My not-so-guilty pleasure is Francophone hip-hop. There’s something about that slightly guttural Canadian French accent that translates really well to spoken word, and even if I only catch half the lyrics I still enjoy losing myself in the rhythm.
Radio Radio have been on my radar for a few years, and after I heard they were playing Ritual their songs made their way back into my regular rotation. Aside from the occasional uOttawa frosh week flashback while listening to their 2008 hit “Jacuzzi“, it’s been great re-acquainting myself with their music. They’re touring to support their latest studio album, Light the Sky. Interestingly, the new album is entirely in English, which is justifiable for a band trying to find broader success, but I’m a little sad about it. Pendant ces dernières années j’ai développé une affinité pour ma deuxième langue, et une familiarité avec la musique francophone qui contribue à mon sens d’appartenance à cette communauté vibrante.
Ritual is a great venue. From the moment I walked in, the place was bumping. Fans from both sides of the provincial border turned up to dance and have a good time. The crowd was a different demographic than I’m used to seeing, representing those in their late 20s and early 30s. The band must know this, as their merch table offerings included child-sized onesies. However, I can testify after Friday March 4 that folks of all ages know how to party.
Opening the show was Alex Silas & the Subterraneans, who made waves in 2014 with their full-length release Roots, an albumseemingly inspired by poets of theBeat generation. I hadn’t listened to them much prior to the concert, but they left a favourable impression. I really enjoyed their blend of spoken word and rock. There was one track in particular that mesmerized me, a spoken word sonnet which slowly built into a cascade. The song began with a simple and catchy line on the electric guitar, over which Silas spoke about humanity’s connection with nature. I recall them repeatedly saying “We are stars”, but I haven’t been able to find the track online. I expect it’ll be included on their new album due for release in early 2016, and I look forward to hearing it again. The poetic lyrics turned into a lengthy jam session where the band worked together to create with a harmony that had been missing from some of the earlier songs in their set.
After a brief interlude where the DJ kept the dance floor going, Radio Radio took the stage. Their energy was standout from the very beginning, and everyone in the room was having fun alongside them. The duo of rappers carried the show with their chemistry, and their set was dispersed with lots of cute elements to keep the audience engaged – I particularly enjoyed the synchronized dance moves! It was really cool to hear a live band as a background to their brand of hip-hop, and the resulting sound was full and catchy. The crowd was engaged, with hardly anyone using their phones. I didn’t see a single selfie go down!
Radio Radio put on a lively show and managed to keep the audience’s energy up even as the night went late. They always seemed to have another hit in their repertoire, and there were plenty of people singing along to the choruses, or punctuating with a “Heeyyy!” at just the right moment. I’d also like to give a shout-out to the person who designed their light show. The set-list had a good mix of English and French songs, and people of all linguistic profiles bonded in the common language of dance. Radio Radio have been around for long enough to know the elements of a good live show, and they delivered.
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)
Photo: Joey Shithead and D.O.A., the godfathers of Canadian hardcore and punk playing Beau’s Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill.
While day one was mostly about the music, day two of Beau’s Oktoberfest was more about the wonderful beers and food available, but that’s not to say the music wasn’t excellent.
I awoke in a very muddy campground with the rain only spitting, a pleasant change after the downpour from the night before. I put on what dry clothes I had left, put some grub in my belly and threw on my rain jacket. It was now time to venture to the Cask Haus.
The Cask Haus was a glorious place with nearly 70 casks of ale ready for your sampling convenience. For 1 token ($5) you could get any two 4 oz. samples off the list. What was also great about the Cask Haus was that it was right next to the main stage, so I began my day off sampling a variety of beer to the sounds of Canada’s Polka King, Walter Ostanek. The first order of business was to try Beau’s Hardcore 8.1 which is a malt liquor tribute to iconic Canadian punk rockers D.O.A., who I was excited to see later that day. Don’t let the fact that it is malt liquor scare you away, it is delicious. With a couple more great samples in me, namely Pissed Off Pete’s Pumpkin Porter by Nickle Brook Brewery and Scotchy Scotch Ale By Big Rig were both excellent, it was time to sign up for activities. Many of the activities conflicted with band’s I wanted to see, but the keg toss distance fit in perfectly. I did not do very well, but I had a lot fun trudging through the mud to launch a keg as far as I could.
Antique and Vans skaters on the half-pipe at Beau’s Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill.
The morning and early afternoon were dedicated to beer sampling, the rest of the afternoon was controlled by punk rock. Wasted Potential, from London, ON, got it all started with their punk rock that fringes on hardcore and which is led by a lead singer with quite the dance moves. Up next was the local band, Audio Visceral, which is made up of Beau’s brewers. The boys always put on a good show and it was cool to watch them surrounded by people drinking Beau’s beer. With Audio done it was time for a double dose of Canadian old school punk with The Nasties and then legends D.O.A.
The Nasties rocking out at Beau’s Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill.
The Nasties had one speed–fast. Their set was a little strange, as they dedicated a song to Kim Mitchell, and introduced a song as “not an environmental song,” and another by saying, “here is our mandatory cop song… and remember they couldn’t arrested us if we didn’t pay their salary.” Fast and angry they were, but they did also treat the crowd to an Operation Ivy cover, “Knowledge.” From the cover of American legends to the presence of a Canadian legend, it was now time for Joey Shithead and D.O.A. to take the stage. The boys from B.C. are credited as one of the founders of hardcore punk rock music and are still going strong 34 years after their first full-length album (well, Joey is the only original member left). I spent almost the entire set dancing and singing in the pit to the snarls of the beloved grandfather of Canadian hardcore. And I was pleasantly surprised that their new songs, such as “Boneyard,” were just as kick ass as the older stuff they played like “Logjam,” “2+2” and “Know Your Enemy.” It was a great set by the three-piece and if after reading this you really want to see this live, go see D.O.A., Audio Visceral and Lindbergh Babies this Friday October 10th at Zaphod’s, it is also the official Ottawa release party of the Hardcore 8.1 beer.
All that punk rocking can leave a man hungry and thirsty, so I headed to the food tent to check out one of the more than 25 Ontario restaurants being featured. I decided on Olivea from Kingston and their Reuben Sandwich with German Potato Salad, a house made pastrami and sauerkraut sandwich with blowtorch melted Gruyère cheese on rye bread. It was to die for. With some more food in my belly it was back to the Cask Haus for more tasting. Some favourites from this trip were Guilty Conscience by Innocent Brewing Company, Punch Rauch (do you get it? do you get it?) by le Trou Du Diable and Red Rocket by Sawdust City Brewing Co.
The Strumbellas giving us all they have in the rain at Beau’s Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill.
Now done with the Cask Haus and back to some Beau’s and music. With a Boghopper in hand, one of the most interesting beers I have ever tried, and the rain still coming down, it was time for some alternative-country at the hands of The Strumbellas. The Strumbellas sure knew how to lift our spirits and forget about the rain by playing their dancy sing along “Home Sweet Home.” The band as a whole are very talented and entertaining, but two parts really stuck out. The less obvious one is just how great the violin play is in this band and just how much it adds to their sound. Isabel Ritchie does one heck of a great job. The second part and the more obvious one is just how entertaining David Ritter is. The man wears a baseball cap with Dave written on it and a t-shirt with his own face on it for gosh sakes. He is also ridiculously animated, energetic, engaging and does a mean hip-hop breakdown. With songs like “In This Life” and “Sheriff,” The Strumbellas had me forgetting how soaking wet I was getting.
The last of the live music I saw was the Acadian hip-hop Radio Radio. Their bilingual mish-mash is absolutely perfect and matches up well with their comedic lyrics. They played a good mix of new and old songs and the crowd were loving it. The new stuff like “Et Feel Zoo,” and “Boomerang” fit in great with their older hits like “Jacuzzi” which saw a lot of people singing along. After their set, I headed back to the Bamberg Beer Tent for a final dance party with so many friends, new and old.
Once again Beau’s put on an amazing festival that united craft beer, artisan food, Canadian music, charity and community. They set a new fundraising record this past year, raising $95,000 for community and charities, and an attendance record with more than 19,000 festival-goers in attendance over the two days.
I spent Sunday morning walking to town with a garbage bag in hand helping clean up from the grounds to the brewery to ensure it did not look as post-apocalyptic as Montebello after Rockfest, and then helped with stocking the beer fridge at the brewery. The craft beer community is a very welcoming family that is taking their own approach and adding a personal touch to a mainstream art form, very similar to the punk rock community. As a punk rocker, blogger and citizen, I felt at home and like I belonged. Thank you Beau’s for another incredible year.