That slight chill in the air that’s moved in with the arrival of September brings with it the return of one of Ottawa’s best events each year—the CityFolk music festival.
After its cancellation in 2020, CityFolk returns with a new format: a pair of weekends with triple-triple bills. A scaled-back version of its Bluesfest sibling, CityFolk may not boast groundbreaking headliners like Rage Against The Machine, but there is plenty of star power to attract the pleasant CityFolk crowds, which tend to also be a bit more laid back than Bluesfest—whether that’s due to the artists performing or the slightly chillier nights keeping fans mellow.
While still never in the clear of lineup changes, as we have seen with the abrupt withdrawal of Black Pumas from this year’s edition, organizers and fans alike are hoping the current lineup will play out as planned, starting with Weekend #1 which features Roots, Rock and… Random?
The White Buffalo (6pm)
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, chances are you may recognize his songs anyway, given their prominent features in series including Sons of Anarchy, Californication and This Is Us. His gritty vocals create ideal emotional soundscapes, whether accompanying scenes on screen or just letting your imagination fill the void. With 20 years of material to choose from, this opening set is one not to be missed.
Kathleen Edwards (7:20pm)
Ottawa’s own Edwards will finally bring her latest album, 2020’s Total Freedom, and this year’s new EP Dogs and Alcohol, to a local big stage. Having toured much of the summer both north and south of the border, Edwards’ return to CityFolk will mark a decade since she appeared at the event, then called the Ottawa Folk Festival. Absence certainly does make the heart grow fonder, and fans are eagerly awaiting her return.
Zach Bryan (9pm)
The roots thread running through the night’s lineup will be pulled a bit more into country territory with Oklahoma native Bryan. He may have a polished look, but don’t expect glossy country pop. His sound is deeply rooted in heartfelt Americana and emotional folk. His latest release, July’s Summertime Blues, encapsulates the purity of his songwriting and earnest vocals.
Sophia Radisch (6pm)
Fresh off opening for none other than Alanis Morrissette and Garbage at Bluesfest this summer, Ottawa’s Radisch gets to add a few more notable names to her list of artists with whom she’s shared the stage. Her guitar-powered rock will set the stage perfectly for the rest of the evening and is sure to get the crowd energized.
The Blue Stones (7:20pm)
Windsor’s The Blue Stones are one of those bands that have had the traditional trajectory for Ontario-based bands upended by the pandemic. The duo’s debut album, 2018’s Black Holes, produced singles “Be My Fire” and the title track, both Top 5 hits, and they followed that up with 2021’s Hidden Gems, which continued their success. And yet, instead of having made continuous stops around town growing their fanbase, they’ve only played a pair of shows in the city to date due to the pandemic. Friday’s set is bound to introduce them to a much broader audience than those that could fit into The 27 Club back in 2020.
The Glorious Sons (8:45pm)
Speaking of bands who have continuously grown their fanbase in Ottawa, The Glorious Sons are a prime example of this approach, even if they had to postpone their show at TD Place a few times. That April show displayed how much the Sons have grown up since their raucous Bluesfest headlining set in 2019, and how they’ve managed to continue to evolve as songwriters and performers while maintaining that raw energy that propels their songs.
JJ Wilde (7pm)
Starting off the night a bit later than the weeknights, Kitchener rocker JJ Wilde will kick off the festivities in style. The energetic powerhouse will finally have a local stage large enough for her performance, without any fear of blowing the roof off the building. With her first headlining tour on the fall horizon, she’ll continue her meteoric ascent that launched with her 2020 debut album Ruthless, and the record-setting single “The Rush” dominating charts. She’s already shared the stage with legends Pearl Jam, Scorpions and Kiss—all this summer.
Tim Hicks (8:05pm)
Switching from rock to country, St. Catharines’ Tim Hicks will bring his Zero to Sixty tour to the stage, featuring new music from his brand new album Talk To Time, as well as his well-known hits including the viral “Stronger Beer” and “No Truck Song” from his decade-long catalogue. His truly Canadian perspective comes through on all his country songs, easily connecting with fans looking for country to call their own.
Making an even bigger shift in genres, next up is hip-hop pioneer T-Pain. Since bursting onto the scene in 2004, the Florida native brought a number of new approaches to the genre, thanks to his innovative use of auto-tune to establish his distinctive sound. His multi-platinum Epiphany album in 2007 cemented him as a force in hip hop, behind the success of hits “Buy U a Drank” and “Bartender”. He has since continued to release albums and collabs, amassing over a billion streams to date.
CityFolk takes place September 8 to 10 and 15 to 17 on the Great Lawn at Lansdowne Park. Passes are available through the cityfolkfestival.com website.