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.
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.