With just over two decades in the saddle, this year’s rendition of Ottawa’s Folk Fest will showcase two significant changes. The first is a location leap from the grassy banks of Hog’s Back Falls to the now-buzzing and more central locale of Landsdowne Park. This is not the first time the fest has changed locations. When the Festival for the Folks ended in 1979 after a three-year stint, the first Ottawa Folk Festival was held on Victoria Island in 1994. The following year it moved west, to Britannia Park, where it stayed for 16 years before setting up stages in Hog’s Back Park.
While Hog’s Back provided a picturesque and serene setting it also was burdened by a number of niggly issues related to precipitation, power and service roads. Although some small issues, such as noise complaints, might persist with the change to Landsdowne Park (concerts will be held in the grassy areas around but not in the central stadium) this new face of the Fest, renamed ‘CityFolk’, gives organizers and attendees the chance to start fresh once again, to bring forth a new iteration of folky good times.
The second significant change is the inclusion of the complimentary Marvest, sliding snugly inside CityFolk’s planning-chaps, which will feature over 60 local acts performing numerous traditional and non-traditional venues up and down Bank St. As part of this, attendees can mosey through Lansdowne’s Aberdeen Pavilion while taking in tunes, sampling brews, nibbling on chow, and browsing vendor stalls. It reckons to be a blissful coupling of the ‘City’ and its ‘Folk’.
So what should you check out at the inaugural CityFolk? We have been providing coverage for a number of the local bands participating in Marvest, so keep checking back for previews of shows featuring a wide-range of sounds. As for the main rodeo, there are an abundance of topnotch acts descending on the city – acts which range from the twangy, to the rocky, to the folky, to the poppy. There’s tons of great stuff to check out, especially for those who dig down on the breezy sing-a-long varietal of tune-grape. Here are 6 picks of shows, however, that might be somewhat rougher, a touch fringier, and totally worth your time:
Van Morrison – Telus Stage // 8:30 pm // Friday night
Granted he’s a headliner, but Mr. Morrison is far from an endearing, crowd-pleasing hoss. Being notorious for refusing to acknowledge (let alone engage) audiences at his concerts, however, shouldn’t dissuade one from experiencing one of the greatest singers/songwriters of the last 50 years. With a repertoire featuring a plethora of unforgettable melodies, belted out by that iconic booming voice, the Northern Irishman, dour as he might be, has all the potential to create an indelible evening. Any doubt of the live chops? Just check out Van in Scorcese’s The Last Waltz. Monster Boss.
Lisa Leblanc – RavenLaw Stage // 8:15 pm // Thursday night
An orange moon lit up the sky. Burnt rubber. Glass Shards. A scrap in the bar. They splintered the pool cues. Somebody played piñata on Ricky Jimmy’s back with the neon Coors’ sign. Rumor has it, it was Leblanc’s tuneage that set it all off. Rumors they might be, but it’s trouble she’s been branded. ‘Trashy-folk’ is what she belts out. Very little brass but plenty o’ sass.
Intriguing are the artists who continually strive to take on new projects, experimenting with sounds, harnessing new themes. Tom Wilson of Junkhouse and Blackie and the Roadie Kings, is doing just that. Riding the release of a new album under the psychopathically-tinged moniker Lee Harvey Osmond, Wilson and his crew will be delivering a shifty, shadowy brand of noir-cloaked, narrative-driven jams. Expect pedal-steel, growls, horns and flutes. Expect it spooky and thoroughly engaging.
Everyone Orchestra – RavenLaw Stage // Saturday and Sunday Late Night
As described in their press release, “Everyone Orchestra is an avant-garde conceptual and collaborative performance which deeply encourages and requires audience interaction.” Over the years, the orchestra has featured a slew of members from the jam-band scene (The Grateful Dead, Phish, Gov’t Mule, etc) while also incorporating Tuvan throat singers, jugglers, stiltwalkers, hula-hoopers and storytellers.
This circusfest sounds wild, strange and totally interesting. If this type of event sounds like your jam, latch ahold of your inner Dionysus and stomp right into it.
Lucinda Williams – Telus Stage // 5:30 pm // Sunday night
‘Consummate professional’, ‘genuine talent’, ‘authentic emotion’ are just some of the phrases one could throw around to describe the illustrious folk/country singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. Having been off and on the music scene for the better part of 35 years, Williams’ latest release 2014’s Down where the Spirit Meets the Bone is yet another critically-acclaimed album to add her list of gems since 1980’s Happy Woman Blues. Known for bringing conflicted troubled characters to life through her evocative, poetic lyrics and with her uncompromisingly raspy and authentic voice, Lucinda’s show is a must for anyone who wants to experience what many would dub “real” country /roots music in a genre currently flooded by a deluge of pop/commercial influences.
Corb Lund – RavenLaw Stage // 8:30 pm // Sunday night
Corb Lund’s earliest and most substantial project, the genre-bending band, The Smalls, is heavily revered in punk/metal circles. The tunes were wild, innovative, full-throttle rippers – and have proved to be influential for a great number of acts. Following the break-up of The Smalls, Lund, the proudly Albertan Edmontonian would go on to form Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans (also known as the Corb Lund band) and release nine (alt)-country albums, the latest of which being Things that can’t be undone. In short, Lund’s a deadly musician, and a killer songwriter. There isn’t a single Albertan farmer that would shudder at the sight of Corb Lund arm-tatt on their daughter’s upper arm. He’s quite simply a Canadian gem. Brandish the stirrups of your soul and take in his tunes. You’ll be super glad you did.
CityFolk Festival is happening from September 16 – 20, 2015 on the great lawn at Lansdowne Park. Check their website for tickets and more info.