there’s one band that everyone agrees is a staple – The New Pornographers. Forming in 1999, this band is on an esteemed list of bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, The Weakerthans, The Constantines that poured a tank of gas on a national music scene that was largely barely smouldering embers as the millennium came to a close. In 2009, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the band’s second studio album, Electric Version, No. 79 in the “100 Best Albums of the Decade.”
City Stage Sat, September 17, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Basia Bulat has become a household name in Canadian music, proving over the years that she is as talented with her lyricism and songwriting as she is versatile in her sound. Cutting her teeth in the Ontario indie folk scene, she has separated herself from the pack as an artist that consistently outdoes herself. She’s shared the stage with Arcade Fire, The National, Nick Cave, Daniel Lanois, St Vincent, and her Juno/Polaris-nominated LP TallTall Shadow achieved national recognition and regular airplay on CBC. Her 2016 album of sorrow and redemption called Good Advice is shortlisted for the Polaris Prize this year.
BMO Stage Sat, September 17, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Julia Jacklin in an emerging artist that you should definitely keep your eye on. Her debut album Don’t Let the Kids Win is an introspective examination of life in your 20’s, and the minimalism in instrumentation contrasts beautifully with the lyrical depth that Jacklin explores so eloquently. At 25, she is sure to make some big waves, following the footsteps of musicians such as Courtney Barnett and Angel Olsen in her honest and intimate style.
RavenLaw Stage Sat, September 17, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
We love Northcote. Why, you ask? Matt Goud a.k.a. Northcote is a hard working and relentless guy with a tough exterior, but on the inside he’s got a spectrum of emotions that spill out through his music and into our ears. This small-town Saskatchewan songwriter brings a wealth of life experience to the table, and tapping into his influences which range from country to hardcore and punk rock. Whether they are anthems or lullabies, his songs of loss, love, small-town living and growing up are themes most of us can connect with. Springsteen and Gaslight Anthem fans are sure to fall in love with this guy.
BMO Stage Sun, September 18, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
At 20 years old, don’t think that youth makes Julien Baker naive. Growing up in the Memphis DIY scene, Baker has faced the challenges of coming of age as a queer person in the South. Moreover, she unapologetically discusses topics such as drug abuse and depression on her debut album Sprained Ankle. Through the bigotry and hate that swells in that part of the US against marginalized LGBTQ communities, Baker’s beautiful, powerful voice and songwriting shines through as a ray of hope. She’s the kind of artist that makes writing such emotional, intricate songs look easy. Although short in stature, she is without a doubt one of the most inspirational artists to hit the stage at this year’s CityFolk festival, standing tall amongst the rest in our mind.
With autumn just around the corner, we wait patiently for the air to cool and the leaves to turn and fall. As bummed as you might be to see summer drift away once again, we have some good news for you. We’re giving away a pair of open day passes (which can be used on any one day) to CityFolk happening September 15–18.
This year’s edition of CityFolk features acts such as James Bay, Dropkick Murpheys, Skinny Lister,Joey Bada$$, Dan Mangan, Basia Bulat, Vance Joy, Sonreal, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, and many more. Why not take a stab at getting some free passes?
How to Enter
Entering the contest is simple. Answer this question:
Q: Which Canadian act at this year’s CityFolk is nominated for the short list of the Polaris Music Prize?
Pick your answer from the dropdown menu below and click “submit.” A winner will be chosen at noon on Tuesday, September 13 and contacted via email. Good luck!