As a bit of an overzealous freak when it comes to good folk music in Ottawa, it’s been a few years now since I first developed a weak spot for decorated bilingual duo, Moonfruits. With the release of their sophomore album Ste-Quequepart in 2017, my generally cynical outlook on concept albums started bruised and further softened. The album was crafted to play like the soundtrack of an old film, one I’ve now listened to in its entirety on at least a dozen separate occasions. On the train, on the bus, in the shower, walking home from Vanier at 4AM. I’m often in search of escape and, if you are too, may I just say that the friendly, quirky romanticism of Saint-Somewhere is just the place to go to forget about where you may be.
As an anglophone and someone with an ego as fragile as tissue paper, I wanted to write about the album for some time but wasn’t sure I could do it justice, given how I am generally quite focused on lyrical content. I do believe, however, that their ability to convey authentic emotion through carefully constructed melodies and complimentary harmonic arrangements transcends any form of linguistic barrier, and that as someone who cannot actually understand 80% of what is being sung, I feel a genuine connection. That being said, I did take the time to translate most of the lyrics, though undoubtedly crudely, and found that I was not entirely off-base in terms of assuming the lyrical content based on the tone. I did read all of the English prose that accompanied the release of the album, many of which have a distinct Brother’s Grimm sort of flair which primed me for the blending of the wholesome and the foreboding.
There is a sort of unsettling undercurrent alive throughout the record with the ambling twang of the banjo conjuring images of a dusty, rusty old town in which all its strange but friendly inhabitants talk a bit too slow, stare a little too long, and love a little too hard (I’m particularly thinking of songs “Roustabout” and “Big Bureau Blues” here). The album has the drama of a cinematic experience, something I wholeheartedly attribute to the chemistry between its sole members Kaitlin Milroy and Alex Millaire. Their uncanny ability to banter back and forth with a sort of playful, dramatic edge before seamlessly marrying their voices with such captivating tenderness and sincerity speaks to their success as partners, in and out of the industry. As a married couple making music together, there is a sort of intimacy necessarily afforded to the listener that sometimes clouds our perception of how much hard work goes into appearing effortlessly in sync.
I reached out to chat with Moonfruits a few weeks back, knowing they were back in town after an extensive BC tour and they were kind enough to answer a slew of my questions, most of which were specifically about how their working relationship has evolved over the years, as well as how the relationship between their music and their audience has changed. Below you can read our correspondence in its entirety.
How has your dynamic as a duo changed over the years? Your sound? Your songwriting? How has it evolved?
We started off as a very bare bones street duo with just one beat up guitar, our two voices and a mittful of shakers. In order to make ourselves heard over traffic, footfalls, and sometimes other performers who played amplified in the street, a lot of our first tunes were pretty loud and percussive. As we started building a following, gigging indoors (!) and, especially, playing to more listening audiences, we sought more subtlety and intimacy in both our sound and message.
With our second record, Ste-Quequepart—an entirely French-language album—and over a hundred shows across Canada to all kinds of folks, bilingual storytelling is another dimension that has opened really itself up to us. More on that later! As well, we both learned new instruments for this album, banjo for Alex, and glockenspiel, tambourine and kalimba for Kait. Now that we’re back home, we’re turning our attention to writing and recording again, (and spending time with Sully the cat). We’re excited to see where the music and live show go!
Are solo projects out of the question? Are you working on a new album?
We’re really hitting our stride as Moonfruits and have so much we’d like to say and do through our music and performances that neither of us have really considered any solo projects per se. One thing that’s for sure is that we have a wealth of material we’re planning to record with more tunes, stories, and ideas always coming out.
How was your BC tour? What are the challenges of touring? Where would you like to tour next?
Though we had performed a couple isolated shows in BC last year, this first proper tour of Vancouver and Vancouver Island with Sarah Osborne was downright magical. Coming from Ontario, it’s sometimes hard to believe how majestic and imposing the Rockies are. We’d be walking down a little Victorian street in Nanaimo or Courtenay and have our breath taken away by the sight of them, while the folks from there would just kind of walk on and give us a funny look. They’re obviously quite used to them.
The people we met were all extremely welcoming and eager to share all that BC has to offer, which in our case meant amazing veggie-burgers, badass coffee, purple gin, seaweed–no coincidence that the highlights are largely food-dominated … we love food! And music and artists (of which there is a seemingly infinite amount in BC) that we absolutely need to check out.
We felt an instant connection with Sarah Osborne–we had only shared the stage once with her in Ottawa this past December–and the tour quickly became a healing and cathartic time on the road despite a pretty hectic schedule.
The challenges of touring are also the best parts–it’s a question of learning to manage your energy, stay healthy and rested and on top of emails and promo, but also stay in the moment, stay inspired, connect with new audiences, meet other artists and have fun!
Touring plans are currently taking shape in the form of a bike-music tour of Ontario, an Artists On Board trip through VIA Rail’s awesome program, *fingers crossed* a first tour of Europe, and then an eventual release tour for the next album. Pretty exciting.
St. Quequepart, to me, is the perfect roadtrip album for the folk lover. What albums do you listen to on tour? Who are you current favourite Canadian folk musicians? Francophone folk musicians?
If we’re completely honest, we’re pretty boring people and get a lot of our mojo and new musical ideas from silence. The road is also when and where we get a lot of our thinking, imagining, and planning for the future done, and, for us, that often needs large tracts of silence as fertile ground.
That being said, when we need some tunes, we often turn to one of our absolute favourite bands on the planet, Du Bartàs, from France. The five members play cuatro, accordion, asian violin and a tickle trunk’s worth of percussion instruments, and sing in Occitan (a branch of Latin that’s a close cousin to Catalan) and Arabic.
We saw them perform by chance on our first busking trip in Europe as a band–incidentally it was also shortly after we got engaged–and were immediately hooked as much by their political messages, as their crunchy harmonies as use of rhythm.
From participating in a few years of Folk Music Ontario conferences, we literally have a box of new Canadian music–tant en français qu’en anglais–we chip away at listening to while we’re on the road, but a few faves are our dear friends, Georgian Bay, Leif Vollebekk, Kyra Shaughnessy and The Ramblin’ Valley Band. Spoon, Fleet Foxes, Kaia Kater, Earth, Wind & Fire, Radiohead, and Sigur Rós are also never too far behind.
What kind of response do you get from your bilingual fans? Your francophone fans? Your anglophone fans? How does the response change from across Canada?
We’ve found that the response between francophones, anglophones, franco-curieux and plain old music lovers is pretty well the same the country over. We feel that the music behind the tunes translates their meaning well enough that even if a language isn’t spoken, it’s felt. Bringing in storytelling from the imaginary village of Ste-Quequepart has infused the performances with a lot of humour and, we find, gives an emotional arc to the set that really allows us and the public to create this imaginary world together–one that we’re always adapting and improvising around depending on where we are.
The choice to be visible, as well as audible, is always a little political, which has always been a sort of pillar of folk music. Do you feel the pressure from anglophone institutions to be ‘more accessible’ to anglophones? What do you think can be done by the anglo music community to be more inclusive of francophone musicians and francophone listeners?
To be fair, because French is a minority language in Canada–though it is extremely well supported compared to other languages spoken across the country–we’ve more so had the experience of institutions having those kinds of demands on the French side of things. If we’re performing for an institution whose mandate is to defend la cause francophone, often times our contract will be so explicit as to specify a percentage of the number of songs that must be in French and will occasionally specify that we need to address our public in French between songs. Arts granting bodies often have similar formulaic approaches to cultural support and development.
We love French, we love performing in French and we’re quite happy to do as we’re asked, but while this kind of approach jives with organizational mandates, it fails to jive with our artistic expression as a bilingual band. We want to play for music lovers of all sorts and to do that we want to create a space for audiences to discover something new, musically and linguistically. Linguistic plurality suits us better. On the flip side, because English so dominates the industry in Canada as a whole, in order to reach the broadest audience, your show and your music needs to be accessible to them. There are no formal requests because English is the default.
As a side note, our dear friends in Georgian Bay regularly write tunes that seamlessly incorporate French and English in the same song. That’s something that peeks our interest, and we’d love to attempt it. It flies in the face of this notion of language purity and it makes for beautiful poetry.
If we have a comment for our hometown, Ottawa, it’s that it would be wonderful to see a bar or venue openly welcome francophone, bilingual and franco-curieux performers and audiences alike. At present, there isn’t a spot that comes to mind–that isn’t North of the Outaouais river–that offers that kind of an atmosphere.
Where can we see Moonfruits next? Any new, exciting projects coming up?
There are a few very exciting things on the horizon for us!
On May 14th we launched a music video for our song “Le Maire,” pulled from Ste-Quequepart. It was shot at one of our favourite bars, Belmont, in our very own neighbourhood of Old Ottawa South with 30 of our fans, friends, and neighbours who kindly stood in as villagers from Ste-Quequepart (Alex’s dad even dressed up like the priest!). Andrew Robillard was our videographer, Don Charette of Naskigo Productions produced the video (he also produced our album Ste-Quequepart), local players of renown Don Cummings, Michel Delage, and Toby Meis played the house band, and it also incorporates drawings by France’s O’lee Graphiste. All in all, we’re pretty stoked to share it with folks!
Friday of this week, on May 18th, we’re excited to be performing with Montreal-based folk-rock collective Cheshire Carr at the Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield.
On June 8th, we’re playing an afternoon show for the Festival Folk et guitares d’Aylmer and, on June 23rd, we have the amazing opportunity of playing a joint concert at the Francofest de Hamilton with the Ottawa-based hip-hop artist and L’Armure du Son owner-operator Le R Premier, Hamilton-based DJ Unpier, Toronto beatmaker Kenan Belzner and members of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.
Ommie Jane is an Ottawa-based musician and writer for publications such as Ottawa Showbox and Ottawa Beat. She also runs the Ottawa Alt-Country Folk & Blues Facebook page, and occasionally promotes concerts through that name.
Thanks to House of Paint, Mill Street brewery, and Ottawa Pride, this last weekend of August was a memorable one. When biking around the National Capital Region, I noticed people outside enjoying themselves at these and other festivals. It gave a sense of vitality to the areas, showing hints of the city Ottawa is becoming.
Because a girl can’t be everywhere, this review will focus on House of PainT and Mill Street/Dine Alone Records’ new festival, Hopped and Confused.
House of PainT – Urban Art Fest
Fourteen years and going strong, they’ve done it again! I may sound confident in this assertion, but this was actually my first time checking out the festival. The lineup was strong, with everything offered from slam
poetry, to B-Boy and B-Girl dance competitions, and excellent music, both live and DJs. Friday evening was a blast with Timekode and guest DJ Bear Witness (from A Tribe Called Red) taking their dance beats onto the Ottawa river. I don’t think I’ve attended a floating dance party since my frosh week in University, but I actually had a really fun time. The people on board were friendly and laid-back, and the music kept us dancing until late in the evening. It was definitely one to remember, but I must admit that it was House of PainT’s Saturday events that really captured my attention.
Photograph by Greggory Clark.
I’ll confess – I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to infrastructure and urbanism. I’m fascinated by the way people interact with spaces, especially when it relates to transportation and culture. When you are under the Dunbar bridge, it’s clear that this space has cultural value that emerged without being intended by the engineers that designed the structure. More than concrete and steel, it has become a gathering point for the community–and House of PainT is a celebration of this.
But if you weren’t drawn-in by talented breakdancers and live-painting by graffiti artists, or by the arches in the bridge structure, then stay for the music. Saturday evening brought attendees a stellar performance by the Souljazz Orchestra, who lived up to their usual brilliance and kept us dancing for hours. Souljazz are a mainstay on the music scene in both Ottawa and Gatineau, and if you haven’t seen these talented musicians before, you need to go about changing that as soon as possible. (Luckily, they’re playing Ottawa again soon with an album release party on September 23 at Babylon!).
On both Friday and Saturday night, I attended this small festival of music and beer. Now in its second year, the riverside alcove outside the brew-pub was turned into a temporary home for a festival. Managing to feel both intimate and packed at the same time, it was a nice place to take in some music. The lineup was pretty stacked, with nearly all the musicians signed with Dine Alone Records. While Dine Alone does focus on Canadian music, they also recognize that this isn’t an identifier. They were even selling t-shirts proclaiming that “Canadian is not a genre”. Their artists have some diversity of styles but are primarily focused in alternative music. The record label is forming strong connections in the Ottawa area, with some of their artists playing here regularly – or in the case of the New Swears, being from here.
Especially for a festival only in its second year, Friday was extremely smooth and well-executed. The turn-out was higher than I expected, with a good number of people who came to see Said the Whale, Yukon Blonde, and the Trews. The set-up was picturesque, and the festival felt both well-attended and intimate. I’ve been a fan of Yukon Blonde for a few years, so I enjoyed both their classic tracks and the new singles they introduced. Friday seemed to be a successful evening for this festival.
New Swears were a rowdy bunch, as usual, at Hopped and Confused at Mill Street Brew Pub.
I returned around 6:30pm the next day to see our home-grown talent. True to form, New Swears gave an energetic performance. Perhaps it was the early hour, or the accompaniment of sunlight, or their regular touring schedule – but their performance felt more polished than it had when I last saw them. I’m not entirely sure how they managed to feel “polished” despite pelting the crowd with ramen noodles, Joe Louis, and confetti–an impressive feat indeed! I’ll continue following the New Swears to see what’s next, but based on their 2017 record, And the Magic of Horses, I’m confident that they’ll continue to do Ottawa proud.
New Swears were followed by Dilly Dally, who were excellent. This was my first time seeing them, following a near miss last summer when they nearly played Arboretum festival. As someone who was introduced to punk rock by the Distillers, I appreciated the vocals which alternated between raw and melodic with a healthy dose of reverb. The band represented gender parity (and were totally badass). I think the musicians enjoyed themselves as well, because they played their set fiercely with hardly a pause between songs.
It seemed as though their intention was to do an encore, but the festival at this point started experiencing technical difficulties. The unthinkable happened – and the power went out in the stage area! At first it seemed innocent enough, but the silence stretched on. Upon inquiring, I learned that the generator had been used to power the fridges overnight (fair enough, beer should be kept cold). However, it seemed as though the generator had not been re-fuelled. The crowd was surprisingly calm about it, with Hollerado’s dedicated fan base waiting more than 90 minutes until the power eventually returned. In the meantime, the band members hung out onstage and spoke with their fans. At the end of the day, both Hollerado and Tokyo Police Club played their sets, to the great enjoyment of those who stuck around.
BONUS TRACK: Beer review of Mill Street’s special release, “Hopped and Confused”
The signature beverage for the event, Hopped and Confused was a smooth, sessionable ale. With a medium IBU and a rich mouth feel, the taste was more delicate than hop-forward. The first taste is malt, which turns into a tang of sorts. The bitterness kicks in after a couple seconds and lingers unexpectedly. Quite a nice beer, nicely enjoyed on draft. It pairs well with late summer nights and great music.
The first Saturday of Bluesfest brought healthy crowds to see a diverse collection of musicians.
The first group I caught were Too Slim and the Taildraggers. I was initially apprehensive when each member of the band walked onstage wearing a cowboy hat, but my assumptions quickly turned out to be unfounded when the group launched into some riff-heavy blues rock. Their guitar player certainly knew his way around the instrument, and the vocals rarely strayed into the realm of twang. There were a couple tracks featuring a harmonica as well – which I personally love. With frequent solos and instrumental break, Too Slim and the Taildraggers put on a great show; the only thing more impressive than the guitarist’s riffs was his sideburns.
Also in the early evening was Tegan & Sara, bringing their brand of queer bubblegum indie. I’ve seen T&S several times at Bluesfest over the years, and it’s been interesting to watch them grow up. With every album their music has become more mainstream, and with a growing fan base they now play one of the main stages. With giant inflatable letters spelling “T & S” as their stage décor, there was no mistaking who was playing. The crowd was mostly young adults, happy to oblige in synchronized arm waving when requested. T&S played their hits and told a couple stories, including one of their first times they playing the region – at a summer camp in Hull. In summary, the camp wasn’t the best experience, but they seemed to hold no grudges and sent a humorous shout-out to our sister city.
Next up was local group Flight Distance, which can be described as hip-hop with the DJ bringing the occasional EDM track. This was their third time playing Bluesfest, and in my opinion, they were the July 8 highlight. Flight Distance worked hard to energize the crowd, which isn’t an easy feat at an outdoor festival before sunset. A particularly memorable interaction was when one of the vocalists encouraged everyone in the audience to “make a weird noise”. From the moment they took the stage to their closing track which remixed ACDC’s “Thunderstruck”, they brought their A-Game. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for future shows by these guys.
The last artist I saw was 50 Cent—about which I was cautiously optimistic—given the fairly high attendance and the nostalgic potential. Many in the crowd were dancing like they were in da club, and there was a tight crush of people close to the stage. I was a little further back, which was a good vantage point to watch the action. 50 Cent accurately busted out hits like 2005’s “Candy Shop,” and the show felt appropriately old-school. Still, I was unimpressed when he left the stage for about 5 minutes halfway through his set. I suppose the purpose was to build hype or stretch out his admittedly limited scope of material, but it came across as arrogant. Still, it was an entertaining set – if shorter than the majority of the festival’s headliners.
The Steamers went back to where it all began in Gatineau to play their final show as a band. Many of you may not know that the band was originally called the Gatineau Steamers.
In the intimate setting of the Propulsion Scène, an accessible, ecological and open space within an old market place, was a perfect venue for this anti-climactic show. Their set fittingly opened with guitarist Quin Gibson’s solo song “Take Nothing for Granted.” I am sure most in the crowd and at Steamers’ Bluesfest show earlier this year, took for granted that this local act would be around for much longer.
Steamers playing their final show at Propulsion Scène on Saturday October 1, 2016. Photo: Eric Scharf
The band quickly showed us all how much they had grown and improved over the years by playing their older songs in new ways or simply just sounding so darn tight as a six-piece. This was very evident in “Year” and “Blue Skies.” But the band also showed their fun and improvisational side as they changed up “Stay Here to Bleed” ending it in a ska version.
Quin showed a ton of resolve powering through even though he cut off the tip of left pointer finger earlier that week. It was all bandaged up, but you could tell that he was in a lot of pain on certain tracks where that finger played an important role in his chord progressions.
The band split the night into two sets, the first featured the above mentioned tracks as well as a shining light on bass player and vocalist Sara Fitzpatrick. Sara took lead vocals on The White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba,” which she delivered with some twang and then played “Destination” a song I always thought was about some dark times in her life. Sarah finally shed some light that the track was actually about being on the phone with administration at the University of Ottawa and how painful that can be. They closed out that first set with possibly one of the most fun songs ever written, the Robots! Everywhere!! song about dinosaurs drummer Phil Castiglione wrote for his partner’s little nephew.
Photo: Eric Scharf.
With the first set done, the reality that there were only so many Steamers songs left to ever be heard live started to sink in. The band played an amazing second set full of their originals, a Shaky Graves cover and another Robots! Everywhere!! song. One thing that I think might have been overlooked in the Steamers was their bilingualism. They showed the crowd a sample of it during the first set with “Passer Une Nuite,” but really showcased during the second set as they opened with “Wolfpack Presley” and played “Bateau” about halfway through. Julien’s vocals and song writing brought a whole other dimension to the band.
As the show progressed and as we knew time was running the band announced that they had two songs left and invited everyone on stage. Phil started to play “All My Friends Are Here” a Robots! Everywhere!! song that the band has adopted, only to have the sound man rush and get all of us off the stage. At the time it was kind of a bummer, but as I looked at the stage, I don’t think it was structurally sound enough to support the lot of us. Instead we all took to the front or the side of the stage to sing at the top of our lungs. They then concluded with “Head North.” The band shared a big group hug and a private conversation on stage and that was it. A band I once saw four times in one month, are now no more.
The end of an era. Photo: Eric Scharf.
Now now, hold back your tears. You’ll be happy to know that many of the members are working on other very exciting projects. Garrett is in Slack Bridges – a local soul and R&B group, Sarah is in Sleepy and the Noise – a local alternative rock/power pop trio, Quin will focus more on his solo music and possibly get a few musicians together to back that and I hear rumours of Phil, Greg and Julien forming a punk band that I will surely love.
Raise your glass. Here is to you Steamers. Thank you for entertaining me and many others for countless shows with so many sing alongs, and more importantly for the opportunity to now call all of you my friends.
Washington DC’s Sneaks performed at St. Albans Church on the second last day of Ottawa Explosion, battling heat and spiritual presences as she performed most of the songs on her self-titled debut EP, with a few additional jams thrown in. Sneaks kept her songs quick and to the point, none of which exceeded two minutes (her seven song EP comes in at well under 10 minutes), opening with a brief rendition of “This Is.”
As a solo act playing bass to a drum track, Sneaks nonchalant, matter-of-fact lyrics and lo-fi vibe really carry each song with vaguely-relatable lines, what appear to be inside jokes with herself and seemingly random words. The catchy chorus of “Tomorrow maybe / today for sure” during the fourth song of the set had me quickly singing along. Before moving on to the next song she briefly looked around the front of the church behind her, and pointed out that there was some “supernatural stuff going on,” and then proceeded into her single “X.T.Y.” Sneaks wrapped up with “True Killer.”
Shortly after Sneaks finished up, Gatineau’s FET.NAT began to set up their gear facing each other in the middle of the church floor where all of the pews had been removed. FET.NAT dived into their set with reckless abandon and formed an instant connection with the crowd, which completely encircled them during their performance. The amazing acoustics at St. Albans really made the show an immersive experience and most of those in attendance were quickly grooving hard to the energetic, off-kilter rhythms and intentionally abrasive sounds that permeated the church.
Unfortunately, for those of you reading this FET.NAT is one of those “you really had to be there” type of acts. I know that it sucks to read that, but it sucks more for me trying to write about it. While SNEAKS is as wonderfully DIY-simple and straightforward as it gets, FET.NAT’s music is precisely engineered chaos, practiced and preformed by an insanely tight band. The crazy combination of soprano sax, live drums, and electronic samples somehow fits well with the distorted franglish vocals, piercing guitar riffs and odd songs structures. I personally challenge anyone to attempt to cover one of their songs.
FET.NAT opened with the first track from their latest EP, Stop Saying It’s So Beautiful, with the aptly titled “VEGAS PARIS,” wherein the main refrain is those words repeated as the chorus as a digitally modified vocal sample. “Dre,” also on the same EP followed shortly after. The band rounded out the set with “WTF Jumpin’ Bean” and “Blunt l’Inspecteur.”
Throughout the set they managed to maintain a super fun, engaging and energetic atmosphere. This was definitely one of my favourite shows at Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016 and if you are ever presented with the opportunity, I highly recommend seeing both of these acts, albeit for completely different reasons.
Here is a taste of FET.NAT playing “WTF Jumpin’ Bean” live at Pop Montreal a few years ago.
Seldom is it that a room fills up with people buzzing for a one-band bill, but Fet.Nat seems exceptional in a few ways. By virtue of their sole occupation of the bill this evening, I thought (and hoped) they’d play for at least an hour, but the group clocked out around the 45 minute mark, and I wasn’t even mad. I couldn’t be. When a band moves your feet and wrinkles your brain the way they do, side effects may include euphoria, awe and mild confusion.
Maintaining elements of free-jazz and a punk-spirited beat-poetry, there is a confidence in their disregard for the conventional. Fet.Nat are blazing a trail that not only challenges listeners, but defies anyone who tries to label them. Whenever I talk about this band, I’m never sure how to describe them except that they are maybe the most interesting band in town.
There’s a certain absurdity to their sound, and the challenge of “getting it” is often taken seriously, but it simultaneously taunts and teases us. In the crowd, there was a divide between those dancing and those fixed in place, staring in awe and slight confusion at what was unfolding in front of them. So those aforementioned side effects are now in full effect.
Experiencing this band almost requires one to suspend that inherent human compulsion to categorize and understand everything, because this band cannot be put in a box.
The way the music defies genre labels and conventional structure is further exemplified by the way that most vocal hooks were programmed into a small sampler that the guitarist and saxophonist shared. Shows are a dime a dozen where the singer gets right in the crowd’s faces to get everyone singing along, and while there was some encouragement from the band in this regard, I enjoyed the subversion of that dynamic, thwarting that expectation, even for anyone familiar with their music.
No matter if someone was dancing or standing still, the crowd erupted with hoots and cheers after every song. It was over before we knew it, and we were left with a titillating feeling of adventurousness, and hungry for more. Sorry, Fet.Nat, but there is something beautiful about you, and even though you asked so nicely, I won’t stop saying it.
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)
It’s been over two years since the release of their debut LP Show Me Your Fears, and Ottawa art-rock ensemble Pony Girl (So Sorry Recs) are more than ready to unleash their brand new album Foreign Life on Saturday, Nov. 7 at St. Alban’s Church.
There’s a reason why Pony Girl is one of our favourite local bands. Several reasons, actually. But all you really need to know is that they are a collective of brilliant minds and diverse talents, bringing us beautiful and alluring soundscapes for us to melt into. On stage, the band mesmerizes rooms and takes captive the mind.
Lo and behold, we’re giving away a pair of tickets to their album release party at St. Alban’s church, along with the beautiful music of Her Harbour and presented by Arboretum Festival. If there is one venue that could do this band’s intricate stylings and quietly unrelenting sound justice, St. Alban’s would be it. Be sure to check out a limited and exclusive full-album stream of Foreign Life on CBC Music’s website this week only.
Ottawa’s Voicemail rocked the year’s final CHUO Live from Le Troquet last night.
The performance was live on the radio hosted by Emmanuel Sayer, Program Director of CHUO and Ming Wu, of photogmusic. The hosts got the ball rolling by playing music by Average Times and Teenage Head, which were perfect choices before Voicemail hit the stage.
Once ready Voicemail rocked the crowd, some unsuspecting people in the audience were not ready for the rock after the more subdued show that had just finished. They are a great garage rock band from Ottawa – kind of a super group of sorts. The band features members of some of my favourite local bands — Average Times, Mother’s Children and The White Wires. They started off the set with during their first set with an upbeat covers of “Get Over You” by The Undertones, and “Softly, Softly” by The Equals, and then broke out into some originals.
To help break the ice, lead singer and guitarist Ian Manhire said, “we came from Ottawa and feels like we are on tour right now! What an awesome night. Thanks for being here!” The boys finished off their first set playing “You’ll Have To Explain,” which has such a solid drum intro and driving drumming throughout, great track.
While the band took a break, the hosts put on some Roberta Bondar for us and then an interview they had taped earlier with Ian. It was kind of funny to have a conversation with Ian while also hearing his voice in the overhead speakers. During the interview Ian revealed that they would play some covers in the second set as they had learned a bunch to play a wedding this summer and wanted to play them again.
Rested and rehydrated (beer hydrates, right?), Voicemail retook the stage for their second set of the night. They opened with one of the aforementioned covers, playing a sped up version of The Rolling Stones’ “Heart of Stone.” Voicemail then performed my three favourite tracks of theirs in a row much to my amazement. Playing “My Kind” followed by “Riot,” and capped off by “Dangerous.” It was as if they were playing a show just for me at that point, my night was made. The boys completed their set with a cover of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Don’t Bring Me Down.” A perfect way to send off the final CHUO Live at Le Troquet for the year.
A song they released November last, “Hats Off” commends the parents & supporters of Googles, The Rat, Tokyo & Mystery Skunk in all they’ve done as the Cardboard Crowns. On YouTube & bandcamp their lyrics are published below, explaining just how patient they think their parents have been, and how lucky they feel to have supporters despite their bad social skills. Or at least their inability to prioritize friends over their full-time unemployment as musicians. This ska-infused punk-rock is sprinkled with reggae & bossa nova beats that keeps us as entertained as their antics, featuring morphsuits, a few cardboard crowns and an air duct for percussionist Tokyo when he isn’t slapping his cheeks for the hollow pops. The entire video was shot in a decrepit garage in the Bayview Yards that someone from the City of Ottawa let them into. Perhaps there was a ban on drum sets…
The music video is a snippet of the energy they bring to their live set, whether it be from their debut album Long Live the Kings or their upcoming record Global Citizen. We’ll be sure to see the Crowns at Ottawa Folk Fest on Sept. 14, 2014 to further promote that impending release!