Gee, the Ottawa Folk Festival sure has changed. Since 2011 when the Bluesfest producers took over, CityFolk as it’s been so recently dubbed, has become an extension of Ottawa Bluesfest. In all but name, size and location, CityFolk is indistinguishable from its older festival brother. That old “where is the blues in Bluesfest?” criticism can and has been applied.
But for the second night of 2017’s CityFolk, the festival seemed to harken back to its roots, presenting a lineup of artists who likely wouldn’t be offended at the use of the term folk to describe them. Jack Johnson headlined the night, and his acoustic sensibilities informed his openers, from Nathaniel Rateliff to local favourite Honey and Rust.
However, because there is so much overlap between these artists, many fans may have found themselves double booked, which is the other major criticism levelled at festivals like Bluesfest: you can’t see everything you want to. So it was Thursday night as Jenn Grant took to the indoor stage as Nathaniel Rateliff took the outdoor. Though the word was that both shows were great, Nathaniel Rateliff’s set was the highlight of the night for many.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have recently exploded out of Denver with their song “S.O.B.” reaching number one on the American Adult Alternative Charts in 2015. It’s a catchy song with a swear in the hook, so its popularity is to be expected. What was unexpected, at least to the casual listener, is the degree to which Nathaniel Rateliff backed up that hit with a solid set, characterized by country-folk-esqueness.
Rateliff is a born performer, and he certainly looks the part. With his ten-gallon hat and wide gait, his appearance lent authenticity to a new band playing a very old style of music. I don’t want to say he’s making the organ cool again, but he’s certainly trying. With horn-blaring crescendos aplenty, Rateliff’s band had the crowd stamping their feet to his well-written music.
Fitttingly opening for Rateliff was The Family Crest, a recording collective whose music is a loving homage to the folk music structure. Overtop of excellent melodic work, the group’s talented musicians create a beautifully textured sound, replete with horn, keys and multiple guitars. Because they’ve refined this sound to such an extent, their sound is pretty consistent. There are negatives and positives to this, but one clear negative is that no one song stood out to one unfamiliar to their music. However, the band performed exceptionally, and while they may lack a certain memorableness, they make up for it by putting on a great show.
Inside at the RavenLaw stage, Ottawa’s Honey and Rust performed an intimate set of music from their self-titled album released last year. Despite some shakiness, most likely due to the inclusion of two temporary (?) new members to their duo, the band’s sound was clear and refined, with the instant hook of Jo Beattie’s voice. Her singing brings out the sadness that is so often a feature of the band’s music, and Cristy Williams’ drumming compliments it perfectly.
From the emotional intensity of Honey and Rust, we turn to the closer of the night, Jack Johnson, whose emotional intensity was that of a bag of cotton balls. Judging from the crowd at his show, it’s unclear if he’s a musician or a party entertainer. Chalk it up to “shitty Ottawa crowds” if you like, but most people at J. J.’s concert seemed more interested in their conversational partner than the stage. Whether he was making banana pancakes or being all positive, Johnson wasn’t able to hold their attention.
And yet the park was packed. Clearly Johnson has a following in this city. It seems that Johnson just isn’t great live, and despite their love for him, his fans are more used to having him on in the background of a party.
The show was pretty lackluster. Johnson swayed his way through his repertoire, pausing every so often to make low-energy comments to the crowd about the weather. I do understand that low energy is Jack Johnson’s style, but for an outdoor festival with a huge stage, it felt incongruous, even boring.
At one point, his keyboard player crowd surfed for about one minute. Crowd surfing to Jack Johnson is a very odd thing to do, and even Johnson seemed confused, demanding the crowd return his keyboard player for the next song. And it is that image of the gangly keyboardist riding a wave of people as Jack strummed his acoustic guitar, swaying ever so gently, that most encapsulates the mixed tone of this show.
Part of that mixed tone is due to CityFolk’s own identity crisis as it seeks to draw more crowds, growing a festival that is trying to stay dedicated to its folk roots while putting on shows for thousands of people. Maybe folk and stadium crowds don’t go together? Tell that to Bob Dylan and Neil Young, I guess.
As summer putters along with the end in sight, there are a few music events that we here in Ottawa still have to look forward to. One of those happened this past weekend, a weekend that was packed full of shows and festivals. Hopped and Confused was a two-night event that happened at the Mill Street Brew Pub, a spot many of us know for it’s refreshing beverages, but not generally for music events.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that craft beer and live music go together like PB & J, and Dine Alone Records curated a stellar lineup of artists over the two days. The lineup consisted of The Trews, Tokyo Police Club, Yukon Blonde, Said The Whale, Dilly Dally, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs and Ottawa’s own Hollerado and New Swears.
Our photographer Els captured some great shots of the event, check the gallery out below.
The second last night of Bluesfest was actually dry…yes, you heard that correctly. Dry. The beautiful sunny day held in there through the night and concertgoers came out in the thousands to enjoy some vitamin D and live music. The night was packed full of electrifying sets by Mushy Gushy, Night Lovell, Dead Obies, Wide Mouth Mason, and MUSE. Check out some incredible shots by our photographer Els Durnford.
The Ottawa Jazz Festival saw its 37th year in downtown Ottawa this June. The festival, which takes place between Confederation Park, City Hall and the National Arts Centre, is committed every year to bringing world-class jazz and jazz-rooted music to the region. This year was no exception. With large-scale acts like Feist and Kenny Rogers headlining, local musician and jazz-lover Garett Bass focused on the lesser-known acts that shocked crowds with their instrumental prowess and heart. Read about his favourite moments below.
Thursday, June 22
Tanika is a soul singer from Toronto that I’ve been hoping to catch live for a while now. I was able to catch her band’s set, the very first of the festival, to a sit-down crowd in the Tartan Homes Stage. Though her and the band could have taken a few more risks or offered a bit more energy, it was enjoyable enough. Amongst a set of originals, they played funky covers of “Boots or Hearts” by the Hip and “Money” by Pink Floyd.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Fortunately the main stage had the energy I was looking for, and the rain even held off. For those who didn’t catch them at CityFolk in 2015, St. Paul & The Broken Bones are a new soul band in the style of the late 60s/early 70s era, with a talented and energy-fueled frontman. With a new and very different album behind them, I was interested to see if he could bring the same energy as he did touring his first record.
The first thing that was clear: the band has become more versed in the traditional appeals of soul music showmanship. They went through the classic intro: 1) band comes out hot with an instrumental jam, 2) horns break out into an epic fanfare, 3) introduce the singer with a cheesy radio voice, and 4) have the singer enter in a cape. The cape, of course, is a nod to the greats before him like James Brown and Elvis, but lead singer Paul Janeway’s giant and wrapped cape much more resembled something that a Game of Thrones character might wear.
From the point the cape hit the ground, Janeway was a ball of energy. He danced and belted out the tunes with a great ease, interacted with the band more frequently, and even had a David Byrne-ish moment in which he took one of the large red props from the back of the stage and began to roll around on the floor with it, tearing it apart piece by piece. All in all, it was a great way to start the festival.
Saturday, June 24
Lemon Bucket Orchestra
Saturday was a busy day, and I unfortunately didn’t make it out to see Kenny Rogers. Fortunately, I was able to make it just in time to see the Lemon Bucket Orchestra turn a 200 person crowd into true believers.
If you haven’t seen this klezmer dance party band from Toronto before- you’re missing out. They perform classic songs from the Balkans, Ukraine and Serbia with an intense energy. The show has become seamless as each band member is featured- one minute the bass trombone is soloing at the front, and the next the alto sax player is competing in a sexy dance solo with a belly dancer, and a minute later the crowd is being formed into a giant dance chain and pulled every which way.
My favourite part? For the encore, the band unplugged and literally jumped off the stage one by one, and proceeded to play a New Orleans style brass band cover of “I Like to Move It” in the center of the dance floor, with the lead singer shouting and playing police sirens on a megaphone.
Monday, June 26
When the band first started, I have to admit, it was a bit lackluster. I’ve been a huge fan of Mavis ever since seeing her sing on The Band’s “The Last Waltz,” and I had really been building this show up in my head. When the band simply walked on stage and started up with a tame, light-hearted reggae song, it seemed as though they were just going to play it safe.
But with every song, Mavis slowly offered more of her wisdom and her personality, telling stories of her wild adventures with the Staple Singers and her lifelong career. It was a slow burn in which we were treated to the Staples’ classics “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There,” her best solo hits, and a series of new songs with really great backstories. Mavis even let the stage for a moment to let her rhythm section treat us to a jam where, in a fun moment, the guitarist played his solo lighter and lighter until the guitar signal was all but gone; and then proceeded to play his unamplified telecaster into the microphone. In all, it was a really special show with a really special woman, and the NAC couldn’t have been a better venue.
To Ray, With Love: Maceo Parker & The Ray Charles Orchestra featuring the Raelettes
This performance was nailed. From the first 10 seconds, it was clear that Maceo was prepared to do a perfect impression of Ray Charles in its fullest- from his distinctive crooning to his style of adlibbing throughout each tune. If you let your guard down for even a second, you sometimes forgot it wasn’t the man himself up there.
If you’re a fan of Ray’s “Modern Sounds in Country & Western” era, this show hit home. From medium-tempo shuffles like Busted, slow crooner classics like How Long Has This Been Going On? and You Don’t Know Me, and finally fast swing like Oh What a Beautiful Morning- the first half of the set got through a surprising amount of material and played it exactly as its meant to be played.
The Ray Charles Orchestra, formed only of individuals who had played with Ray at some point in his career, featured a fantastic array of brass and woodwind, a great piano player who maybe was sometimes a little too tight for a Ray Charles show, and a solid swing rhythm section. Even the conductor was full of energy, waving his hands around wildly infront of the band in ways that a purist might snub as unnecessary. I’m going to personally use the word “endearing;” he was really fun to watch! On top of it all, Maceo picked up his alto for a couple instrumental takes, reminding us why his sax tone and chops are unmatched by most.
About 3/4 of the way through, Maceo introduced The Raelettes, who came out and sang on some classics like Hit the Road Jack and Look What They’ve Done to My Song. They did a great nailing the sound of the classic Raelettes, albeit they were the only part that felt a bit ‘canned.’ All in all, it was a great show and I think they were able to appeal to big fans and general listeners alike.
Robert Glasper Experiment
Following this show was the Robert Glasper Experiment. With their back catalogue often backing various singers and rappers, I was unsure of what to expect.
The set started off with a DJ playing Thundercat’s Them Changes slowly turned into Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” easing our expectations into the greasy R&B to come. The band took stage with Glasper on multiple keyboards, as well as a singer/saxophonist, bassist, and drummer. The DJ stayed on stage for various sounds and white noise. The singer loved his effects as he started the first tune off with a heavy autotune that worked well with his voice, a sound he would use most of the set. That same first song lasted about 8 minutes, with various members taking solos, and Glasper showcasing his classic Thelonious Monk-esque piano sounds. The second song went into a lighter instrumental that slowly built, with the singer jumping on an effect-dripping saxophone. After that, the band flip-flopped between a vocal tune and an instrumental for the rest of the set. The bassist was in the pocket, the drummer was tight, Glasper’s licks and fills were on point- everything you’d want in a jazz R&B show.
My one complaint would be that they didn’t interact with the audience much at all compared to most of the other acts at Jazz this year, whether through anecdotal stories or vocal singalongs. Otherwise, it was a slick, fun and experimental show!
Friday, June 30
I caught most of Bixiga 70’s set in the Tartan Homes tent. I will admit, they had a tough slot, with the excitement in the air bubbling about the upcoming Charles Bradley performance. But despite all that, this Brazillian powerhouse played as though they were the only band in town. Ottawa loves its afrobeat, and it was great to have a band in town that takes that sound and combines it with a spice of their own. From Willie Colon style brass harmonies to very tight latin rhythms, they made the sounds of Brazil, Puerto Rico and Cuba mesh so well with afrobeat that you’d think the genres had always been played that way together. My highlight was lenthy percussion solo played on the tiny percussion kit to the side, with four band members trading off one another and playing wild counter-rhythms. These guys were a great way to start off the night!
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
Charles Bradley is always a treat to see in Ottawa, but even moreso now that he has a few albums behind him. From the second that the pianist came out and gave his “are you ready?” style speech, it was on. Charles ditched the glitter disco suit from last time and this time came in a red 60s-style button up suit, like something from a Sgt Pepper video. The song arrangements weren’t much different than the record, and there wasn’t a lot of extra frills, but with Charles it doesn’t matter. His sheer passion is addictive for audiences, and every person in the audience was a fan whether they started as one or not. In fact, this was the first time I’ve ever seen large groups summoned from their chairs to dance like crazy at the front of the lawn chair section. Classic songs like “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” and “Changes” had the entire audience singing arm in arm.
As usual, I was extremely impressed by his Extraordinaires. Like any Daptones band, they were tight and to-the-point and let Charles do his thing. Their catalogue is also a lot more expansive than the last time he was in town- by the time they were at the last song, I was questioning what they possibly had left to encore with, and then he pulled out “Why Is It So Hard?” and took us all to church. What an incredible show by a true performer! With the recent loss of Sharon Jones to cancer, and Charles’ recent announcement that he is also struggling with a cancerous tumour, we can only hope every day that this man overcomes his illness and is able to continue what is obviously as important to him as it is to us. Stay healthy, Charles!
My favourite part about Jacob Collier was the crowd’s reaction to the first tune. I’ve been following this young guy’s (22!) work for a couple years, and was well aware of the talent. Placing him after a giant like Charles Bradley was an extremely wise move by Jazz Fest, as hundreds of music fans poured into the Tartan Homes tent without the slightest clue of what they were about to see.
The stage was littered with instruments: a grand piano, a couple synths, an electric upright bass, a bass guitar, an acoustic guitar, a drum kit and various percussion instruments on a stand. But when only Jacob Collier walked out wearing a wireless microphone, I could see confusion in the eyes of the crowd. Where were the other musicians? Within 4 minutes, Jacob had created a rich and righteous funk tune, running from one instrument to the next while singing in his usual high pitched way. I have to hand it to the people behind the scene, as I don’t think the audience truly respected the prowess in whoever had the task of creating these loops. Jacob would grab a tambourine and shake it wildly at a microphone, only to immediately have that tambourine join the song. Next he would strap on the Fender jazz bass and play a funky rhythm, which would be looped perfectly into the tune by the time he was putting it back on the stand. Once the structure of the song was sound, he would make it to the synth just in time for the hook, using his synthesizer to alter and harmonize his singing line.
The second song- a quiet and very Canadian-style fingerpicking piece (think Don Ross) played on acoustic, which at its peak saw Collier running to the grand piano to continue playing his lush, jazzy arrangement. It was totally different from the first song, and huge indication for how all-over-the-map the entire show would be.
Collier’s excitement to experiment is very obvious as he jumps around the stage, begging the audience to clap a complicated beat, only to jump on the drum kit and play a competing polyrhythm. Is it a novelty? Well, yes, a bit. After playing with Snarky Puppy in 2016, I’m sure that a jazz icon like Collier could easily find musicians to take the stage with him. But half the fun is seeing him run around the stage, caught in his own web of insanity. His energy left me wanting to listen to and play more jazz immediately, and if that isn’t the best outcome of a jazz performance, then I’m not sure what is.
A lot of us are cracking our knuckles and getting ready for the busy summer concert season. We’re going to be starting a new series of photo galleries that give readers an intimate look into some of the shows we go to. Our photographers like getting up close and personal with the artists on stage, so we’d like you to join us front and centre.
Today’s gallery is from a show last month, one that internationally renowned singer-songwriter Leif Vollebekk enchanted a packed First Baptist Church with his mystifying lyrical prowess and graceful instrumentation along with support from Ludovic Alarie. Fresh off releasing his acclaimed new album Twin Solitude, Vollebekk appeased the audience with a number of remarkable new songs in his repertoire. Photographer Els Durnford captured the essence of the night in black and white, offering moody shots for a night that was full of smiles. Have a look below.
Leif Vollebekk and Ludovic Alarie at First Baptist Church – April 14, 2017
3 days, 13 venues, and 4147 pictures later, MEGAPHONO 2017 is done for another year. I was honoured to be a part of such an event and help capture moments throughout. The festival brings together individuals from all areas of the industry to appreciate the time and work that goes in to creating their art. I could talk for days about the performances and people I had the chance to experience, but I would much rather let the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy!
We are very happy to be partnering up with Blacksheep Inn and CHUO to make the inaugural WuFest happen! WuFest is a weekend-long celebration of local arts, music, and culture, named after one of Ottawa’s most prolific and omnipresent concert photographers, Ming Wu. Through Ming’s blog Photogmusic, he has provided us with a de facto photo essay of the city’s concerts, festivals, and cultural events since 2008. In fact, when I first started Showbox back in 2012, one of the first people to help me out and allow me to post his photos was Ming (since his were way better than my crappy phone pics at the time). Many of us know of Ming as an institution in Ottawa, and his photos really do tell a story. His passion for music and all things local is something that we should all try to aspire towards.
We recognize the importance of this kind of dedication and commitment to our city’s music scene, and are very proud to be a part of WuFest. The fest will consist of two days of festivities on Friday, November 14 and Saturday, November 15 (more info below). We will be giving away prize packs every week leading up to the festival, so be sure to try your luck and participate!
THIS WEEK’S CONTEST
Prizes up for grabs…
– a pair (2) tickets to one of the WuFest days of your choice
– A free pass to take the bus up to Blacksheep Inn on the day chosen
– A free copy of an excellent photo taken by Ming Wu, hand-picked by the master himself
How To Enter
Tweet, Instagram, share, or email us the name of your favourite Ottawa band! Be sure to include the hashtag #WuFest2014…. Easy!
* Bus for both nights leaving the Museum of Nature at 7:30PM and returning after the show. Tickets $10ADV, $12 Door, or $15 for a weekend bracelet. Please follow the Facebook Event to keep up with any updates involving transportation.
On Saturday Aug. 30, the OAG Annex at City Hall opened a photo exhibit by Jamie Kronick, a local musician and photographer. As a drummer, he’s wound a path throughout Ottawa alongside several other artists including Laurent Bourque, Her Harbour & Goodbox Assembly. As a photographer, he’s shot his ass off, as any good photographer should, and taken the time to compose and document along the way. It’s a through a combination of his two designations that Jamie Kronick brought the exhibit The Songwriter to life.
In 2010, the series began as his graduating series at the School of Photographic Arts (SPAO) where Kronick graduated in 2011. The collection on display now showcases 20 of these portraits but the total number is actually 27. Kronick is a photographer who understands his opportunities as they come as well as his subject. The singer-songwriter is a type of artist well know for public expression but less celebrated for creative introspection. There are thousands of moments that lead to the live show or the recorded album to which we are not privy. Being able to convince 27 of this species to be relaxed in these most intimate moments, which they might prize more than most, is a feat.
Songwriters create their work in the comfort of their bedrooms, living rooms, offices or studios, each unique from one to the next. These spaces function as a bridge between an idea and its materialization into music. This series acts as a documentation not only of persons, but also as a visualization of the relationships that take place among person, place and process. – Jamie Kronick
We’re invited to see The Songwriter in his or her creative cocoon as documented by Kronick from now until Oct. 12. The mix is both of emerging and well-known musicians, each in a room that fits her or his expression of distance or intensity. This Thursday, Sept. 4, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. join Jamie Kronick, and potentially several of his subjects, for the vernissage. Check out the video that Herd Magazine put together below.
In the weeks and months leading up to the Herd Mag release party, I had created an idea in my mind of what the magazine itself would be. Having contributed an article to the first issue, I knew what the spirit of this unique new mag would be: raw, provocative, with local intellectuality seething from its pages. But what does that mean? How can a few people throw together some words, photos and art and realistically expect to have a publication that captures the essence of Ottawa’s cultural nuances? Not that I was skeptical, but this was certainly no small feat.
But founders Steph Vicente and Pat Bolduc weren’t fucking around either. I had been in touch with Steph for a few months before I actually got to meet her and Pat at the Arboretum Festival in September. I immediately felt the passion they were putting into this magazine. Excitement and ideas began to unfurl as we talked, and the anticipation that I had for Herd Magazine grew into a need for it. I simply couldn’t wait any longer for what was to be the new and definitive publication for people like us – those who give a shit about Ottawa, it’s artists, it’s creative visionaries, and those who make this city an interesting and desirable place to be.
As the author of the article titled “The Unconventional Playground” in the first issue, I was originally looking forward to having my first published work included in a magazine. I felt proud about what I had written. But this began to change as the first issue of Herd started coming together, with the release date of October 12 getting closer. I can say now that my sense of pride completely revolves around the team that brought this together and the quality of work that went into making this magazine a piece of art in itself. The final product is incredible – not only for its aesthetics and articles, but because the hard work that went into it is so blatantly obvious with every turn of the page.
I have a tremendous respect for Steph and Pat, as well as the other contributors who poured some of their soul into Herd. You don’t always meet people like that. Herd Mag will become a mainstay for Ottawa and the arts community not only because it is relevant and necessary, but also because it is symbolic (and perhaps the product) of an artistic renaissance here in the nation’s capital. Things are happening here that demand to be heard, read, seen and experienced. That’s why it isn’t going anywhere.
I won’t say too much about the release party for Issue 01 held at Fall Down, just that if you weren’t there then you should have been. Lineups down the block, beats filling the gallery and drinks to celebrate the culmination of the work put into this magazine over the last 7 months. DJ INA was in charge of spinning all night, and Amos the Transparent played a great set as always (the cello always gets me). The raffles were lots of fun, although I didn’t win. I was so impressed with the turnout, it really showed how many people are in support of this kind of publication. Awesome night all-around. I still think there should be a release party for every issue… just saying.
Here are some totally unprofessional photos of the night’s events. Enjoy.