The final day of Ottawa’s CityFolk was the perfect end to a festival with a lot of highlights (my personal favourites thus far included Broken Social Scene, Matt Mays, and Suitcase Junket). The Ottawa weather finally cooperated with the entirety of a music festival for the first time this summer and though the fatigue was starting to show in the crowd, the best was perhaps yet to come.
The first act I was able to catch was Guelph’s “Nefe“, who was a pleasant surprise. Her debut EP Mama was released early this year and successfully combines R&B, pop and reggae elements into one smooth package. Her powerful, soulful voice made the crowd take notice, as did her harmonies with her band. Highlight of the set was her solo performance of “Mama,” a powerful R&B ballad that segued into a standing ovation.
Bahamas next took the stage in what almost seemed like a disguise, sporting a camo hat and a large, billowy t-shirt. His trademark banter was in rare form and with the outfit, he almost resembled a fun uncle at a backyard BBQ. Appearances aside, his classics sounded as good as ever with backing vocals from the always lovely Felicity Williams (who also performs with Bernice). Highlights included the classic “Lost in the Light” and a rare performance of “Stronger Than That”. He also debuted a handful of new songs, which seemed to intermittently connect with the crowd, which led to some jokes regarding the seagulls circling overhead. Encouraging crowd participation with his new song “Bad Boys Need Love Too,” he talked about the advantages of blowing a kiss instead of flipping a bird to those that may have let you down (“you know what I’m talking about”). With the sun shining down, his chill vibe and positive messages were warmly received.
Up next was the first Canadian performance for New Orleans’ Tank and The Bangas, the band that I was most excited to see all festival. For the uninitiated, the past year has been a whirlwind for the band after having won the 2017 contest to get on the famous Youtube series “NPR Tiny Desk“. Having been chosen from 6000 entries by a panel of judges, the video has been seen over 2 million times and has won them legions of fans across the globe (myself included). It’s the type of experience that has to be seen (at least until their recordings catch up to where they’re at now) but even I could not anticipate the force of nature that was this band.
Tank herself is aptly named, demolishing everything in her path with a powerhouse presence and voice that seemingly effortlessly changed on a dime, from playful Nicki-Minaj style raps to Saul-Williamsesque impactful poetry to soulful gospel vocals (perfectly complimented by her back-up vocalist Anjelikla “Jelly” Joseph). Packaged into “Quick” was an unexpected verse in which Tank proclaimed “I’m not the sea, I’m the ocean, I’m not the water, I’m the well”, a statement which now seems an understatement. The band rapidly oscillated between hip hop, soul, funk, R&B, spoken word poetry (and more) and had the crowd more lively than any in recent memory. So much so that they returned to the stage to play a cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” for an unexpected encore.
The absolute highlight of the set was their song “Rollercoasters,” a song which Tank describes as her first discovering what love could look like. It takes place at a New Orleans theme park called Jazzland, which takes on added meaning as it’s never reopened since Hurricane Katrina. The song took the crowd on an emotional ride, and the refrain “I’m getting back in line” seemed a perfect one. Wherever they’re going, I suggest going there and getting in line early (they play Toronto on September 19th).
Rodriguez hit the City Stage next, to a crowd of adoring fans. His mythology is well known (if you’re not familiar, please go watch Searching For Sugarman on Netflix) and his current success is a heartwarming story, following 40 years of relative obscurity. He played a collection of originals and covers, with the assistance of a solid backing band (one of his many across the world). While his covers of The Doors “Light My Fire” and the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” were pleasant, it was his folk anthems “Sugar Man,” “Rich Folks Hoax,” and the upbeat “I Wonder” that had the crowd most engaged. It was a treat to see the man in action, and his banter was well received. He remarked that the simplest way of practicing peace is to smile. After 5 days of solid festival tunes, it was likely that most in the crowd already were.
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