In 2007, a passion for music and dedication to female empowerment spurred the creation of Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls—a weekend of music instruction for teens and young adults. Ten years later, Girls+ Rock Ottawa is a multi-faceted organization with programs for girls, women, and non-binary youth to learn and experience music in a welcoming space. This November, Girls+ held their eleventh rock camp, showcasing tremendous growth and confidence in Ottawa’s women+ music community at the newly-renovated National Arts Centre.
Despite its recent success, Girls+ Rock is still a small, non-profit organization ran completely by local volunteers. Bianca Oran, a member of the organization’s Board, is a non-profit professional with a passion for music and development. She left a career in the music industry to work on sponsorships for the Ottawa Mission, and joined Girls+ a year ago to assist with on partnerships and communication. “It married my love of music with my day job and what I was already doing,” she says. “Music has been a huge part of my life for most of my life. I thought this would be a really good organization to get involved with in any way.”
“Since I’ve been there, it’s evolved a bit,” she says. This spring, the organization changed its name from Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls to Girls+ Rock Ottawa. “That’s because we’re more than just a once a year camp,” she explains. “We do workshops throughout the year, we have a drop-in jam space where alumni can come and practice. We provide that access space for them.” In addition to their new programming, the organization expanded to an older audience, hosting its first Rock Camp for Women+ this summer. The inaugural project was a huge success, proving a desire for welcoming music programs and communities in the city.
In the past year, Girls+ has also received an influx of funding, allowing the organization to pursue its new projects. They recently received just under $24, 000 granted from TD. “For a little organization like ours, to have that support is huge,” says Oran. The funding allowed them to purchase brand new instruments for their camps and jam sessions, providing for new and returning artists. “We purchased a lot of the instruments from local music shops,” says Oran, “so we put the money back into the community.”
The recent funding has been continued with the help of The J.S. Belleau Fund, which was established this summer. The fund was created after the passing of Jean-Sebastien Belleau, a young Ottawa local and active participant and friend of the city’s music community. “We were honoured and moved when J.S.’ family listed Girls+ Rock Ottawa as the recipient of all proceeds in his name,” says Tiffanie Tri, Chairperson and co-organizer of the camp. “We created the fund because we wanted to have a way to distinguish the funds that were donated in his memory. As in, have a way to track it and monitor its impact.”
Additional funds were also raised this summer at the I Love You J.S. Fest (ILYJS), a community festival and fundraiser hosted by Ottawa Showbox. Since his passing in March 2017, over $2,700 has been raised in J.S.’ name, and donations continue to roll in.
Girls+ has used the donations towards the the maintenance and upkeep of their new and growing inventory of musical instruments, “in order to sustain these investments, and to ensure that we can keep providing high quality instruments to anyone who wants to partake in our programming,” says Tri.
The new instruments were used this past month at the Girls+ Rock Camp, but the organization has more and much larger plans to use their new investments. Their main goal is to create a local music library for young musicians to borrow and rent instruments, following their mandate of providing access and resources to music in Ottawa.
In addition to their increasing funding and expanding projects, the organization has established partnerships with a variety of local businesses. Girls+ recently launched their own collection of merch, selling out of their first run at Victoire Boutique in Westboro West and online. The organization chose Victoire for its independent, local impact and dedication to ethical fashion. The new line (which includes t-shirts, sweatshirts and totes with handmade designs by local artists) marks a new beginning for Girls+, with a tangible showcase of identity, community and impact.
Girls+ is a unique non-profit made of young musicians, professionals, artists, and local supporters. The organization’s last year is proof of this, with its exponential growth and evolving identity. “We’re a community based organization that uses music to empower girls,” says Oran. “We have this flagship event, the camp, but we also want to create new partnerships in the community. We want to make sure were being as inclusive and diverse as possible.”
In the future, she hopes for a continuation of funding and community support. “How great would it be if we could take on more than 30 campers per year? Or if we could pay our volunteer teachers? We just don’t have the capacity or funding yet.”
Specifically, Oran is passionate about creating space and resources for women and girls interested in music. “It’d be great to have more support from the community, more spaces for alumni to host all-ages shows,” she says. Sustainability is important to Girls+, which inspired their jam sessions and women’s rock camp, so alumni can return to further improve their skills. Many have done so, with a handful of former students returning annually as teachers.
Ottawa is not an easy place to thrive as a young artist, especially as a young woman. Girls+ Rock’s mandate—to empower young girls and women through music—is evidently thriving and working to break down barriers for gender minorities. At November’s camp showcase, campers exuded a shared confidence and skill, nurtured through the program’s dedication to community. The programs offer an affordable, safe and inviting space for youth to pursue their passion.
From a $24,000 grant to community fundraising to multiple new programs, it’s been a massive year for Girls+ Rock Ottawa. Now, with secured funding and growing local partnerships, there’s no limit to the impact these young girls, women and local leaders can have in Ottawa’s music community.
If you’re a fan of Canadian music and follow CBC, you’ve probably heard of the CBC Searchlight contest. It’s a competition that attracts thousands of submissions from musicians across the country, and the search for the nation’s most talented undiscovered performers occurs over the course of several months. In its fifth year, CBC has partnered up with Canada Scene and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in the annual competition.
The contest has wrapped up with Vancouver’s The Long War being crowned winners (and, coincidentally, also have an Ottawa connection). The west coast folk rockers took the prize with their song “Breathe In Breathe Out,” beating out singer-songwriter Jaryd Stanley, as well as Saskatchewan trio The Wolfe and hip hop/R&B phenom WILL, who moved to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago at the age of five.
The Long War are set to play their biggest stage yet, Ottawa’s newly-renovated National Arts Centre on July 2nd. The night will be hosted by Canadian songwriting staple Royal Wood, who worked with them during their residency at The Banff Centre, and will also feature exhilarating performances by the runners up.
I spoke with The Long War’s singer Jarrett Lee about the CBC Searchlight competition, and the road ahead. Read the interview and watch their performance of “Breathe In Breathe Out” below.
The CBC Searchlight Live! event will be held on Sunday, July 2nd at the National Arts Centre’s beautiful Babs Asper Theatre at 7 pm. Find ticket information and purchase links here.
Interview with The Long War’s Jarrett Lee
Now that the CBC Searchlight competition is over, what was your biggest takeaway from the contest? Did you learn anything from the process as a whole?
Our biggest takeaway is something that we continue to remind ourselves everyday and that is Searchlight is an opportunity. We need to work hard and take full advantage of that. There’s a lot to learn in the music industry and we need to embrace those learning experiences while continuing to grow musically as a band. We’re so excited for what’s to come, and so grateful CBC and Searchlight has helped put us in this position.
What does it mean to you to come play in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre for Canada’s 150th?
Ottawa is a special place, it’s like a home to me. The first stage I ever performed on was in Ottawa. I met my bandmate Chad in Ottawa when he was cutting his teeth in the music scene before moving to Vancouver. The NAC is an incredible venue, I saw one of my favourite bands Wilco play there. And to be playing a venue so renowned on Canada Day 150 alongside Royal Wood to my family and friends is truly surreal. It’s an important chapter in this journey and we’re so thrilled to be a part of the celebration.
Winning the competition is a huge feat, with so many other acts that entered from the start. Did you get a chance to listen and become a fan of any other artists? If so, whom?
There were a lot of talented artists in Searchlight, I’m a fan of Will, Jaryd Stanley and The Wolfe all of whom will be hitting the NAC stage July 2nd. They were our Searchlight finalist peers and we spent some serious time together going through the process. That experience was a special one that we all shared connecting us in a way. They’re also really great songwriters and awesome people worth checking out.
What was it like playing “Performance in the Park” in from of a sold out crowd in Banff?
It was like nothing I’d ever experienced! There were two thousand plus in the crowd, the weather was cold and wet but people came out and were so interested in sharing in the experience of live music and so engaged in the performance. We have a song called “Lake Louise” and everyone sang along. Magical things happen in Banff.
How much longer will it be until the Vancouver Canucks win the Stanley Cup?
Great question! Patience is a skill, not a virtue. We’ve got a hard core Montreal fan in this band who I’m sure would love to answer this if he could. Missed opportunity, sorry Chad!
Moving forward, what does the future hold in store for the band? Do you feel like there’s a lot of music in you to give?
We’re releasing an album called “Landscapes” in January that we recorded at Metalworks Studios in Mississauga with Producer Kevin Dietz. We couldn’t be more excited about it. We’re always writing and already have lots of material we can’t wait to play. There’s plenty of music flowing through us, we’ve already planned our follow up album!
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, is made up of about 2,200 permanent residents, while Dartmouth has about 67,500. The City of Ottawa has more permanent residents than the entire province. It’s easy to be recognized, its easy to know of a lot of people, and if you are a public figure like Joel Plaskett, it’s no shock that pretty much everyone can find a connection to you.
Joel Plaskett is known around town not only for his music, but his work in the community. Advocating for the arts in Nova Scotia through organizations like the Khyber, growth of Dartmouth’s downtown core, and producing up and coming local artists. Encouraging growth in the arts is something that is found within many members of the Plaskett family. While living in Lunenburg, Bill Plaskett was one of the founding members of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival. This festival has continued to be one of the towns flourishing events, highlighting local artists on its many stages, including Joel. The most recent project undertaken by the Plaskett duo has been the appropriately named Solidarity album released in February.
When I was told that I had a chance to speak with Joel, I knew that I wanted to highlight the importance of community, family, and to showcase the importance of that word solidarity. I chose to reach out to my community to find which questions they would want to ask. I was not disappointed. I learned more in that part of this interview process than I expected to in the whole thing. Many were interested in family, wanting to know what it was like to produce an album with his Dad, and how much of an influence his dad was on his career. Some were interested in his work in Dartmouth, some of his past experiences, and others interested in where he saw things going in the future.
When creating Solidarity, partnering with his dad changed the album’s sound from his usual influences, and it brought him a sense of grounding. The process led to the exploration of parts of the self, bringing back the sounds of traditional folk. Discussions of the album began about a year before they decided to go ahead with it, booking the tour before solidifying the albums production. The deadline was tight. They started the recording process in October of last year with a deadline in the first part of November, which gave them about 30 days to record and produce it in it’s entirety. Having shared a stage in the past with his father, Joel wanted to take that further and give his dad more of the stage. Bill takes lead on five songs on the album, which are rooted deeply in tradition. A sound that was also inherited by Joel, bringing him “full circle” in his dad’s influence on his music. This was an influence that started by digging through old record collections, finding interest in certain musicians that have impacted the sound Joel carried into his career. The guitar style he was interested in was very much his dad’s, an influence that he noticed come through more on this album than on other albums. This album mixes Bill’s ‘social’ musical style with Joel’s more professional approach to music production, bringing the “living room to the stage.”
Growing up, Joel was influenced by music from a variety of sources. His love of rock music began from a lesser-known source, which was his time spent at Camp Wapemeo. Located in Yarmouth, Joel attended this camp with Ian McGettigan and Rob Benvie, who would later join him to form Thrush Hermit. It was at this camp where Chef Bobby got up in front of the whole camp and air guitared Stairway to Heaven at campfire. For Joel, that moment wasn’t about the air guitaring, but about having his first taste of Led Zeppelin. He talked about his “a-ha” moment, sitting at the fire thinking, “WHAT IS THAT SONG?!” He was 12 or 13 years old, and he admits that those camp moments changed his life.
Camp, like most kids, left a lasting impact for Joel. Memories for him also included a song well known which was sung by all the kids at Camp Wapemeo. That song was Leaving on a Jet Plane. Years later, well into his career, Joel was asked to play at a camp located in Ontario. He ended up finding out that his song, True Patriot Love, became the “Leaving on a Jet Plane” song for that camp, and thinking, “Yes. I made it!”
Understanding the ins and outs of music industry is important when working the way Joel does. Running an all-in-one record store/barber shop/coffee shop/recording studio in Dartmouth keeps him in the loop about what the local industry looks like, while also giving him the ability to produce records for musicians on-site. The New Scotland Yard Emporium has provided the space for many locals like Mo Kenney to build their foundation in the music industry. Other renowned artists have gone through NSYE, such as Cancer Bats and, of course, Frank Turner who recently played a pop-up acoustic show while on tour last month.**
Growing this hub in Dartmouth has made the profession accessible for him, and other musicians in the area. Sharing worries about the financial sustainability of the industry, he says there is little money in recording and that artists can only find security through money earned while on tour. Streaming has impacted the ability to earn money off records, but has had an impact on developing a fan base for shows while away. Joel has been fortunate enough to develop an audience that has grown and gotten older with him throughout the years, many of whom are dedicated to coming to shows. Anyone who has been in that audience knows Joel takes pride in his shows, keeping it professional and casual. You’d find yourself excited to be there, and comfortable enough to go have a conversation with him after the show. Connecting with the audience and encouraging that his shows, and music in general, “is something everyone can be a part of.”
This mindset has kept him able to continue to work within the community. Avoiding the fan fair often associated with being a well-known performer, and wanting to maintain his ability to walk down the streets of Dartmouth. Relax and enjoy the simplicities in life, like disconnecting from the world of technology and telephones and going for walks around Lake Banook (one of Dartmouth’s many lakes, it is the City of Lakes after all). Keeping this small-town mentality allows for the ability to slow down, which, in true Nova Scotian fashion, also includes the boycotting of Sunday shopping – the belief that everyone needs a day of rest and relaxation.
Being on tour provides a different kind of relaxation for Joel. It provides the relaxing “feeling of being useful.” Knowing that in the moments while away, he is doing exactly what he needs to be doing. When getting on stage he is comfortable. He knows the tuning, he knows what to prepare, and knows that that first song should sound and feel like. Joel and Bill Plaskett will be playing the National Arts Centre on March 18th. He tells us to expect a shared stage. Opening for them is a “fuzzy-folk” duo, Mayhemingways, who have also been recruited to do some backing up for the Plaskett’s set. In addition to these openers, the tour will have Shannon Quinn joining for the first few shows, including the NAC. She is a talented fiddler who will be playing with them for the set, making it into a five-piece group in the end. This show will be different from what people are used to, and will showcase the fusion of Bill’s traditional folk with Joel’s upbeat rock. He also promised to bring in a few of his old songs as well.
Joel’s Song I wish I Wrote but Didn’t
Nina Simone – The Twelfth of Never (original lyrics by Johnny Mathis)_________________________________________________________
**Frank Turner and Joel Plaskett have a long-standing friendship after Turner went on tour with Emergency five years ago. Joel highlighted Turner’s stage energy, general positivity, and overall genuine kindness. Plaskett also highlighted how every so often Turner will be listening to Joel’s music and it will pop up on his twitter, and people from anywhere and everywhere will comment about checking it out. For that he gave a chuckle and thanks.
What happens when three singer-songwriters meet, become friends, and start to help each other out? I had a chance to sit down with Carleton Stone, Breagh Mackinnon, and Dylan Guthro, who all grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Each having their own successful background in music, they told me about how they came together at the Gordie Sampson Songcamp, and from there, Port Cities was born.
Each a successful solo musician in their own right, it is no surprise that their collaboration has become its own fusion of sound, making their experimental vibe unique. Since meeting their mentor/friend Gordie Sampson, they have been working to create, perfect, and record their debut album. When asked to describe the journey of making this album they simply said “meat and potatoes.” Insisting that the album, which they have been working on for a year, has been worked down to the core. Expanding on the DIY style of writing and recording they have chosen, something that is both accessible and nourishing to the tight-knit music community they know and love.*
Port Cities revisited Ottawa, opening for folk power-house Rose Cousins on February 17th at the NAC. Listening live, their harmonies silenced the lively room of eager Rose Cousins fans. A crowd comfortable with artist interaction they sat mesmerized by the young singer-songwriters. Between songs, the crowd did not hesitate to let the trio know how they were feeling, making comments like “I can’t wait until you play at my house!” in reference to a tour contest the group is putting on to win a house show.
They promised their set wouldn’t make you cry like Rose’s inevitably did. (Trust me, you would have cried. Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt… literally) They were right, and started the show off on a strong high note, and kept the momentum from start to finish.
What’s next for Port Cities? They have a new album, and they are out to show the country. (You can give this debut EP a listen here.) They have been touring the country with folk power-house Rose Cousins, who has also recently released a new album.
My recommendation? Keep an eye out for these folks.
*Inspiration for their music is drawn from the artists’ personal tastes and backgrounds. When asked what song they didn’t write but wish they had, two of the three musicians mentioned Paul Simon’s Graceland.
The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival is easily the capital’s most underrated summer music festival. For over 20 years, the four-day event has been taking place at Mooney’s Bay Beach, bringing over 70, 000 attendees together to celebrate culture and community.
The Ottawa Dragon Boat Foundation was founded in 2004 to help efforts with fundraising for local charities, and has since has raised over $3 million. Even more, the weekend provides the opportunity to browse local vendors, try craft beers and explore one of Ottawa’s best beaches.
Thursday, June 23
July Talk playing Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival on Thursday, June 23.
Like most outdoor festivals, the first night brought in a diverse crowd, ranging from teenagers to families. Most patrons were young adults in July Talk t-shirts, a clear indication of the headliner’s popularity and growing fan base.
The first show of the night was Modern Space, a young five-piece group from Toronto. They played a varied set of original songs and covers, paying tribute to Arcade Fire, Lana Del Rey and The Arctic Monkeys. They were an energetic introduction to the weekend.
Following Modern Space were The Muscadettes, a Montreal-based band who played with July Talk throughout the Maritimes. I’m not sure if it was the fact that the lead singer and bassist are twins, but the band had a seamless unity to its music, playing modern yet classic-sounding rock songs. They gave off a nonchalant, effortlessly cool vibe and were a refreshing reminder that this was actually a beach concert.
Thursday’s headliner was July Talk, whose performance easily lived up to the band’s rising popularity. Lead singers Leah and Peter’s onstage chemistry was electric and charismatic, and their energy animated the audience – there were a few crowd surfers, and even surprising attempts at a mosh pit.
Lead singer Leah Fay’s magnetic stage personality was quite possibility the highlight of the night. She is a natural performer, one that ties her hair up halfway through the show (with a scrunchie borrowed from the audience), offers Jameson to the security guards, and seems absolutely at ease onstage. She was inviting and engaging with the audience, making the packed hill feel like an intimate concert.
The band’s impressive musical performance and captivating personality created an unforgettably high-energy night that successfully started the weekend off on a high note.
Friday, June 24
Mother Mother performs at Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival on Friday, June 24.
Friday night opened with The Beaches, a rock group from Toronto. They sang punky, but light-hearted songs that felt like the epitome of a girl group – charming, energetic, and almost intimidatingly talented.
The second act was Ria Mae, a Halifax-born solo artist. She sang heartfelt songs ranging from bluesy to indie pop to acoustic. Her soulful, round, Adele-like voice was the highlight, and proved to have impressive stylistic range. Special mention goes to her drummer, Chuck, whose strong performance was a defining accent in Ria Mae’s style. Unfortunately, the speakers seemed to be a bit too loud, which carried through to the final performance of the night. Be sure to check out Ria Mae in the NAC Studio’s intimate setting on Saturday, October 15.
The evening’s headliner was Mother Mother, and their explosively high-energy show was fitting for a Friday night. The five-piece group was much better live; their music felt complete with dancing, strobe lights and an energetic crowd. Lead singer Ryan Guldemond led the band through their set in such a captivating way, it felt like watching a classic rock star. Their show gave off incredible, hypnotic vibes that felt like a hybrid of 80s pop and futuristic synth.
Like the previous night, Mother Mother’s vibes were mirrored by the expansive audience. Between songs, Ryan thanked the crowd, explaining that the band had taken a break from performing to write new music. He reflected on world events and preached of peace and unity. Mother Mother’s fun and uplifting demeanour was echoed by the audience and was a warm reminder that music can truly bring people together.
Saturday June 25
Alvvays played Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday, June 25.
Saturday night brought in a quieter vibe. The audience was a vibrant mix of teenagers, older adults and families, and the evening’s bands emitted a beachy, laid back atmosphere.
The first event was Pony Girl, a young Ottawa band growing in popularity. They were much jazzier than I expected, complete with all-black ensembles and a clarinet solo. Their set felt youthful, however, and was a perfect example of classic meets modern. The band’s individual talents came together beautifully in their effervescent set, all playing impressive solos and showcasing young local talent.
Following them was Nap Eyes, a four-piece band from Halifax. They continued the evening’s relaxed vibes with a slowed-down set, boasting unique songs falling somewhere between the styles of The Shins and Neutral Milk Hotel.
Saturday’s headliner was Alvvays, a beachy, indie pop band from the East Coast. Their set was understated yet exciting; effortless but impressive.
Like always, the crowd reflected the act’s demeanour and the audience felt welcoming and content. A few sparklers and even a crowd-surfing beach ball proved that Alvvays’ uplifting indie sound was wearing off onto the audience. The band played fan favourites such as “Marry Me, Archie” and “Party Police” from their first and only album, as well as playing a few new originals, hinting at an upcoming release. The new songs were a bit darker and heavier while maintain Alvvays’ easygoing vibe, and were well received by the audience. Their encore song was “He’s on the Beach” by Kirtsy MacColl, which proved the band’s musical talents even outside their unique, original singles. It was an impressive set in every way possible.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the final night of concerts, but I have no doubt that Ottawa’s A Tribe Called Red was the perfect way to conclude one of the summer’s first festivals. Overall, the weekend was an impressive start to festival season and an uplifting, welcoming celebration of both local talent and international culture.
Saturday evening saw the NAC studio fill up in anticipation of the St. Bernardin trio Pandaléon‘s first live performance since the release of their latest offering, Atone, in January of this year. The album isavailable through the renowned Quebec label Audiogram, and the scope of sounds on this album is rich and inventive, while remaining intriguing and easily accessible. It’s like you’re being taken on a ride somewhere you haven’t been before, but you’re with friends and they know where they’re going. They’ve been here before. They live here.
The band largely self-produced this album, doing so in the abandoned elementary school that the Levac brothers/members attended as children. With the help of Nicholas Seguin, they experimented patiently over 5 months, throughout the building, seeking the appropriate spaces to capture the best sounds. The intimacy of the album really comes through in their live performance, and the studio space in the NAC was perfectly suited. From the sound engineering, to the lighting, to the video projections on the backdrop, as well the band’s own energy, the whole sensory experience was paired to an intoxicating and enlightening end.
The band’s confidence in their sound, and passion for playing makes it so comfortable to see and hear, even as a newcomer. The enjoyment was clear in singer/keyboardist Frederic Levac’s facial expressions, as certain songs would swell to their sonic climax and his brother Jean-Philippe’s drums grew from sparse, atmospheric arrangements to solid, driving rhythms. There’s something about the energy of siblings performing together that is simply magnetic. The same should be said for guitarist Marc-Andre Labelle, who’s palette of sounds was equal parts enchanting and intense, as with his physical demeanor in performance. I loved seeing how much the members were clearly communicating throughout the set as well, relying on expressions and quasi-gestures. This is a fascinating thing to watch: such intuitive interactions, evidence of the some deep chemistry between them.
The room was full of love for the group, who received a full standing ovation at the conclusion of the set. Whenever a band leaves the stage with their amplifiers and equipment switched on, I always assume an encore will shortly follow, but when they came back out to sustained applause, they instead addressed the audience to thank us again for attending, but primarily to thank all those behind the scenes who helped put the show together. A class act, graciously acknowledging how a single show can be so much bigger than the band themselves.
As I mentioned, Pandaleon’s new album Atone is out now, courtesy of Audiogram Records and it’s available on iTunes.
Story by Jared Davidson, Photo By Christina Kiffney
Folk music is often nostalgic, ringing with echoes of a bygone era. Its lyrics can be an exercise in recalling—remembering lost love, missing an old home, or eulogizing a departed friend. This can be true of other genres, but folk music’s connection to the past is at its core: the music itself, the harmonies, the chords and the song structure, is built on a tradition that stretches back generations. Every folk song recalls that tradition, some more explicitly than others.
On Wednesday night, banjoist Jayme Stone showed just how explicit that connection could be with an intimate show at the NAC’s Fourth Stage, as part of NAC Presents. Stone and company were performing music from Stone’s Lomax Project, which fully embraces the nostalgia of folk music. The project uses the work of Alan Lomax as a conduit to nearly a century of folk music traditions that span the North American continent and much of the rest of the world.
Alan Lomax was an archivist and folklorian who began his career working for the Library of Congress as a sound collector. He became fascinated by folk songs, and recorded thousands of people performing the music upon which they had been raised. The result was an enormous archive of music and stories that anyone can access. The archive has proved an excellent resource for artists like Jay Z, who have used Lomax’s recordings to create hit songs.
Stone’s approach has been different. Stone, in collaboration with some very talented musicians, has selected parts of Alan Lomax’s and brought them to life with new arrangements and with a clear love for the original material. The result is a recording titled Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, which features beautiful renditions of “Shenandoah,” “Lazy John,” and “Goodbye Old Paint,” as well as many other lesser known folk tunes from Lomax’s archive.
Those in attendance on Wednesday night will know just how intimate, how personal they have managed to make these songs. Coupled with Stone’s occasional scene-setting, the music was powerfully evocative of a place and a time. These were songs of the land being sung, and though they have been adapted, the heart of each tune was the same.
A perfect example is “Goodbye Old Paint,” which I have had in my head ever since the show. The version that Lomax recorded features a very different rendering of the line “I’m leaving Cheyenne,” but the one sung on Wednesday by Moira Smiley, brings a deeper sense of longing and trepidation to the song. And their version of “Shenandoah,” which can be heard above, is breathtaking.
Wednesday’s concert was one of those rare ones where everyone in the room seems to understand that they’re witnessing something special. It’s a shared enjoyment that is, I think, the goal of music, and folk music especially. As if to compound that feeling, the night ended with three sing alongs of songs like “I Want to Hear Somebody Pray.” The NAC’s Fourth Stage is brilliant for that. For hardcore folkies or casual folks both, this was a night that will likely stand out as one of the better concerts of 2016, replete with incredible performances from Stone, Smiley on accordion and vocals, Sumaia Jackson on the fiddle and Joe Philips on bass. All of the artist involved have created a project that pays beautiful tribute to Lomax and to folk music as a whole.
Two-time Juno-winning banjoist and composer Jayme Stone is bringing his most ambitious project yet to Ottawa.
Stone, from Toronto, makes music inspired by folk traditions from around the world. He was once called the “Yo-Yo Ma of the banjo” by the Globe and Mail. Admittedly I know very little about banjo music other than loving its addition to many folk classics. So before the interview I made sure to give him a listen and was blown away by sounds I had never heard resonate from a banjo before. His trips around the world, especially to Africa has clearly made their mark.
Stone’s latest adventure is called the Lomax Project. Focusing on songs collected by folklorist and field recording pioneer Alan Lomax, this collaboratory brings together some of North America’s most distinctive and creative roots musicians to revive, recycle and re-imagine traditional music.
The Lomax Project comes through Ottawa on the NAC’s Fourth Stage on March 16, 2016, more information here. Check out and interview I did with Mr. Stone below:
What drew you to the banjo?
I took it up at 16 years-old. Then I heard Bela Fleck play which really showed my what type of modern things that can be done with the banjo. I also always had a love for the more traditional side of the banjo.
Who are some of your favourite banjo players or biggest influences?
Tony Trischka was huge influence on me. He taught me as well as taught Bela Fleck back in the day. Tony was amazingly forward thinking and really pushed the instrument. Another big influence or one of my favourites is Mike Seeger. Mike is Pete Seeger’s younger half-brother. He is less known, but more studious and an amazing player.
What brought you to Africa in 2007?
I always had my ear to ground and was quite interested in music from other cultures. I had interpreted some music heavily inspired by Mali. I also always knew that the banjo came from an instrument closely related to one from South Africa in the 1700’s. I started playing with a griot, a West African historian, storyteller and musician, named Mansa Sissoko. All these different threads connected and I really wanted to go learn the traditional music of Africa.
How did that trip to Africa influence your music?
I really fell in love with West African music when I was there. I truly absorbed the rhythms and melodies, and they have been with me ever since. The wonderful thing about learning music is that it never goes away. It gets in your bones. African music is certainly a big big influence on me and it is even prevalent in the Lomax project.
What drew you to Alan Lomax?
I started listening to field recordings twenty years ago when I took up the banjo. Alan Lomax is of course one of the most prolific folklorists of the 20th century and this project gave me the chance to dig deeper into his vast archive. I love the diversity of the songs he collected and revel in discovering new sounds, stories, and people through the process.
What can audiences expect to hear?
We play a good many of the songs from the Lomax Project album. On this tour, we’re also debuting fourteen new songs that we’ve unearthed and dusted off from the Lomax archive. Bahamian sea shanties, Georgia Sea Island spirituals, ancient Appalachian ballads, fiddle tunes, and work songs collected from both well-known musicians and everyday folk: sea captains, cowhands, fisherman, prisoners, and homemakers.
What are your all-time favorite albums, and why?
Bill Frisell’s record The Intercontinentals moved me to tears the first time I heard it. It weaves together sounds and people from Brazil, Mali, and America, yet Frisell’s mark is indelibly etched in the music. Marc Johnson’s album, The Sound of Summer Running, set the template for my early records in their melding of improvisation with folksy melodies. The first Remember Shakti album is brilliant. John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussian, and Vikku Vinayakram have some of the deepest chemistry and camaraderie I’ve ever heard. I always come back to Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill’s album, The Lonesome Touch. It’s perfect music, like Bach.
What’s your hidden talent or claim to fame?
I love handwriting. My bandmates are always saying that I should design a font for people type their sets lists with.
Some people think we go to 10 shows a week. Rest assured, that is not true. But we try and pick em well, and 2015 was another great year for live music in the capital. We saw some really incredible shows in unique spaces that may never happen again. We saw some of the best local bands tear it up at festivals as they always do. We saw some bands call it quits and others come crashing out the gates with their first gig – and in one instance, this happened in the same show. Sparks flew – literally.
Although this is by no means an exhaustive list of the great shows that happened, it reminds us that Ottawa continues to grow and cultivate the right conditions for a strong music culture to exist. With energy flowing on and off the stage, here were some of the best shows that happened in Ottawa in 2015.
Weights and Measures at Arboretum
“I can’t overstate how impressive Weights & Measures were live. Even after 11 years apart, their riveting guitar riffs, thunderous percussion, and penetrating bass lines blended together as the crowd watched in awe. Everyone that was there now understands this band was so well respected, as they made their complex and intricate arrangements seem easy.”
“Ottawa’s party punks extraordinaire delivered in a grandiose fashion, as always. It was business as usual – the guy in a giraffe costume shooting confetti into the crowd, their fun upbeat songs like “See you in Hull,” “Paradise” and “Two Darts” stirring up a mosh pit, band mates playing on each others’ shoulders, making a human pyramid, playing bass while standing on the crowd, climbing up the fire escape of the warehouse to keep playing and being joined by Bruce Springsteen on stage.”
“The 11-piece chamber ensemble were stellar in their first performance outside of their hometown of Toronto. They are not your typical cover band. They take a look back at the last one hundred years of popular songs with focusing on songs of importance to the queer community, and revealing the backstories and personal narratives behind much of this music.”
“This performance was everything I’d hoped for. Starting out with “Run the Jewels”, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”, and “Blockbuster Night Part 1” (one of my faves) they had the crowd (me included) freaking out. Halfway through the set, Killer Mike paused and told us all if we had glasses on or phones out, to put them away because our shit was about get fucked up.”
Underground Railroad to Candyland at Ottawa Explosion Weekend
“It all started with me seeing a guy walking down the street in a tiger costume. I figured that it must have been a fan of New Swears who played later on, since those guys always have something up their sleeve. But no, that was not the case. URTC got up on stage, one member wearing the aforementioned tiger costume, another in a shark onesie, and another wearing a superwoman-style Canadian flag as a cape. Did I mention that Congelliere was wearing a sweet Chippendales shirt? The blistering heat outside was cooking us, I don’t quite know how they managed to pull off such a great set with all that attire.”
“The band capped off their set with the always fun and super interactive “Wolfpack Presley”. I mean how often are you encouraged to howl like a wolf at the top of your lungs? The crowd was having so much fun they wouldn’t let Steamers leave without one more song.”
“Was it the lighting through the haze and $3 beers that created ghostly looking shadows dancing on the inside of the tent, or were the ouija rockers channelling spirits before their set? We will never know.”
Lisa Leblanc’s intimate session at The Record Centre
“It’s all fun and games with LeBlanc. As she finished up soundcheck, the atmosphere was relaxed and smiles filled the room. With the spring sun shining bright, the trio of LeBlanc and her two companions filled the store with tunes. The set was a great mix of French songs off her 2012 self-titled debut album and English songs off Highways, Heartaches and Time Well Wasted.”
FRANK TURNER & THE SLEEPING SOULS WITH CORY LEVESQUE @ RITUAL
“There are very few musicians out there that genuinely look like they are having as much fun and exude that much energy from behind a guitar and a microphone. His energy is contagious. You can’t help but sing along and clap at every opportunity, and with Turner, there are plenty of opportunities to be heard and participate. There was something extra special about this show, not only was it the first of his little mini-tour, it was the first proper show with a band of 2015 for Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls — quite the honour for Ottawa.”
PREGNANCY SCARES’ FINAL FRIGHT WITH SUBSISTENCH, SICK NURSE & SAILOR JUPITER
“The zenith was reached during during the final song of that last performance.
Energy from the crowd clashed with the band’s and culminated into a chaos of people getting on stage while Pregnancy Scares blasted away. It was taken to a whole other level when a man on the side of the stage wearing safety goggles and a bandana over his mouth started an electric grinder inside a steel Ottawa Senators trash can. He showered the stage and musicians with sparks and Davey, loving every minute of it, went as as close as he possibly could.”
MEGAPHONO: COLD WAR ADVENTURES IN THE DIEFENBUNKER WITH STEVE ADAMYK BAND, BOYHOOD & MORE
“The snow storm that hit Ottawa Wednesday night seemed appropriate as we drove out to the Diefenbunker, an underground artifact of the Cold War, on the outskirts of town for another night of MEGAPHONO. It also seemed appropriate that some of Ottawa’s best underground bands were literally gathering under the soil to show their stuff in this unbelievable space.”
MEGAPHONO: LAST EX, EVENING HYMNS & SCATTERED CLOUDS @ ST. ALBAN’S
“Last Ex took to the stage and simply put, melted my brain. They play a really cool and out there instrumental music that blew me away. This was the coolest and most captivating instrumental performance I have seen since Explosions in the Sky. ”
“As Hey Rosetta! hit the stage, the lighting came on and dazzled us all. The foil backdrop also enhanced the lighting effects as it offered distorted reflections. The atmosphere couldn’t be better, and there was an air of excitement and good vibes in the room. […] The band maintained a constant push/pull of energy, keeping the crowd attentive yet engaged and moving. Songs like “Gold Teeth” would fill each corner of Southam Hall with a vibrant energy, while others like “What Arrows” would take it away and take a quiet hold of us all.
Although the night was ephemeral, the memories will remain with us. Great bands, a wonderful venue, incredible sound, and a vivacious crowd – what more can you ask for? Without a doubt, this show was one of the best of the year in Ottawa.”
I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT: FLEETWOOD MAC’S RUMOURS at St. Albans Church
“The wonderful thing about Rumours is that it every song allowed for a different member to shine. For example John Hynes kicked things off leading “Second Hand News,” while Caylie really showed her vocal chops go far beyond what we have heard from her in Boyhood when she delivered on “Dreams.” Rolf then took lead on “Never Going Back” and teleported us all to a different time. Mike passionately blew everyone away when he sang “Songbird,” showing why many people think he has one of the most special voices in town.”
It’s not every day you get to see two of Canada’s most exciting bands hit one of the best performing arts stages in the country. The National Arts Centre has ramped up their programming heading into their 2015/16 season, the fifth anniversary of the Canadian music series. NAC Presents has done a spectacular job at celebrating musical and artistic diversity in our country, giving both emerging and established artists a chance to showcase their talents on the national stage.
It was a packed house at the NAC’s beautiful Southam Hall, and the excitement could be felt amongst concert-goers for the much-anticipated return of Yukon Blonde and Hey Rosetta! to the capital. Yukon Blonde was the first band to hit the stage, and right away it was obvious that the band was blown away by their reception in Ottawa. Smiles abound, the music started and the night got under way.
Yukon Blonde performed an assortment of new and old throughout their set. Early on they played “Wind Blows” from their 2010 breakthrough album which many of us fell in love with. In this song in particular, as with many others, the harmonies were perfectly executed and just further reinforced how good this band really is.
“Ottawa is one of our favourite places in the world to play,” said lead vocalist and guitarist Jeff Innes between songs. “You guys are always so good to us, and I know not all bands say that about this city, but we feel very welcome here. I know the guys in Hey Rosetta! feel the same way.”
Yukon Blonde playing at the NAC (Photo by Alexandra Campeau/NAC)
Yukon Blonde’s music is typically upbeat, fun and danceable – particularly on their new record On Blonde. However, a really special part of their set was when they played the touching new song “Hannah.” The song was written about Canadian songwriter Hannah Georgas, which Innes spoke about earlier this year:
Right around the time that my girlfriend and I had broken up and my step dad was diagnosed with terminal mesothelioma, I found myself housemates with one of my friends, Hannah Georgas. She guided me through one of the most difficult times in my life and as a result, she became one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
The set continued with great songs such as “Radio”, “Make You Mine”, and “I Wanna Be Your Man” with the crowd really getting into it and even getting up out of their seats to move their bodies The guitar tones were right on and the sound at the NAC was a music lover’s dream. The sound quality in the room allowed us to really hear all the intricate details of their music, which can often be lost when playing smaller venues or festivals.
Yukon Blonde ended their set with a bang, playing the leading single off On Blonde, “Saturday Night”, as well as the incredibly catchy “Stairway” off of 2012’s Tiger Talk. With the band having so much fun and the crowd really getting involved with clapping and singing, the tone was set for Hey Rosetta! to take their turn.
Polaris Prize celebrates their 10-year anniversary (Photo: Matias Munoz/Ottawa Showbox)
During the intermission, many people left their seats at Southam Hall to stretch their legs and hang out in the lobby. On display was an entire collection of beautifully designed posters for Polaris Prize shortlist nominees and prize winners dating back to its inception in 2006. The exhibition is in celebration of the Polaris Prize 10-year anniversary in 2016, and you can’t help but stand and stare at all the details in the designs. Best of all, the exhibition is free so if you’re passing by, be sure to check it out before it is finish on November 29.
As Hey Rosetta! hit the stage, the lighting came on and dazzled us all. The foil backdrop also enhanced the lighting effects as it offered distorted reflections. The atmosphere couldn’t be better, and there was an air of excitement and good vibes in the room.
They opened with “Promise” off their 2014 record Second Sight. I had been meaning to give Second Sight a good listen before the show, since I hadn’t heard the band’s new material yet. Instead, I decided to maintain an element of surprise and hear most songs for the first time live. I wasn’t disappointed. Almost every song off the new record translated nicely live, and I really felt as if they were a natural progression from older material.
The band maintained a constant push/pull of energy, keeping the crowd attentive yet engaged and moving. Songs like “Gold Teeth” would fill each corner of Southam Hall with a vibrant energy, while others like “What Arrows” would take it away and take a quiet hold of us all. This dynamic worked well, although so many people kept standing up and sitting down which got somewhat distracting at times.
Hey Rosetta! at the NAC (Photo: Matias Munoz/Ottawa Showbox)
A highlight of the set for me was their performance of “Alcatraz.” This song is the embodiment of the push/pull dynamic I have been referring to, and one can’t help but feel torn by emotions when listening. The hall’s incredible acoustics, along with the lighting, resonated with all of us and created a haunting and unforgettable mood through this song, as well as a few others.
Other highlights included their performance of “Harriet,” which included stunning cello work, and “Red Heart”, which is a Hey Rosetta! classic and a song that one can’t help but associate with great Canadian indie music in general. The crowd certainly did their part by belting this one out loud until the very end.
Their set ended with a powerful encore including their political anthem “Land You Love” which Yukon Blonde came on stage and sang with them (all clearly in good spirits still, given the election results). No Hey Rosetta! set would be complete without the crowd going crazy over their 2011 hit “Welcome,” and concert-goers obliged whole-heartedly. Their rendition of the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me” is one to remember, and by this point, I could hardly believe how strong lead singer Tim Baker’s vocals were. After nearly a decade of making music, I think this band knows how to do it right.
Although the night was ephemeral, the memories will remain with us. Great bands, a wonderful venue, incredible sound, and a vivacious crowd – what more can you ask for? Without a doubt, this show was one of the best of the year in Ottawa.