“Providing an environment where people can come together to celebrate great music, food & drink, art, culture, peace, and positive vibes.”
The credo on the aVibe Music & Arts Festival website says it all. It delivered everything it set out to do in spades, in its debut year at the beautiful and massive Vincent Massey Park in Ottawa. The park is very centrally located on Heron Rd., and stretches from Riverside Dr. to the Rideau River. It’s known for its well groomed grassy rolling hills and fields, BBQ pits, picnic tables, large beautiful trees, paved bike paths, and even boasts two baseball diamonds. An absolute perfect setting for an outdoor music event of this kind…with plenty of room to expand its borders in years to come. A large section of the grassy field was cordoned off at the far side facing Riverside Dr., and near the gorgeous tree line by the Rideau River.
The concept for a very organically flavoured outdoor music and arts festival was devised by the brainstorming of two men – Dan Hopkins and Dan Beardsley. Hopkins has years of experience in the bar industry, and is also a general building contractor. Beardsley, has travelled for years with summer festivals from coast to coast, selling his line of crafted sandals called Nomadic State Of Mind, and making valuable connections along the way with fellow artisans and musicians.
Between the two, discussions led to the idea of an all-ages outdoor event, incorporating various local art dealer stands, live music, food and drink concessions, and with regional craft beers and wines for sale from their Brew Bus Lounge area. After a year of developing this plan, along with many meetings with the City of Ottawa and the NCC, the aVibe Music & Arts Festival was born, the first licensed event of its kind to be held at Vincent Massey Park.
The two Dans, as they’re known, share a love for vintage VW vans, or buses, as they’re sometimes called. Each has one of their own, which they use as their main vehicle. After learning of two discarded buses, the Dans decided to restore their frontal exteriors, branding their Brew Bus Lounge name on the front of each, and turning them into portable bar counter facades, complete with fully functional draught taps. The pure sight of these on the festival grounds added to the artistic flair of the event.
Upon entering through the gates, I was first greeted by Dan Beardsley, who took me over to the BB Lounge site and gave me the low down on its conception and construction. He learned the ropes of draught line installation and various other tricks of the trade from his years of festival touring. Dan Hopkins soon joined into the conversation, and the two had me engaged in stories of how they met, their common ideas and insights, travels to Nicaragua (a great story in itself), and a shared love of Reggae music. Hopkins’ skill as a builder also came into play during the restoration of the vehicles, and his connections with local craft beer companies during his bartending days would come in handy in setting up the business end of things.
Around the perimeter of the grounds, were several artisan stands, food trucks featuring healthier choice options, picnic tables, and a large stage at the far end, underneath one of the existing band shells in the park. In the centre of it all, were people dancing, playing Frisbee and hacky sack, hoola hooping, and some simply lazing under the sunny, cloudless sky in their lawn chairs.
The live entertainment was chosen from a selection of Reggae infused bands that Beardsley had befriended at various festivals. The idea was to create a laid back and welcoming atmosphere, featuring positively charged, upbeat music, embracing a “feel-good” vibe to kick off the summer season.
I had a chance to converse with some of the members of Les Mosquitos, an original 5-piece band hailing from Aylmer, Quebec. Their fresh style is Reggae based, highly rhythmic, with funky and Latin flavours. Their performance radiated a tightness and playfulness onstage, and I enjoyed their energetic pace and solid groove. I was touched by a lively piece entitled, “Song For Tony”, celebrating the life of one of their dearly departed friends, involved in tragic car accident. The song serves as a reminder of how one person’s life touched so many others and how in an instant, that life can be gone.
Ottawa’s own, Tympanic, a 4-piece band that followed, offered up their infectious licks to the crowd, delivered with a zestiness reminiscent at times of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I especially loved their funky hip-hop take on “All Along The Watchtower”.
In between each band, DJ Zattar spun similar themed music selections throughout the afternoon and into the evening. The festivities closed with the 3-piece popular Cape Breton band, Slowcoasters, who kept the party going, churning out their highly charged mix of Reggae, Ska, Funk and Rock, accented with the rhythmic lyrics and vocals of Steven MacDougall.
Turning my attention to the north side of the park, I saw a woman up high on a scaffolding, painting a beautiful 6’ X 9’ mural of the festival grounds, and the activity taking place during the course of the day. Her name was Sharon Epic, and she is what’s called a live painter, who paints events as they happen. I was impressed with her flamboyant, slightly abstract, and animated bold designs, in which she uses a plethora of bright colours mixed into gorgeous, almost unidentifiable hues. I returned later to find the same piece had unfolded into a spectacular vivid scene. Check out ep1c.ca to see more of her wonderful work.
As I trolled my way through the artisan stand section of the grounds, I came across what seemed on the surface to be a tent containing paintings from an artist named, Allyson Luedtke. I had the pleasure of chatting with this gracious lady, who introduced herself as a Therapeutic Artist, working with special needs people to help them process their block/challenge through a redirection of art expression. Then I learned that some of the paintings hung inside the tent were not hers, but those of her clients. Looking at them, I could see different emotional states of expression, vented from the trapped quarters of the mind and onto the canvas. Truly remarkable.
As the final moments of the festival came to a close, I left drenched in the many wonderful flavours of a day which flew by too quickly. A day filled with jubilant sights and sounds in the perfect park scenario, under an even more perfect sunny sky. The aVibe Music and Arts Festival is now added to my list of summer festivities in the Capital, with next year’s event shaping up to extend into a full weekend. My heartfelt thanks and congratulations to Dan Beardsley and Dan Hopkins for their hospitality, and to their success this year and in the years to come.