By Joseph Mathieu

My first day of the Ottawa Dragon Boats Festival was it’s third. The line-up alone would have made the festival the non-stop summer party it promised to be had the thunderstorm forecasts not persisted. I missed The Balconies & Sam Roberts the night before, but still biked there with my mother to the muddy lawn of Mooney’s Bay.

We arrived at the fourth set for melancholy folk rock in the rain. From start to finish Kalle Mattson made us music-lovers smile through the showers. The band comprises of three Ottawans Kyle Woods on drums, JF Beauchamp on trumpet, flugelhorn & percussion, and Jon Chandler on bass & back-up vocals, and the two from the Sault: Rory Lewis on guitar & synth and lyricist/guitarist Kalle. Just poised to give into a summer of first-ever European tours, the four-year-old band was stoked to be at the festival.

Kalle ended every single song with a beaming “Thank you very much everybody!” You can give this modest Sault Ste. Marie native’s new album Lives in Between a looksee with the video to his new track for “Water Falls” below.

Liam Cohl of The Treasures deftly covered the absence of The Matinée’s Mike Young. Cohl learned the latter’s bass lines while on the two bands’ road tour together. With close to matching beards to prove it, the hectic summer tour was clearly still at a raging high note. As The Matinée’s vocalist Matt Layzell put it, “We’ve done something like 28 shows in 22 days.”

In the fifth set’s last song, The Treasures brought out three floor toms and bashed out the bridge, as a tip of the hat to dragon boat drummers. If these instruments were the heartbeat of the festival then The Treasures’ Mike Eckert on a bird’s eye maple pedal steel guitar was the brain firing off synapses.

ottawa dragon boat festival, 2013

Ironically the awards ceremonies ended with the rain, although organizers still moved the live performances to the beach stage. Toronto-based Great Lakes Swimmers lit a fire under our soggy bums, asking us to get up and dance. Tony Dekker’s is a music that nourishes your sentiments, if not you soul. Cross-dressers and medal-winners let in the melody of banjo, harmonica and violin with songs themed by daily events and human disasters.

Just before the blaze of Born Ruffians, there was an actual fire show by the Fire Weavers — attractive gymnasts with hula-hoops afire. There are three things that humans can’t look away from easily: fire, running water & people working. This was a rare instance that all three things worked in unison.

When Born Ruffians finally found the beach stage, I watched four tracks and left, burnt out. I can’t be certain if frontman Luke Lalonde played “Retard Canard” but it would have been fitting: “Oh I don’t wanna start a flame in your heart! Oh I just wanna set the world on fire!”

For the first time in a long time, the four-person Midland, Ontario band played without their guitar & keyboard player Andy Lloyd. This left Lalonde and bandmates  Mitch Derosier & Steve Hamelin to whip the crowd into hooligans without back-up strumming. They did well, although they confessed it was weird to be playing without their fourth counterpart.