They are perfect book ends to the summer in Ottawa. Spring gets sprung into summer with the Ottawa Jazz Fest, and in the Autumn we fall into the season of decay with the CityFolk Fest. These are really the perfect framework in which to enjoy the offerings of Ottawa. Both festivals still keep pretty much close to their musical home, a place where jazz can be found at the Jazz Fest, and folk at the CityFolk Fest. Seems odd to even mention this, but many festivals have seemed to have lost the plot, and go head deep into whatever band are on tour, resulting in a lot of summer festivals looking and sounding the same. We are blessed by these stalwart musical festival bookends.
They seem to deliver, year after year with a series of well curated, diverse, mindful and well executed festivals. The Ottawa Folk Fest was the precursor to the now well entrenched CityFolk Festival. Having moved around the city, being hosted in the past in areas like Hog’s Back Park, the festival has come a long way from the days when Odetta played in a tent, (surprising everyone when she continued in the dark with out electrical power, creating an unforgettable memory for those who were in attendance.) Other memorable past performers like Wilco, Van the Man Morrison, Levon Helm and Kris Kristofferson shed some light on how deep the well goes at this festival.
This week The Great Lawn at Landsdowne Park hosts this event. This year, there are only two stages at Landsdowne Park that will play host to the ticket going public. The big headliners are familiar to most music fans. Overall it’s a balanced grouping of contemporary folk artists, singer/songwriters, alternative pop, and rock bands, with more multi part harmonies than a choral symphony. Strangely Post Malone gets the first nights main stage. I guess I’m showing my age and at least my indifference to this rapping auto tune wreck of an artist, but I am perplexed by this addition. A much better, and more locally relevant acts to see in the Hip Hop/Rap genre are Morris Ogbowu and local and spirited high school ballers, RBLx (see best bets). The midas touched Jack Johnson, the controversial and brilliant Father John Misty, and from the edge of musical oblivion Rodriguez are all solid bets for memorable performances. None of these may be obvious choices for headliners, but all have a depth of musical grace that will surpass expectations for most, and be pleasant surprises for others.
On the side, is an offshoot festival called Marvest. This is the wonderful ongoing inclusion by CityFolk to highlight many local and up and coming musicians in the bars and restaurants that surround the main venue. AND truth be told, these free events hold the most exciting additions to the fest, with stellar local acts that could easily command a bigger stage, and no doubt will.
There is a lot of thinking going on at City Folk. The organizers are no fools. A lot of the Marvest musicians don’t really fit into a folk/ future folk/alt-country genres, but show the real musical dynamic that Ottawa has to offer. The Glebe will be alive with a wide range of music, from psyche/fuzz/noise to urban hip hop/rap, to singer-song writer/ new folk stylings to Soul/Funked up flow. The way the Marvest schedules are set up, maximizes your ability to see a series of same genre based bands while eliminating the need to run your ass off to catch them all around town. CityFolk has suffered in the past from complaints from concert goers on how difficult it was to manage the schedule without missing their chosen acts. More than a few were frustrated with limited capacity buildings that locked out many. Unless you were cutting some sets short to beat it across the park to stand in line for another show, you had to face disappointment. I will have a wait and see attitude with this problem for the 2017 CityFolk Festival.
A quick look at the two main stages, the City Stage on the Great Lawn and the indoor Raven’s Law, shows that most sets are overlapped by 30 minutes. I can hear the cries of outrage already. Mostly it’s a matter of choice and prioritizing. Personally, I am conflicted by The Broken Social Scene and Big Thief overlap, and the Royal Canoe and Father John Misty set times conflict. The rest of the fest I will mange with mostly smooth sailing. The local pubs, bars and restaurants of the Glebe will see more of me than the main stages will. Of course, the main stages sell the tickets, but the more musically adventurous will bounce back and forth from the field, to the indoor stage to the wonderful line up in the Glebe.
Locavores will be able to get their fill, with a wide variety of local food and drink vendors that will be on site. The marriage of food and festivals has become an intricate part of the experience. From rib sticking Gabriel’s Pizza, Fadi’s Gourmet Poutine Stand and The Grilled Cheeserie to the Happy Goat ‘pick me up’ Coffee Co. there should be enough food and beverage fuel to satisfy. One of the real jewels at City Folk is the Aberdeen Pavilion which host a slew of artisan vendors, and hosts a fine selection of Mill Street Brewery Craft Beer and Brickworks Cider. Certainly, vendors with names like, Früg, Pass The Feather, and The Hemp Cookie Company are at least worth a curious pass by. What may not appeal to a particular person for the onsite food fair, can be satisfied by many of the full service restaurants in and around the venue, and of course the Glebe is a stones throw away.
City Folk seems to have it covered. Food, booze and music are all lined up for a celebratory close to an uneven summer, a solid hello to fall, and a few grand nights out.