Photo by Rolf Klausener
Ottawa is buzzing once again in anticipation of this year’s Arboretum Festival happening August 17–21. Going into its fifth year, the festival has grown from a boutique music and arts festival held in a parking lot to a full-on institution in the capital. That includes incorporating and celebrating important aspects of Ottawa’s music, art, food, history, activism, and more. Not to mention that there’s an entire conference portion (called Assembly), where informative, interactive, and sometimes uncomfortable-but-necessary discussions can be had about challenges people in our community face. Each iteration of the festival has built on its previous self, adding one crucial piece after another to make it into something that can stand up to any festival of comparable size in North America. Ottawa is on the map.
We at Showbox have been lucky enough to witness Arboretum grow into an exemplary and multifaceted entity since 2012. Moreover, we are honoured to be part of the festival this year as a presentation partner with the Witching Hour Official Arboretum After Parties being held at Bar Robo every night of the festival.
This year’s festival can be broken down into two physical domains: the Concert Village and the Festival Village.
The venue portion – a.k.a. the Concert Village – includes venues and spaces around town that will host band showcases, conference panels, mixers, speed meetings and after parties. Folks with full-festival passes will have the ability to bounce around the map and have plenty of chances to catch intimate performances, schmooze, and really see what Ottawa has to offer under the surface. There is also another (albeit pricier) option: those who don’t want to get the full pass can pick and choose which venues they’d rather go to by paying cover at the door.
The centralized Festival Village site is located behind Ottawa City Hall on Lisgar Street, and brings together some of the best local food, drink, shops and more, in addition to the music. The village itself will have two stages: the Main Stage, which is the larger of the two and where larger acts like Sloan perform, as well as the Debaser stage, where some emerging and experimental acts will play. The Arb organizers promise no Jumbotrons.
Here’s a breakdown of each day’s activities during Arboretum Festival 2016:
Wednesday kicks things off at 11am with some crucial and informative discussions at Bar Robo, Discussions include topics surrounding the transforming role of record labels and the new realities of building and sustaining a home for recorded music, ageism and professional roadblocks and cultural biases experienced on either end of the age spectrum, followed by a round of speed meetings for participants to network with industry delegates.
The evening will begin at St. Alban’s Church with the keynote presentation featuring acclaimed writer and broadcaster Andrea Warner (author of “We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ’90s and Changed Canadian Music”) which will explore the institutional and internalized sexism facing women in music. Attendees have the option of sticking around to catch Evening Hymns, Safia Nolin, Her Harbour play sets at the beautiful sounding church, or head back to Bar Robo for the Hand Drawn Dracula Showcase or over to House of Common for the You’ve Changed Records BBQ.
If you’re into some late night drinks and jams, don’t forget to hit up Bar Robo for the Witching Hour Official After Party featuring Hand Drawn Dracula DJs. Robo will have a special Arboretum cocktail called “Capo Melo” served all week long, which contains CAPO CAPO, grapefruit juice, vodka (it’s the perfect delicious summer drink). Great music and discussions all around on the first day.
The Must-See: Partner
9:00 @ You’ve Changed Records BBQ, House of Common
They’ve been called the “best new bands in Canada,” and that’s no bullshitting. They’re heavy, they’re punchy, and they’re relentless. And they will consume you whole with their blistering live performance.
The Hidden Gem: Andrea Warner
5:30pm @ St. Alban’s Church
In this keynote presentation, Warner will be discussing internalized and institutional sexism in the music industry, an issue that effects women from small clubs to the highest levels of pop stardom. Moderated by Vish Khanna.
This day is packed to the brim with goodies. No early mornings today, but be sure to get to Bar Robo by 12:30pm for a panel on publicity and media relations in today’s ever-evolving media climate – particularly helpful for new bands or artists that aren’t yet established and looking for some guidance on how to crack the code on getting your music out there. The second round of speed meetings also takes place at 2:30pm, so get your networking pants on!
In the evening, you might have to make some tough choices on the schedule. You could start off at the Babely Shades Block Party at House of Common around 6:15pm, and if you decide to stay all night you’ll catch stellar performances from Toronto’s Above Top Secret and Lido Pimienta. Or you could hit up our very own Telecomo showcase at Bar Robo, one of Ottawa’s hottest new tickets. Or do both, the venues aren’t far apart!
From there, one option is checking out Jeremy Gara (of Arcade Fire), Ottawa’s youngest and brightest talents Trails, and the one and only Tim Hecker at St. Alban’s. I can’t think of a more appropriate venue for this lineup, and it’s sure to be a mind melting experience. Another louder option is the Buzz Records showcase at Babylon Nightclub. Dilly Dally are not to be missed, and their 2015 album Sore was an absolute tour-de-force. They will be supported by Fake Palms, Twist, and one of our Ottawa faves Bonnie Doon. Let’s just say Buzz Records can do no wrong.
Once again, Bar Robo will be hosting the after party and the Pony Girl DJs will be providing your soundtrack late into the night.
The Must-See: Dilly Dally
11:30pm at Buzz Records Showcase, Babylon Nightclub
A little bit of 90’s angst, a lot of full-throttle overdriven riffage that will make the sonically meek curl up into a ball in the corner. Full disclosure, Sore was my favourite album of the year in 2015 which I wrote about in Mixtape Magazine. Raw and unclean, Katie Monks takes this band into the stratosphere with her powerful vocals and energy on stage. Like, seriously, don’t miss them.
The Hidden Gem: Above Top Secret
9:15 @ Babely Shades Block Party, House of Common
Babely Shades aren’t just making a huge impact here in Ottawa with their activism. They’re bringing in acts that push boundaries and smash them. One example is Above Top Secret, a Toronto-based “experimental, rap – electro – dub hop mashup infused with feminist politics” who are making music to bounce to while fighting against systemic injustices at the same time. Read a great interview that Elsa did with them in a recent issue of Ottawa Beat.
The Festival Village opens. Before you go discover the wonders that lie there, at 5:30pm there is a discussion with city planners, venue owners and managers, cultural developers, employers, and music promoters regarding zoning and city planning for performance venues in Ottawa at the Ottawa Art Gallery Annex at City Hall. Make sure to get there early enough to see local pop punk three-piece BB Cream open up the village at 6:00 pm on the Debaser stage. Their self-titled debut has ten songs that reflect a band that came to age attending punk shows all over town. They are fun, awkward but mostly fun. Go check them out and dance with a friend or make some new friends.
Travel back to the 90s and see Sloan play at 8:30. They will be performing their gold-certified and Juno award winning album, One Chord To Another, from start to finish which kicks off with the Canadian smash hit “Good in Everyone.” Bar Robo will be going late into the night with DJs Lamb Rabbit and Pat Egan spinning gold all night.
The Must-See: Sloan
8:30pm @ Main Stage, Concert Village
Sloan hardly needs an introduction, let alone a reason why they are a must-see on Friday night. This rock/power-pop group has been kicking out the jams for 25 years and have shown no sign of slowing down. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see them play their seminal 1996 album One Chord To Another from start to finish.
The Hidden Gem: Moss Lime
7:00pm @ Debaser Stage, Convert Village
This minimalist post-punk trio have been bubbling under the surface in Canada’s independent music landscape for a few years now. While their music sounds like something between Joy Division (cliché, I know) and The Slits, Moss Lime have created a distinctive sound that includes 3-part vocal harmonies and simplistic yet irresistible riffs.
Shake off your Friday hangover at the Back Lot BBQ at Spaceman Music starting at 11am, because hair of the dog works… right? Or head back to the Village for the OPEN AIR BRUNCH CLUB at noon presented by Buchipop. Free brunch prepared by chef Mike Frank (ex- Mellos Restaurant / Bar Robo) dishes out Egg Snackwiches, Vegan and Vegetarian grub, taters and more. Wash it down with Buchipop Mimosas or caesars from Union Local 613’s cocktail bar. To top it all off, Brockville Lions Steel Drum Band plays at 2 pm which I am sure will be super cool.
Keep the drum theme going at 5 pm on the Main Stage with the Kina Nimiwag & Anishinabe Drum Group. They combine traditional Anishinabe drum-song, dancing and electronic dance music which will blow you away. Join them as they take you on an adventure through a contemporary and traditional performance.
After watching all that dancing you will certainly want some dancing of your own. When the sun goes down and 8:15 rolls around, Jef E. Barbara’s Black Space will take to the Debaser stage and it will be nearly impossible not to dance to the sounds of sultry 70s love making beats. Think of smooth bilingual Roxy Music.
You will quickly want to rush back to the Main stage for 8:45 pm to see the incomparable Mykki Blanco. Mykki Blanco is the stage name American rapper, performance artist, poet and activist Michael Quattlebaum. Don’t miss your chance to see Mykki’s poetry and rap with unrelenting energy and emotion. Cap off the night with NYC’s Junglepussy, who will be sure to amaze, or head over to Bar Robo to experience DJ Memetic of TimeKode until the wee hours of the morning.
The Must-See: Junglepussy
7:45pm @ Main Stage, Concert Village
New York’s Junglepussy is an artist that has been exploding onto the scene after her first mixtape in 2014 went viral. Her music is heavy and the beats are deep, and her powerful vocals are reminiscent of her predecessors such as Lauryn Hill. Strap yourselves
The Hidden Gem: Jef Elise Barbara’s Black Space
8:15pm @ Debaser Stage, Convert Village
Get ready for one funky-ass party. Jeff Elise Barbara’s performance is centred around the idea “of blackness and the rejection of racialized tropes within white spaces.” Sounding like a blast from the past, this purveyor of glam would fit perfectly right next to Prince and Blood Orange and revel in the fact that they’ll make your sweat ooze from your pores.
The Comedown Day party will be kicking off across the river in Hull with drinks, games for kids, pedal displays by Fairfield Circuitry, and more. You’ll see sets by Montreal’s Dixtorchons and hometown gems Pony Girl, as well as a soundtrack provided by DJ Glory Hull, Mister Caffrey, and DJ Daisy. What better way to end the festival?