Arboretum Festival gives fans a breath of fresh air
Featured photo of Le1f by Els Durnford
This year’s edition of Arboretum Festival was something special. Each year the organizers find new ways to captivate audiences and provide the ultimate community-oriented experience. Whether on Albert Island surrounded by the humbling rapids of the Ottawa River, or bringing Sloan and their ravenous following under one tent, Arboretum Festival has given us music fans some memorable moments over the years.
The organizers tried something completely different this year, and it was unlike any other festival most of us had ever been to before. First of all, the location moved once again. The wonderful people at Rideau Pines Farm welcomed the idea of hosting Arboretum on-site with open arms and were tremendously accommodating. Just twenty minutes outside of Ottawa in North Gower, ON, Rideau Pines Farm proved to be a near-perfect choice as a site.
While Ottawa prides itself on being a hub for music festivals of all kinds—large or small—one might get the sense that there are too many festivals trying to do the same thing. Well, that wasn’t the case with Arboretum Festival,
Art installations, neat lighting, and multiple stages in interesting locations made country folks out of us city dwellers for a couple nights. Although the Pond Stage got washed out with mud, the Bang Bang Barn (yes, in an actual barn) and Forest Stages filled that void nicely. There were even a few secret shows by Her Harbour and Toronto’s Giant Hand in the hang out area behind the food truck, both of which were intimate and set appropriately under the shade of umbrellas and trees for all to experience. People picked fruits and veggies, stoked their campfires, and soaked in the breathtaking sunset on the horizon over the fields.
They also scaled back the lineup and food options. Having a single food truck with rotating vendors kept things simple, and on Saturday night I had the opportunity to gorge myself with a Pork & Octopus hot dog from two six ate and two portions of delicious perogies from House of TARG. I’m a big guy, ok? Oh yeah, and the farm’s corn was the best I’ve had in years. While the food was top notch, one improvement would be for them to have more food options or at least one more truck. Many of us got caught watching TOPS and Deerhoof in line waiting (albeit with a great view) as the prep couldn’t quite keep up with demand. Props to the workers for handling the pressure well, it was worth the wait.
Beyond The Pale was the local beer sponsor, and I couldn’t get enough of the Pink Fuzz. While beer prices were a little higher than years passed ($7/$8 for a tall can), those who enjoy delicious cold craft beer certainly get what they pay for. It might have been nice to have a few options that weren’t as hoppy for those who enjoy a lighter ale, but most people seemed to keep coming back for more.
The lineup featured some incredible musicians, too. A transcendental and unforgettable performance by NYC’s Le1f was a highlight of the entire weekend. Toronto’s Yamantaka//Sonic Titan cranked up the energy and dawned on the stage with typical face paint, electrifying audience members for the entire set. Cedric Noel and Gianna Lauren were backed by some members of Pony Girl at the Forest Stage, and blew minds as folks arrived off the shuttle buses. Boyhood took the barn by storm by playing a rare and powerful set which included new songs never before heard. Deerhoof lived up to their legend, playing a jaw-dropping headlining set which featured incendiary guitar parts and complex arrangements across the board. These are just some of the sets that stood out—each brought something exceptional to the experience as a whole.
All in all, this was the Arboretum which organizers had envisioned from the start, and that fans had been craving. This quaint, yet exciting gathering of individuals felt good, really good. Let’s do it again.
Check out our photographer Els Durnford’s gallery from both nights below.
Ottawa Showbox’s Favourite Canadian Albums of 2013
These days there is so much music out there in the universe, it feels overwhelming sometimes. A lot of bloggers spend hours per day sifting through countless Bandcamps and Soundcloud accounts trying to find the next big thing. We are not those bloggers. We love new music and will usually give an album a listen if there’s a buzz about it, just to see what the big deal is all about. We don’t, however, claim to be the authority on breaking new bands across Canada or the world. Our purpose and drive is centred locally, and our passion really is seeing music live. For lack of a better cliche, music is the soundtrack to the lives of Matias, Eric, and Joe. We’re the kind of people that feel weird when there’s silence, and usually have music playing in some way or another at all times. None of us would claim to have listened to all albums that were released this year, nor would we claim that this list is exhaustive or exclusive in any way.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, The Yips and Blue Agnel @ Babylon
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan putting on a show a Babylon.
You don’t just listen to Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, you are immersed in the theatrics and the epicness of the show.
I had no idea what to expect when I decided to attend the Yamantaka // Sonic Titan show. Needless to say I was blown away. The mind boggling began early on, with the cardboard cartoons on stage, band members sporting painted faces, and the epic entry of the vocalist escorted through the crowd by someone carrying an ancient Chinese style war banner as another band member crashes cymbals together. Some songs you would almost think the soft vocals of Bjork had teamed up with a prog band, while the next song has hardcore distorted riffs, double pedal thrash drumming and yelling. The hundreds of people in attendance at Babylon were in the same trance I was, mesmerized by what we were witnessing.
My favourite songs live were ”Whalesong,” which starts soft and grows into a mesmerizing finish where they sings, “They rise/ Into battle with the tide.” The other track that really blew me away was the bone-chrushingly heavy song where they sing ”Yama looking back at me” which was awesome and induced a mosh pit.
The Yips just killing it as always.
Ottawa’s gloomy and ghostly dance rockers The Yips hit the stage before Yamantaka. With the smoke machine in full effect they played a set full of new songs. The new stuff sounds excellent, especially the unreleased song, listed as “Sub” on their set list. Their upcoming album is definitely my most anticipated upcoming local release. It was very cool to see lead singer, Kerri Carisse, dawn a guitar for a song. But shackling her with an instrument limits her stage presence and energy. The tune sounded good but I prefer when she is set free. Even though almost the entire set was new tracks, they did find time to play one of my favourites, “Blood Meridian,” which is always awesome live.
Blue Angel opening the night at Babylon.
Getting the night started was Blue Angel. The Ottawa psych/punk band, is formed of members of Boyhood, Organ Eyes and Roberta Bondar. They wore matching masks, matching sequin dresses and rocked with a ton of distortion. I loved the guitar riffs on one of their last songs, something about “I don’t need you, I don’t want you.” This was the first I ever heard of this band but I am really looking forward to seeing them more, I really like their potential. I’d also like to know why the drummer shrieked and moaned between songs, it worked, I am just curious.