Friday night was a very significant and special occasion on Albert Island: when Arboretum Festival began welcoming people onto the grounds, it was the first time the island had been used for a public event in over 200 years. An organizer from Arboretum took to the main stage before the performances to tell the crowd that the island they were standing on is part of unceded Algonquin First Nations territory and to highlight that they were honored to be there.
It was clear early on that it was going to be a chilly August night, with heavy winds blowing through the festival grounds. Despite the weather, the opening act Scattered Clouds was able to draw people out from beneath the shelter of the tents to the stage, as the band burst into action with an aggressive, energetic rock performance.
There were two stages set up for the festival: the main stage outdoors and a second stage inside the warehouse – an old, industrial building decorated with light installations of all different colours. The shows tended to go back and forth between the main stage and the warehouse stage throughout the night, with minimal overlap between the acts, so no one had to miss anything.
The first group to play on the warehouse stage was Nightshades, who kicked things off with a bit of punk rock. The trio brought a ton of energy to the warehouse with some furious, wild drumming really standing out. As it was starting to get dark outside, The Sadies took to the main stage with their catchy, western vibes. They played a bit of rock and a bit of country as the crowd started to fill up with more and more people arriving at the festival.
By the time Milk Lines played in the warehouse, it was packed inside, and fog was rolling out from the stage. Lead singer Emily Frances was a strong presence on the stage, with a captivating, drawling voice, singing country pop songs with a bit of a darker, psychedelic edge. The fog made everything a little more eerie, the drums sounding ominous as they built up to snarling bursts of guitar which had the audience dancing around.
Outside, New Swears, a group Arboretum dubbed “Ottawa’s party princes” definitely lived up to that title. They brought a fantastic amount of carefree, fun, crazy energy to their set, whether they were wandering down into the audience or hoisting each other up on their shoulders to shoot confetti into the crowd. It was the liveliest show of the night, a celebration of fun, party music that really whipped up the energy of the crowd and had everyone dancing and jumping nonstop.
Tweens were the last band to play in the warehouse, with a very enthusiastic crowd pressed right up front. It was the perfect atmosphere for a crowded warehouse show, everyone caught up in messy enthusiasm as the band blazed through gritty, trashy, fun pop songs, an ode to the youthful rebellion you’d associate with their cutesy name.
The headliners of the night were BRAIDS, who delivered a phenomenal performance of songs from their album Deep in the Iris. Lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston was mesmerizing throughout, her voice reaching chilling, unbelievable heights, as she swayed and danced behind her mic stand, her expression frequently cracking into delighted smiles. The audience was completely captive, swaying, dancing, and caught up in the energy, which rose and lulled but never died out as they rolled right from one song into the next. There was a very sharp, intense focus to the whole performance, but also a sense of wild, reckless energy from all three band members, with synthesizers building up humming tensions only for drums to come crashing in.
They closed their show with their new single, “Miniskirt,” to resounding cheers from the crowd. Standell-Preston slipped between soft and biting tones as she sang the powerful lyrics, “You feel you’ve the right to touch me, ‘Cause I asked for it, In my little mini skirt, Think you can have it, My little mini skirt, It’s mine, all mine.” She was twirling around by the end of it, seeming ecstatic as she gave a heartfelt thanks to the crowd.
After the show, an after party kicked off in the warehouse, with live musicians playing psych-funk music and keeping the party going til 2 a.m.
For the first time in over 200 years, Albert Island was open for public celebration, and the festival atmosphere was wonderfully positive, making for a truly special night.