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?
I’ve been in Ottawa for five years and believe it or not, this year’s Bluesfest was my first. Despite it being Friday the 13th, this day was anything but unlucky. The crowd at the City Stage was treated to three amazing shows by artists who have all had considerable success worldwide.
Starting off the night was Juno Nominee J.W Jones. The Ottawa bluesman, who’s played with the likes of Buddy Guy and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, is known for his high energy shows and improvisational skills. He sure did not disappoint the crowd. Up next on the City Stage was Sturgill Simpson, who’s 2016 release “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” earned the Grammy for the Best Country Album and a nomination in the Album of the Year category. He played tracks off his most recent major label release, some classics from his independent days and a surprising amount of covers, including Willie Nelson’s “I’d Have To Be Crazy”.
Finishing off the night was the incomparable Beck. I discovered Beck as a child. I was going through my family’s then “state-of-the-art” Windows ME and found the track “Beautiful Way” from 1999’s “Midnite Vultures”. This track was used as a demo track for Windows Media Player at the time. Later in my teenage years, I dove into his extensive and eclectic discography. I became a huge fan of Beck and his way of mastering which ever music genre he touches.
Before the show, I had heard a lot of people say that the Beck show would either be hit or miss. I kind of felt that way too. Having seen a few of his live shows online. I had friends ask me if I was excited to see Beck and I told them “It’s just Beck—I’m just going to the show to say that I saw Beck.” Boy, was I ever wrong.
Beck arrived on stage around 9:35 pm. The crowd was filled with people of all ages. It seems as though people have forgotten the amount of hits this guy has pumped out over the years. He started off with “Devils Haircut” from his 1996 album “Odelay” and then went straight into his breakthrough single “Loser” soon after. I was afraid that tracks from albums like 2002’s “Sea Change” and 2014’s “Morning Phase” wouldn’t exactly fit in with his upbeat repertoire in a live setting, but I was wrong again. In the middle of his Bluesfest show, his band got their acoustic instruments out and they played “Lost Cause,” “Debra” (with a medley into Prince’s “Raspberry Barret”), and “Blue Moon.” The crowd sang along, and it was definitely an intimate moment. One of he best moments of the show.
Beck finished off the night with yet another hit and quite possibly one of his biggest—“Where It’s At”. Mid-way into the track, he introduced his band, which featured studio musician and ex-Jellyfish member Jason Falkner.
Beck was definitely a highlight for me. It was a highlight for a lot of people at Bluesfest this year. I believe it was a highlight for Beck himself, who stated mid-way into the show that it was his first time in Ottawa and that he would love to visit the nation’s capital.
Beck has such a Beautiful Way of showing off his genre-bending discography. One could say I was completely WOW-ed by what happened at the end of the show: I was lucky enough to pick up one of the setlists from the stage. It was then time to Say Goodbye. Setlist in hand, I walked off and told myself that the Beck show—That’s Where it was at… Good one right?
As Bluesfest rolled along, the much-anticipated seventh day finally arrived. Chicago rapper Noname was definitely one of the buzz acts of this year’s festival, as she has begun to take the hip hop world by storm. If you haven’t seen her NPR Tiny Desk concert session, you should go do that right now. Blue Rodeo also headlined the night, a band that can play Bluesfest almost every year and still draw a crowd of dedicated fans each time. Els took some great shots, have a look below.
Bluesfest has changed a lot for me. And how could it not? Over the last ten years I’ve been psyched to see artists like The Weakerthans, The Tragically Hip, Roger Hodgson (yes I love Supertramp, fight me), Attack In Black, King Khan, The Aggrolites, etc, etc. Naturally the festival has changed a lot, and so have I.
When this year’s lineup announced that people like Foo Fighters and Courtney Barnett were coming, I knew I’d have to go. But I hoped they would play on the same day so I wouldn’t have to endure the massive crowds, overpriced beers and sweltering heat for any more time than absolutely necessary. Also the new “no ins-and-outs” policy is stupid for a number of reasons, but mainly that I couldn’t hop across to Hull and pound a few tall cans on the bike path before going back to the festival (I’m spoiled, I know but whatever let me complain a little). Nonetheless, I was beyond stoked to go see an all-time favourite, and a more recent new favourite artist perform in my hometown.
Since I’ve gotten more involved in the local independent music community in Ottawa in more recent years, I’ve lost a lot of interest in seeing a lot of big stadium-sized concerts and have really prioritized going to “shows” over “concerts” if ya know what I mean. I realize a certain amount of hipster snobbery could be inferred by that, but really I just have more interest in supporting my music community and being part of small, intimate shows where you can actually see the band and meet them and they’re actually real people. That’s become way more appealing than giving more money and attention to massive acts who already have plenty of those things. It’s not a steadfast rule, more of an emerging tendency I guess. Screw the hipster punk purity, I’m allowed to like some stadium rock. Let me have this one.
It had been ten years since my sister and I went to see Foo Fighters play at the Corel Centre (I know it’s not called that, save it for the comment section, ya dingus). Against Me! were opening that tour, and I had recently become a mega fan of that band so it was super rad but a little weird to see them play in that place. Anyway, that was maybe the best rock show I’d ever seen at that point. So part of seeing this show was very sentimental because I went with my sister again, and we loved it — “YASS DAVE” became our phrase of the night. Dave Grohl’s energy is still pretty impressive considering he’s almost 50. I always forget how many hits this band has. You can’t deny the commercial appeal that Foo Fighters have maintained over the 23-ish years of being a band, but hey, some people make the same argument about Nickelback so take that how you will.
The Foos were slotted for a 3-hour set, which seemed like a lot so despite their many hits, I wondered how they’d actually fill the time. Turned out they planned a nearly 40-minute section of introducing the band (all 6 members) and playing a song that each member started, including cheesey ass renditions of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and a blues jam that probably sounded like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Sweet Little Baby.” It was so forced, bordering on hack. But hey, big crowds love being pandered to, and I do believe that rule #1 of show business is to give the people what they want.
Thinking about this brings me back to talking about community, and prizing community over industry, and how I don’t like that that kind of pandering and cheesy shit is often part of appealing to larger crowds, which is just part of the business. But the Foo Fighters didn’t get to where they are by saying “fuck business, fuck what you wanna hear.” I don’t hate on the Foos though, I actually have much respect. I think they’re kinda keeping rock & roll alive in the mainstream in a way that very few other bands are these days. Also, the lineup has some serious punk roots in terms of members’ past projects, and I respect that they’ve all become millionaires after beginnings in bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, No Use For A Name, ummm… THE GERMS, and of course, Nirvana.
Anyway, My 18 year-old self was satisfied and I think I still like this band enough to feel ok about the Foo Fighters tattoo I have (sshhh, don’t tell the punx).
When I came back the next day to see Courtney Barnett, the crowds were way more manageable. I’d heard that the only sold-out day of the festival was for Foo Fighters. And it sure felt like it. It took me an hour to get through the lines, and the whole field was like sardines. I can handle that in small clubs and mid-sized venues, but in a wide open field, it was not that pleasant. I had a much easier time finding and keeping a comfortable spot close to the Black Sheep stage for Courtney’s set.
She kicked off her set with a few tracks from her new record Tell Me How You Really Feel, and had a healthy sprinkling of tracks from her debut full-length as well. She carried herself with a very casual energy that still had some urgency, and she didn’t seem to give a shit about really “performing” and hamming it up for the crowd (a refreshing change from Dave’s relentless approval-seeking the night before). And wouldn’t ya know it but introducing her band only took a minute between songs. How about that? But the crowd was eating out of the palm of her hand the whole set (at least my friends and I were). She closed perfectly with the big banger off her first record “Pedestrian At Best,” and it brought the house down. She rules, go listen to her records.
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest wrapped up the first weekend’s programming with sets by The Strumbellas, Larkin Poe, Amos the Transparent, Keys N Krates, and many more. Our photographer Els Durnford caught the action, have a look at her gallery below.
The busy weekend continued with thousands of people from the region coming out to experience RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Artists such as Shawn Mendes, Ghostface Killah, and Chromeo headlined the big Saturday lineup, and they did not disappoint. Our photographer Els Durnford was out and about and caught some great shots of the action. Have a look below.
As thousands of music fans descended on Lebreton Flats to kick off this year’s RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, the sweltering heat weighed heavily on all of us as we waded through the crowded bottleneck lineup to get in. With only one entrance this year, and a laundry list of new security measures being implemented, it came as no surprise that there would be shoulder-to-shoulder crowds to get in.
After managing to simmer down a near-fistfight between a couple high school bros, we made our way through the increasingly frustrated crowd and into the grounds. The security lineup at Bluesfest is quite possibly the worst place to get into fisticuffs, for obvious reasons. The humidity remained pervasive throughout the entire night, and the only saving grace was a wisp of the occasional breeze and some ice cold beer. Well, and Bryan Adams, too. And water. Lots of water.
It should be noted that there is only one main stage this year, which somewhat condenses the festival and crowd. An interesting change, but it didn’t seem to take away from the good vibes and smiles seen throughout the grounds. I opted to check out Bryan Adams on his ULTIMATE tour because I had seen Passenger at CityFolk a few years back, and had never seen Bryan.
As we made our way to the stage, he and his band were playing one of my favourite tracks—”Run to You.” That guitar riff is so bad ass, I don’t care what anyone says. All those who used to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on PS2 know what I’m talking about. Adams started the set with the energy and enthusiasm of an early 20’s millennial—cool haircut included.
The set progressed with a distinct fervor, only to be obtained by a veteran performer who not only knows how to please crowds and write good tunes, but still deliver explosive performances as he enters his 60’s.
Is Bryan Adams Canada’s Bruce Springsteen? I don’t know. Probably not. But the comparisons are there, and I’d be lying if I said he didn’t blow my hair back last night.
At one point he told a story about how he had lived and gone to school in Ottawa for several years. He said “when I was coming through security to do this show, a police officer stopped me back stage. I said I was the one singing tonight, and he said ‘Oh, I know.’ We used to go to school together.” It was obvious that he was enjoying his time in Ottawa on this night, as he took videos and pictures with his personal phone, and even brought a lucky audience member on stage for a selfie.
He continued with some more smash hits from the 80’s and 90’s such as “It’s Only Love,” “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started,” and “Cloud #9.” I had assumed that all the youths had gone to the Black Sheep Stage to check out Passenger, but to my bewilderment there were plenty of teens and 20-somethings belting out Bryan Adams tunes. Maybe dad’s road trip music selection isn’t so bad after all, eh kids?
When the opening chords to “Heaven” started, the crowd let out a collective and romantic “ahhhh” sound. I don’t know what this means, but everyone knew the words and I almost felt like I was at a giant high school dance where everyone was just too afraid to find a slow dancing partner. I also have a good friend whose father swears that all Bryan Adams songs are just different renditions of “Heaven,” so I was also listening carefully to test out that hypothesis for science. More on this later.
The closest Bryan Adams came to Bruce Springsteen-level was when the band broke out into “Summer of ’69.” What a jam. We all belted out the words with pride, and even though Adams was only 9 years old in the summer of 1969, it’s one hell of a song. Arm in arm, with huge smiles, the crowd’s energy resonated on the stage as the band sent it right back out through the speakers. The stunning imagery on the backdrops was well crafted, and added a lot to the show as well.
The set seemed to climax there, sadly. My friend and I looked at each other and wondered what other hits he could possibly play. They dove into Everything I Do (I Do It For You), which was basically the lovemaking theme of the 90’s—sorry, millennials, you didn’t just pop out of nowhere. It is such a cheesy song, but dang it’s so romantic.
The rest of the set was unspectacular, to be honest. There were just no more hits left. The emotion and zeal present in the first half dwindled, but the crowd stayed engaged until the end.
To go back to my friend’s dad’s “Heaven” hypothesis. I swear that three of the five final songs of the set sounded exactly like “Heaven,” just arranged slightly differently. So, he certainly has a diverse repertoire, but Bryan, you gotta move beyond the “Heaven,” man.
As the set tapered off, Bryan Adams played “18 Till I Die,” which oddly enough included a graphic on the big screen that just said “DIE.” Has Bryan Adams gone emo? Why so dark? All jokes aside, the song was actually fun and there were other words that came up as well, such as “18 Till I.”
Els got some great shots from the night, but we weren’t allowed to shoot Bryan Adams. Check out the gallery below.