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.