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The Wailers played Ottawa Folk Fest. All Photos by Adria May.

The last day of the Ottawa Folk Fest hits a high note

By Adria May on September 11, 2013

The sun was shining. The air was crisp. The music was fine and people milled about with their warm beverages (and beer). The setting of Hog’s Back Park for the Ottawa Folk Festival on Sunday could not have been better. It was a stark contrast to one of the days I had attended the year previously – a day which had been informally coined Soak Fest. The final day of Ottawa Folk Festival was glorious with a mix of folk, rock, blues and reggae on offer.

I arrived around 5:00 p.m. While I wished I could clone myself to hear Danny Michel’s ‘History and Evolution of Reggae’, with special guests The Wailers (more on them later), I first ended up going to see British alternative/rock band World Party. My only reference to this group was their song, ‘When You Come Back to Me’, from the soundtrack of the 1994 coming-of age movie Reality Bites, which I had on repeat for years (World Party’s first album, Private Revolution, came out in 1993 and their last album, Arkeology, came out in 2012). Festival-goer Mary Rose, who was raised by a folk musician, described them as the Beatles meets bluegrass.  They incorporated vocals, guitar, keyboard and fiddle with no percussion. I found their style was a bit hard to pinpoint, but I think that was what made the act interesting.

Then I was fortunate enough to run into someone who is up and up on the music scene, Newfoundland-born Ottawa musician, Glenn Nuotio, who was taking in some shows. We checked out Lynn Miles. She was new to me, but by no means new to the Canadian folk music scene, having won both Canadian Folk Music and Juno awards. Miles is a solo artist with a lot of depth – her voice was soulful and her lyrics are rich. Glenn’s opinion: “Lynn Miles has one of the best voices and is one of the most underrated lyricists in Canada. Period.”  I trust him and I wouldn’t mind seeing her in a music hall sometime.

Watching Sam Amidon.

Watching Sam Amidon perform.

Next we ended up hanging out on the grassy hill at the Tartan Homes Stage to watch singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sam Amidon. He entertained the audience with his colourful songs and stories. Even though the space was quite large around the stage, the show had the feel of a much more intimate gathering. After about an hour, the whimsical Amidon changed pace and switched to Irish fiddle music and took some time to do several push-ups on stage.

After, we headed to catch the tail end of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, straight from North Carolina. They were so energetic and fun. I wished that I had caught them earlier  because it was obvious that they were a Sunday highlight.  Their music mixed violin, banjo and guitar and a bit o’ honkey-tonk playing to a happy crowd. Glenn’s primary comment was that I should be dancing, so the dancing commenced and my interview with him ended abruptly on a high note.

Chris Smither

Chris Smither

Note – I did a Gordon Lightfoot drive-by, but did not stay. The crowd was packed and some people had been camped out for quite awhile to see him. There were several serious and passionate Lightfoot fans out there and it was hard to get close.  Rather, I ended up at the free Hill stage where I watched a delightful show by American bluesy folk singer Chris Smither, who emerged on the scene in the 90’s. He performed original music with a stunning gravelly voice, and concluded with a Blind Willie McTell cover. This is where I realized that the free Hill Stage brought in some amazing talent this year. Others had commented about how much they had enjoyed the Shred Kelly show on Thursday, as well.

Finally, in what I would call a Folk Fest highlight, we checked out The Wailers, the Jamaican reggae group that has been around since 1969. This was a great moment for the Folk 2013 festival with many people dancing for the whole of their performance and truly how could you not? They played many of the classic hits that had been performed with Bob Marley, including Could You Be Loved. Of course, solidarity, peace and love were abound when they encored with ‘Redemption Song’. It was a warm way to end a cool night.