WuFest 2014 Day 1: Moonfruits, AroarA & Party Bus Karaoke

Photo: Ming Wu

Photo: AroarA by Ming Wu

The inaugural WuFest began last night at Blacksheep Inn, bringing music fans, friends, and new faces out to celebrate local arts and culture… and Ming Wu! Here’s a little blurb I wrote recently to summarize what it’s all about:

We are very happy to be partnering up with Blacksheep Inn and CHUO to make the inaugural WuFest happen! WuFest is a weekend-long celebration of local arts, music, and culture, named after one of Ottawa’s most prolific and omnipresent concert photographers, Ming Wu. Through Ming’s blog Photogmusic, he has provided us with a de facto photo essay of the city’s concerts, festivals, and cultural events since 2008. In fact, when I first started Showbox back in 2012, one of the first people to help me out and allow me to post his photos was Ming (since his were way better than my crappy phone pics at the time). Many of us know of Ming as an institution in Ottawa, and his photos really do tell a story. His passion for music and all things local is something that we should all try to aspire towards.

We recognize the importance of this kind of dedication and commitment to our city’s music scene, and are very proud to be a part of WuFest.

One thing that was very apparent this past weekend is that WuFest is more than just a festival celebrating local arts and culture. It’s about bringing people together, a microcosm of the scene where friends, acquaintances, those who actively participate and those who are new all gather under one roof. That is, the roof of Black Sheep Inn.

Friday night is when things all got started, and after a little mixup with the party bus, everything got sorted out and about 20 of us were on our way. Black Sheep is one of my favourite venues, for obvious reasons. It’s a family-run establishment that curates incredible music and harbours some of Canada’s best acts. Furthermore, the sound is impeccable. Every time I go to see a show there, I’m blown away at how incredible the waves of noise sound when hitting my eardrums. Props to Mike Dubue who really made our experience this past weekend that much better by coordinating all the audio for bands and making it sound just right. Much thanks to Kelly and Paul Symes for making this whole thing possible!

moonfruits, ottawa

The first act of the fest was Moonfruits, an adorable local duet comprised of Alex Millaire and Kaitlin Milroy. They mentioned that the first time they played together in front of people as Moonfruits was at one of the 4in1 Sessions that Ming put together, so there was a genuine Wu connection there. I hadn’t heard much of their music before, but I had seen Alex Millaire solo in years past and was fully aware of the incredible technical skills he possesses.

Moonfruits did not disappoint, as they captured the love of the crowd right away. Playing songs in French and English, the duet serenaded us throughout their entire set. Their music was folky, but with a twist. The dynamic between Alex and Kaitlin was perfect, and one could instantly discern how much chemistry was at work here. What I liked most was that neither one overpowered the other – it was a balanced and orchestrated performance that mixed technical instrumentation with equally complex vocal arrangements. The band opened with “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” which turned out to be a spectacular rendition of the Talking Heads song that we all know and love. They certainly did it justice. To top it all off, they ended with “Enjoy Yourself,” a song written by Guy Lombardo which was later covered by ska acts such as Prince Buster and The Specials.

Ming had some prints for sale up on a board at the back, some of which were his most notable shots. They included photos of Silkken Laumann, The White Wires playing a house show, Rich Aucoin at Cafe Dekcuf, and more.

The second and final act on Friday night was AroarA, from Montreal. AroarA is another duet comprised of two incredibly talented musicians who also happen to be husband and wife. Andrew Whiteman is a former guitarist in Broken Social Scene, and played a major role in creating some of BSS’s best music. Their 2013 album In The Pines is named after a book of the same title by American poet Alice Notely. The book, which contains 14 poems about a woman going through Hepatitis C treatment, is the basis for the 14 songs on their original EP and In The Pines LP.

This is very unorthodox, but an intriguing way of bridging music and poetry. After all, they aren’t so far apart. Their music is beautifully composed and each song is given a number instead of a song name. Their music jumps from being delicate and atmospheric (“#3”) to being explosive and intense (“#12”) and everything in between. Messing around with experimentalism has served them well, as AroarA explodes into melodic and invigorating songs that push the limits of folk and pop as we know it. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single song that they played (so much so that I couldn’t help but buy the last vinyl that they had for sale). I was completely enthralled by Ariel’s vocals – her voice enchanted and seduced us all. Her powerful, and at times raspy, voice added another dimension to AroarA’s performance, particularly since the sound in the room accommodated it so well. Although Andrew didn’t sing as much, when he did his voice complimented Ariel’s in just the right way. His instrumentals were intricate and brilliant, as one would expect. I definitely suggest catching AroarA next time they’re in town, as their live show is something to behold.

As the night wrapped up, we all got on the bus and made our way back to Ottawa from Wakefield. We all began belting out songs spontaneously, making the yellow schoolbus our stage. We all sang together, as one. Bangers such as Enrique Iglesias’s “Bailamos,” Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time,” and Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69” were sung, as well as the most epic performance of the night – Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It was like we were all in Wayne’s World, except in a school bus instead of the mirth-mobile. Phil Castiglione, a.k.a. Robots!Everywhere!! and also in The Steamers, treated us to a few of his songs like “Ottawa Explosion” and that we all sang with passion and conviction.

Photo courtesy of NBC Pictures