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?
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…?).
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)
CityFolk, formerly known as Ottawa Folk Festival, has announced its initial lineup for the Sept. 16-20, 2015, festivities. This new incarnation of the festival will take place at the new Lansdowne Park next to TD Place, in an area called “The Great Lawn.” The lineup includes some huge names, such as legendary acts like Van Morrison, Wilco, and Lucinda Williams, as well as more recent ones like Of Monsters and Men, Walk Off The Earth, Sun Kil Moon, and Will Butler of Arcade Fire.
Although no local acts have yet been named, we know that there are some major plans to include many Ottawa-area acts in the festival. There will be more acts named in the near future, so be sure to check Showbox for updates. See some videos below of some selected CityFolk artists.
A limited number of tickets will be sold on Thursday, June 4 from 10 a.m. until midnight. Regular sales will be starting Friday, June 5.
Bluesfest has announced its 2013 lineup today, and included in that is a bunch of some of Ottawa’s local talent. It’s great to see some returning to the stage, as well as some new additions this year. More announcements for local acts should be made in the coming weeks, so keep your ears open for more additions to this list. Congrats to all those who made the cut!