As Ottawa enjoyed its seemingly first weekend of summer weather, a lively crowd descended on Day 3 of CityFolk for some throwback nostalgia and some first glimpses of buzzworthy bands.
To start the night, Suitcase Junket played the Ravenlaw stage to a crowd split between fresh ears and those who were so impressed with his late show on Day 2 of City Folk, that they came out for a repeat performance. He was mindful of that dynamic and played a largely separate setlist, save for a few overlapping tracks. His folksy blues sound was a hit with the crowd, with songs like “Swamp Chicken” and “Busted Gut” particularly resonating. His ability to multitask with a seemingly endless array of instruments is mesmerizing, think Shakey Graves crossed with Owen Pallett (though there were no loop pedals in sight). Playing several tracks off of his recent release Pile Driver, he described himself as such, driving around a pile of instruments to win over audiences, something that he certainly achieved on this evening.
Following Suitcase Junket was Brooklyn’s Big Thief, a band with two incredible releases and a significant amount of buzz (particularly due to this masterpiece. They played with a pared down ensemble which fit with the intimate Ravenlaw stage. Lead guitarist and vocalist, Adrianne Lenker was magnetic, deftly weaving from whisper to wailing guitar solo. Highlights included “Paul”, “Shark Smile,” the aforementioned “Masterpiece,” and haunting “Pretty Things” (with lyrics like “there’s a woman inside of me, there’s one inside of you, too…” resonating even more live).
The unfortunate scheduling of Canadian indie rock legends Broken Social Scene 15 minutes into Big Thief’s set had an impact on crowd size as well as the atmosphere, with Big Thief’s intimate songs having a subtle backdrop of muffled Kevin Drew vocals. Though Lenker expressed some frustration to that extent, the band powered through, and we’re hopeful they return for us to have an opportunity to enjoy them under ideal circumstances (rather than take a Sun Kil Moon approach to a grievance with Ottawa Folkfest scheduling).
Though Ottawa has enjoyed live performances from various members of the Broken Social Scene collective over the past few years (Kevin Drew at Arboretum 2014, a particular highlight), seeing them all together (well, most of them) is a rare treat. About to kick off a North America wide tour to support their latest release, Hug of Thunder, the set was a power-packed hour of hits new and old (as well as a brief cover/singalong of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”).
New member Ariel Engle filled in admirably for Feist on Hug of Thunder’s lovely title track and both she and Amy Millan did “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” justice. While the crowd was enthralled throughout, a short passionate speech from Kevin Drew about the state of the world and a call for the crowd to cathartically yell as loud as they could made closing tracks “Cause=Time” and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement” particularly meaningful. As they closed the set (and for many, the evening), many wondered aloud why the heck they weren’t headlining tonight’s show.
Amanda Marshall bounded onto the City Stage next and she did her best to prove the scheduling skeptics wrong. Playing for the first time in more than a decade, she joked about the lack of Netflix and Uber when she last hit an Ottawa stage. There were no signs of rust, as she dove into her back catalogue with a tight seven piece band for an assembled crowd of passionate Amanda Marshall fans and curious BSS holdovers. As “Sunday Morning After” and “Trust Me (This Is Love)” began, many in the crowd exchanged an “Oh, I remember this song” look. Her biggest hit “Birmingham” followed and sufficiently delivered, sending many of her fans to the promised land (you know, the one beyond the lights of Birmingham…?).
It’s that time of year when we descend on Lansdowne and the Glebe for CityFolk Festival. This year’s main festival and Marvest lineups pack some punches, and we’re excited to hit the pavement and start checking out some of the performances. One of the great things about festivals like CityFolk is that music lovers can exit their comfort zones and experiment with new artists they’ve never heard before. There’s nothing quite like unexpectedly walking to a stage and hearing something great for the first time. We’ve compiled a list of some of our top picks for this year’s main festival, and we encourage folks to get off the beaten path and try something new. We hope you have a great time!
Top Picks for CityFolk
The Suitcase Junket
Thursday, September 14, 10:15pm – 11:30pm – RavenLaw Stage Friday, September 15, 6:00pm – 7:00pm – RavenLaw Stage
The Suitcase Junket is one man band Matt Lorenz from Massachusetts who combines a guitar, old instruments and items from junkyards. His guitar jangles and slides, his voice is raspy and his percussion is played by his stomping, sometimes 3 or 4 different instruments at once. This one man band thing isn’t a gimmick to cover anything up, it is so well done that if you close your eyes you would think you were watching a full band. But I recommend you keep your eyes open and take it all in.
Thursday, September 14, 7:30pm – 8:30pm – RavenLaw Stage
To put it simply, Jenn Grant is Canadian indie music royalty. She is a highly decorated musician winning Nova Scotia Music Awards early on in her career, only to soar to greater heights with a collection of wins over the years at the East Coast Music Awards. Even more, she’s been nominated for the Polaris Music Prize longlist and JUNO nominations for her albums Honeymoon Punch and Compostela. She has toured the world endlessly and broken new ground with soundscapes and themes that electrify the soul on her new album Paradise. Her live performance at CityFolk is one to circle on the schedule.
Broken Social Scene
Friday, September 15, 7:30pm – 8:30pm – City Stage
Broken Social Scene isn’t just a band—they’re a music collective synonymous with modern Canadian indie music. The band is widely recognized as being at the epicentre of Canada’s indie rock revival in the early 2000’s, bringing together the varied talents of all its members and associated acts (including members of Metric, Feist, and Stars) and stunning the world with its orchestral, yet modern brand of “baroque pop.” While members Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew, and others have since splintered off to pursue solo projects, Broken Social Scene continues to play for audiences far and wide, demonstrating why their extraordinary catalogue is timeless.
Sunday, September 17, 5:30pm – 6:30pm – City Stage
Alfie Jurvanen, a.k.a. Bahamas, broke out onto the Canadian music scene with his acclaimed album Pink Strat. Songs such as “Hockey Teeth” and his cover of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World,” Bahamas took the fast lane into the hearts of Canadian music fans. It wasn’t long until his following albums received further critical praise, with multiple JUNO nominations and a couple wins to take home with him. He’s shared the stage withThe Lumineers, Feist, Howie Beck, Jason Collett, Jack Johnson, The Weather Station, and many others.
Sunday, September 17, 8:30pm – 9:45pm – City Stage
Rodriguez who some of you may know from the great film “Searching for Sugar Man” made about him recorded his first song 50 years ago. The singer-songwriter from Detroit, Michigan, is an inspirational poet armed with a guitar, countercultural thoughts and a lot of life lived to regale you with. Seeing Rodriguez perform will be like living a chapter of an American music history book, and not to be missed.
Tank and the Bangas
Sunday, September 17, 7:30pm – 8:30pm – RavenLaw Stage
Tank and the Bangas will be the most original and different act of the entire festival. Hailing from New Orleans, they mix vocal stylings ranging from rap, classic hip-hop and soul while pairing it with some funky musicianship. Their shows are energetic they will bring you to your feet to dance and take you on a trip to bangaville.
Sunday, September 17, 4:30pm – 5:30pm – RavenLaw Stage
Is a young vocalist from Guelph, Ontario, who draws on her skills as a spoken word poet, powerful voice and an acoustic guitar to capture her audience. She hasn’t just captured crowds’ ears and hearts, but also Timber Timbre’s Taylor Kirk who produced her debut five song EP, Mama.
Friday, September 15, 6:00pm – 7:00pm – City Stage
Raised by a preacher and a teacher for parents, he learned early on about the power of music and its importance. He channeled this to create guitar driven rhythm and blues which he has taken all around North America. In doing so he has turned a lot of heads, including The Roots and Mavis Staples, who he has collaborated with on a couple of tracks. That should speak for itself.
Friday, September 15, 7:15pm – 8:15pm – RavenLaw Stage
Having only been active since 2015, Brooklyn’s Big Thief has made some serious strides. Their most recent album, appropriately titled Masterpiece, are a collection of songs that are carefully composed and beautifully arranged. Fans of modern songwriters such as Angel Olsen, Waxahachee, and Frankie Cosmos will fall into Big Thief’s music with great ease. This band is definitely one of the hidden gems at this year’s festival, and I am honest when I say that I can’t stop listening to their music lately. So try them out, they’re a guaranteed hit.
Local shoutout: Danielle Allard
Saturday, September 16, 3:00pm – 4:00pm – City Stage