Built to Spill, Wilco, and Everyone Orchestra - Ottawa CityFolk Festival

Wilco - CityFolk Festival Jeff Tweedy - Wilco

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The growth of Folkfest to Cityfolk is almost staggering to where we are today. Each step in the evolution has provided me with bittersweet memories. This latest jump was far better than any expectation one could come up with. Surely I miss Britannia and especially Sir Charles Tupper when Folkfest had the perfect combination of high quality acts with a small hometown feel but this is now the big-time thanks to the wonderfully redesigned Lansdowne layout. 

The harmonies from Lucious perfectly fit everyone gathering their bits. Upon reflection of our day’s music, this band ended up being slotted perfectly because a tone was set. Attention was grabbed and formulas were going to be thrown out the window. Lucinda Williams and the Buick 6 provided the perfect sundown soundtrack, unlike any I have really seen before. It was a mesmerizing set of Bakersfield outlaw country. Towards the end of that we headed to see our resident player ‘ersh perform with Terra Lightfoot and I melted at one of my favourite performances of the day while they pummeled In The Pines. It was joyously sparkling with angst. 

Built To Spill - CityFolk Festival Built to Spill

Built To Spill then stepped up to the plate and drove us into an alternate existence. “Where am I again?” – usually you have to imbibe for a band to take you on such a journey but not with these guys. They drip psychedelia and their interplay is underrated for how far they get out there. I laughed when I felt ripped off things were over after they covered How Soon Is Now. 

We somehow make it to the main stage for Wilco and adjusted our mindsets realizing they were performing most (if not all) of their latest album Star Wars. By the way, I love Wilco but to be honest I am really pissed off they had the nerve to name an album Star Wars. Thankfully a knee bending Where Do I Begin into Cold Slope every question I had. Those two numbers should remain a part of Wilco’s repertoire for years.

Forget The Flowers and Handshake Drugs exploded after the material from the new album while a nod to the recent past may have provided Wilco’s shining achievement during this set, The Art Of Almost. That was most likely the song of the show. Tweedy played a Les Paul during I’m Always In Love which really gave that song punch and benefited I’m The Man Who Loves You later in the set. Impossible Germany described the course of the set and before I knew it everything was over and I was making my way to all the people I lost during the last 30 minutes on the main stage. Sure enough, they were at Everyone Orchestra. ‘ersh was pounding keys, Andrew Barr was layering rhythms and the conductor looked like the mad hatter from Alice In Wonderland while he showed each of us what our dream job is. This was easily the best band of the day and one of the best improvisational collaborations I have ever seen.

Everyone Orchestra - CityFolk Festival Everyone Orchestra

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CityFolk have really upped the ante on what we may see come through town. It’s entirely possible this becomes my go-to Festival each year. It’s a shame the sound at the Ravenlaw Stage could use some help but that is a minor complaint considering how the grounds are set up perfectly. The bar has been set high for Cityfolk and I am already looking forward to the line up for 2016.

The Barr Brothers Join CityFolk for Some Afternoon Jams

The Barr Brothers - CityFolk Festival

The Barr Brothers revisited Ottawa's CityFolk Festival to close off their current tour for a fab, yet short one hour set that could be described as a standard set of their tunes from both "The Barr Brothers" and "Sleeping Operator".  It was a mostly soothing set that matched the afternoon vibe rather than their higher energy shows when presented with a more complete evening set. The tail end of the set brought out some jams out with "Half Crazy" that could have lead into a crazy extra half hour or so of extended jammy times.

Don't miss The Barr Brothers return for a full show in Gatineau  at the Salle Odyssée on Dec. 4th.  

St. Paul & The Broken Bones On Fire at CityFolk

Tonight was well worth getting into the Horticulture building early to catch St. Paul & The Broken Bones at the Ottawa CityFolk Festival.  The crowd for Van Morrison was so freaking large, and the sound was so freaking subdued that it was pretty easy to make a night out of simply seeing Paul Janeway channel every soul singer ever tonight inside and experience the drive and capacity of his vocal pipes.

Backed by a 7 piece band comprised of trumpet, trombone, baritone sax, vintage guitars, bass, organ and drums, Janeway had directed the band on every power hit with precision.  These guys brought their souls from Birgmingham, Alabama to Ottawa for the first time Friday night and were clearly astounded by the possibly unexpected support and crowd enthusiasm for their set.  Janeway spent many moments with a shit-eating grin, taking in the crowd's massive response to the end of nearly every tune.  

These weren't just tunes, they were epic arrangements with hooks and grooves which built up to some powerful moments.  It must take alot of professionalism to suit up and perform with such zest in a room that had just the right temperature to incubate yeast or yogurt. It was very warm and sweaty, as evidenced by wet 3-piece suits and dripping the dripping foreheads of the musicians.  

St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Janeway dropped to the floor so many times with mic in hand to belt out words much like Otis Redding might have done if he were to take on CityFolk festival, or even John Belushi's greatest moments in the Blues Brothers.  Nearly any time the lyrics and vibe referenced love, he directed it at people in the crowd pulling them in even further.  It was kinda "one of those nights" that will be remembered as a special evening in the history of the festival.

With so many iphones and androids rising above the heads of the crowd, one might expect some sort of speech about recording or paying attention to devices but Paul took full advantage, playing into the phones lenses, singing directly into them. It would be absolutely amazing if someone out there got them all together and made a super cut.  This must happen at every show.  He absolutely loved to bring everyone close and share his talent for the benefit of their social graphs.

They pretty much played their entire one and only album "Half The City" along with a number of soul covers.  One stand-out unexpected cover came in the form of "I Want You" (Beatles).  The guitarist switched to a Gibson ES which would mimic John Lennon's Epiphone used on the original recording for perfect tone.  They certainly took advantage of the loopy moments of the song without stretching it out too much since it was part of their 3 song encore.

Keep an eye out for St. Paul & The Broken Bones as there's no doubt they will return once again for another festival in Ottawa after this performance.

Avett Brothers Reunite with Ottawa at CityFolk Festival

It didn't take long to appreciate the new venue for the Ottawa Folk Festival which couples well with the new brand CityFolk Festival and also hosted the Avett Brothers for a supremely prodigious main event set.  The new location at revitalized Landsdown park features a broader spectrum of folk music, invites the inhabiting folk and accentuates the city's ability to host incredible live music of genres that aren't as diverse as many might describe what the Bluesfest has become.

It's fair to say that the organizers have been adjusting Bluesfest year-to-year in order to continue it's success as a world-class festival to a position where it can please everyone on some level, based on pop trends rather than a more focused demo.  The CityFolk festival appears to be more contained within a realm of more common musical styles that likely promote the purchase of a full festival pass rather than a sales model of short 3-4 day packages.  It might not be a remote idea to imagine a rebranding of Bluesfest in the near future if CityFolk festival succeeds with this year's bold alteration.  It's clearly off to a great start.

There is an outdoor venue that is meant to hold a large outdoor crowd as one would expect at an outdoor music festival.  A welcomed partitioning of standing area and lawn chairs really made moving around much easier, without having to negotiate various sized plots of land taken up by crazy chairs in random locations.  This also helps foster a more engaging connection between the musicians and the audience without having to urge folks to stand up.  

There are 2 indoor venues that have the feeling of being in an open space utilizing two legacy buildings to host more live music as side-stages while providing an opportunity for continued entertainment in the event of rain.  However, the main interior venue only has a capacity for 750 music lovers, despite clearly having plenty of space to hold more.  Bylaws ftw!  

There were a couple of hundred people outside while Wintersleep were playing a late set after the Avett Brothers engaging performance tonight, who would not make it inside.  In order to be assured entrance, one will likely have to leave the main stage area possibly a half-hour before the main performance has finished.  

Speaking of the main performance, the Avett Brothers returned to the festival for their third peformance to a very happy crowd. With perfect weather (and well beyond any expectations for Ottawa mid-September), and contrary to their last visit performing in the pouring rain, the Avetts seem to have kicked up their ability to exist as a rootsy-indie-folk-rock band.

Avett Brothers - CityFolk Festival

It's hard to describe them as they encompass themselves within an arrangement of acoustic instruments like banjo, cello, piano, acoustic bass and guitar while extending their reach with a semi-acoustic electric guitar, organ, drums and a Rhodes for a slice of funk.  Their fundamental version of Laundry Room for the Cardinal Sessions is a great example of a song that benefits from their ability to layer more musicians and parts, preserving their unique hooks and providing more energy.

There were some moments that proved their evolution in the last few years with their knack in stretching out the feel and vibe of their performance.  There were a few solid moments of improv, including a drum solo that wasn't pretentious, some controlled guitar feedback, plenty of guitar poses and rock-and-roll bouncing around the stage directing the crowd to dance, and clap along in-concert.  This wasn't as easy to pull off in the rain two years ago btw.


Wintersleep completely poured a musical experience all over those lucky enough to pull themselves away from the main event into the Ravenlaw Stage area.  This crowd was serious about Wintersleep, they were all there for the band and weren't just taking advantage of having paid for a festival pass.  If there's anything worth seeing inside this building, be sure to get their early or risk missing a sweet experience *cough* (St. Paul & The Broken Bones - friday at 10:00 pm) *cough

The CityFolk Festival doesn't just retain the charm of a smallish yet powerfully memorable music festival, but it really seems to be anchored by it.  With it's new prospects,  this version of FolkFest 3.0 matches the zeal towards a positive communal impact.  

Bill Burr Crushes it at Ottawa Bluesfest and Weird Al yankovic celebrates weird al

The final night of the Ottawa Bluesfest delivered a comedy sandwich offering one slice of Weird Al Yankovic the guitar mastery and nostalgic rock meat of Randy Bachman, and a superior slice of Bill Burr who's comedic set would have satisfied on it's own.  It wasn't entirely expected that Weird Al would provide so many entertaining moments that spawned homogenous laughter throughout the fairly dense crowd that was beyond soundboard deep. This turned out to be a well scheduled warm-up for Bill Burr who could have appeared immediately aftewards to roll with the humourous vibe but the stage needed to be completely cleared for Bill's minimalist setup of a mic stand, stool, water and pack of gum.

Weird Al's set was both a handy reminder and bootcamp for those that knew him since the 80's, or others that only slightly know him.  Using projection running behind the band, the crowd was offered an ADD laced onslaught of images and super short clips of Weird Al's deep integration in pop culture since the late 70's.  While many might not have recalled a short bit from one of the 3 Naked Gun films, references from the Family Guy, or clips from Al TV were certainly more recent references.  

Most of the multimedia on display was used to help seque from one song to another since nearly every song required a massive costume change.  When the official 80's video for Fat launched, it was used as setup and background visuals for Al to return to the stage in a fatsuit to peform the song.

The number of parodies that came out, including costume changes, one after another with many including original videos in-sync on the background screen, spanning 3 decades was impressive including Tacky (Happy - Pharrell Williams), Word Crimes (Blurred Lines - Robin Thicke), Smells Like Nirvana (Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana), and Gump (Lump - The Presidents of the United States of America).  Most notably, his meta-parody of his parody of MJ's "Beat It" was performed in the style of Eric Clapton's selfie-remix of "Layla".  The band were dressed more formally, seated and performed a swinging acoustic version of "Eat It".  

Smash cut to the opposite stage where Randy Bachman and his current band ran through a load of classics from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and the Guess Who.  It's quite amazing to see Bachman play these classic guitar riffs and even more so to recognize nearly every single tune.

After Bachman's set, Bill Burr was greeted with a very large, cheering crowd.  He clearly has alot of fans in Ottawa, likely due to his Monday Morning Podcast, in which he most recently recollected his Bluesfest experience in the episode dropped this week (Ottawa wrap-up starts at 10 minutes in) which he of course recorded in an Ottawa hotel room over a depressing plate of carrots later that night.

Bill congratulated the crowd for "skating" their way to a "parking lot" to see him perform under the hot sun (his last visit here was in the winter and he commented in his podcast on how cool it was that the people of Ottawa go to work wearing skates along the canal).  Of course he had to throw some hockey jabs out there and his disdain for the Habs overshadowed any cracks against the Senators.  Around the 10 minute mark, Burr realized that he hadn't even started any of his material yet after just freeflowing up to this point, using inspiration from some of the audience.  

Bill politely reminded one guy who was capturing video with is phone from the front that he might like to put out another comedy special with material that isn't already all over youtube, while also surgically shaming him to bits. Another guy brought a homemade sign that read "Just Checking In On YAAAAA!!!" which is basically his podcast catchphrase at the top of each episode.   While the sign was a funny lone prop in the crowd, Ol' Billy boy didn't hold back the jabs, while he was at least a little humoured over the fan effort.

After entering into his material, he ran through current topical targets like Caitlyn Jenner, or his own personal life as a married guy, what he thinks of feminists and his take on racism.  Anyone who might walk in on each of those bits, out of context, might walk away offended.  Burr's material needs to be heard from start to finish.  His views are usually a reflection of common ignorance, or general media perceptions on stereotypical behaviors.  He makes fun of himself more than anyone else.  It's really hard to describe, and it's much easier to direct attention towards one of his specials on Netflix, or even his podcast.

Weekend Wrap-up at Ottawa Jazzfest

Written by: Jay McConnery

Friday evening brought fresh temperatures and electric nerves to the Ottawa Jazz Festival at Confederation Park. The (almost) iconic Joel Plaskett took the stage with a slightly newer version of the Emergency, and wrestled with inconsistencies between his brand of punchy Can-Rock and the intangible expectations of Jazz Festival performance.  

It was an abnormally quiet outing. The smaller than expected turnout may have added to the feeling of deflation, but regardless, Joel treated the audience to some acoustic renditions of Thursh Hermit classics, and a cherry-picked a set of hits from his vast catalogue. 

Saturday brought excitement in the form of Peregrine Falls- an eclectic duo that brought comparisons to several Ottawa bands, and returning main stage heroes. Headliners Snarky Puppy offered the most impressive set I’ve seen this year, with the 8 piece collective from Brooklyn pleasantly bending minds and winning hearts un-phased.

The set was playful, and masterfully programmed, bounding between complex and dynamic group movements and virtuosic solos and interplay. The set was the best sounding performance I’ve seen this year, with a crispiness usually reserved for smaller venues.  

The Laurier stage welcomed Groenland who offered some prototype orchestral indie folk rock, in a dimly let engaging setting. The instrumentation was an nice break from the terse intensity of the Puppy. The audience appreciated the deliberate interplay and dense vocal climaxes.

The weekend concluded with the eccentric compositions of Beirut on a rainy evening, with Southern troubadours The Wood Bros. killing it on the Laurier stage.