Highlights for Ottawa CityFolk Festival

The 2017 Ottawa CityFolk festival is only a couple of days away.  We've compiled a list of acts that you should definitely put on your personal schedule.

Thursday 14 2017
Triple ‘Soul Infused’ Header

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Thursday, September 14, 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
City Stage

Jack Johnson

Thursday, September 14, 9:00 pm - 10:30 pm
City Stage

The Suitcase Junket

Thursday, September 14, 10:15 pm - 11:30 pm
RavenLaw Stage
(also - Friday, September 15, 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm)

All Three of these acts exude a genuine sense of authenticity. Partially, folk music is meant to be valued for it’s earnestness. Music is always best when the intention behind it is pure of heart, and the muse surrendered to with honesty and intimacy. This groups of artist are trading on this idea to one extent or another. Now, the anticipation is waiting to see if they pull it off. 

The funked up R&B/Neo-soulof Nathaniel Rateliff, the soft rock stylings of Jack Johnson, and the honky tonk swamp rock of The Suitcase Junket is the strongest one-two-three knock out punch of the City Folk Festival. This will be the busiest of nights, and for the majority it will be the most satisfying. 

Born in Germany, but raised in the southern state of rural Missouri, Nathaniel Rateliff moved to Denver CO. when he was 18 years old. He started with Missionary work but ended up the darling of the Colorado music scene, cutting a early recording for his band Born in a Flood and a couple solo records, being courted by RoadRunner and eventually Rounder Records. But it wasn’t until Staxx Records release of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats that he started to make bigger inroads in the US, Canada and…. Belgium. The “SOB” single landed nationally, and now the buzz has put him on many peoples lips. The question is, will NR&THS live up to the R&B/ Neo soul hype, or will Nathaniel's more folky roots show through.? My bet is this will be a fan favourite.

Jack Johnson is a golden boy. He has been blessed by grace. His journey has led him through being a surfier, musician, film maker, record producer and environmental activist. His association with G. Love and Ben Harper opened up what would be a hugely successful, platinum selling, debut record, Bushfire Fairytales. What’s not to like, his song writing is tight, his voice is a seductive baritone, his lyrics engaging, he can play a mean guitar, he married his college sweetheart, he has three perfect children, he grew up surfing in Hawaii, he headlined Bonnaroo, he started a not for profit charity supporting environmental, art, and music education worldwide, he donated profit from whole tours to charities, produced, directer, composed and starred in films, and helped show the recording industry new ways to use alternative energy sources… there is nary a bad mark on this man’s life. Well, there was that occasion he played with Ben Harper and Toots and the Maytals on Saturday Night Live, the host was Donald Trump, you would think Jack Johnson would have used some of his super human strength to stop him… i guess, it’s safe to say that with all the things Jack Johnson can do, he can’t see into the future.

The overtone singing, belching and howling are just some of Matt Lorenz’s trademarks he will impress you with. You will alsobe wondering how a solo act can sound like a solid four piece rock band. Know as The Suitcase Junket, Matt is like a near runaway train, with metered precision he taps, kicks and triggers a myriad number of percussive instruments and found objects. An old accordion box is at once, his seat and his bass drum.  His raspy voice rings clear above the duel distorted over ridden Gibson amplifiers and his beat up, “I found it in a dumpster” vintage guitar. He plays with a leave no prisoners attitude. Part Tom Waits, part Bob Dylan, part unbelievable, and certainly all Matt Lorenz, my pick for “I don’t believe what I just saw” moment is with The Suitcase Junket. … luckily, if you don’t believe what you saw, The Suitcase Junket are playing twice, with a Thursday and a Friday night slot. 

Friday 15 2017

Alternative Heroes and Next Wave

Big Thief

Friday, September 15, 7:15 pm - 8:15 pm
RavenLaw Stage

Big Thief is an indie rock band out of Brooklyn, N.Y. They are also a band that I have had a chance to see twice already this summer. I missed them both times. As with a lot of summer festivals, the repeat of bands from fest to fest is common. Big Thief came up against someone I wanted to see more (think Kurt Vile, and Nels Cline), and sadly I will be missing them a third time, as I head over to see Broken Social Scene at the City Stage. Big Thief’s two albums, Masterpiece, and the more recent Capacity are daring personal intimate recordings. Fragile and at times noisey, there is a haunting tenderness and anger that runs through their efforts. The report from the ground at the other festivals was that they were brilliant live. I suspect that this will draw a lot of the same crowd that would see Broken Social Scene. My bet is that one of these two bands will heavily out draw the other…. see you on the rail Drew side!

Broken Social Scene

Friday, September 15, 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
City Stage

I have a long history of seeing Broken Social Scene (BSS). They are not my favourite, but at the turn of the last century BSS were making some of the most exciting music coming out of Toronto at the time. After the tail spin of most indie/alternative/grunge bands of the mid to late 1990’s, music was on the rocks again.

The collective nature of BSS provided a very fertile ground from whence a ton of good shit sprung. The nature of BSS had an ongoing revolving door of regular contributors that created a shit storm of interesting music, and an endless area of off shoot musical acts. The energy of the BSS collective spawned a great deal beyond the super successful acts like Metric, Fiest, and Stars. The list is long but notable and include Apostle of Hustle, Do Make Say Think, Amy Millan, Emily Haines, Jason Colbert,….. get the idea?!

The end result of BSS is that Kevin Drew (one of BSS founding stalwart members along with Brendan Canning) started Arts and Crafts record label to promote, market and distribute the best of all BSS releases 2002’s, You Forgot, It in People. From there, Arts and Crafts spread its wings and became home for a lot of the bands that sprung from the loins of BSS. Arts and Crafts impact on Canadian music was era defining and reflected a very fertile group of musical talents.  BSS numbers on stage could grow as large as nineteen members. The last time i saw BSS swell to these numbers on stage was a free show at the Harbourfrontin Toronto on a July summer night in 2009. Bruce McDonald was the MC and was filming that night a BSS film written by Don McKellar, called This Movie is Broken.

That show was voted best live concert of the year, and was touted as the “last” BSS show. The band included, nearly all past contributors, including Feist, Emily Haines and James Shaw, Amy Millan and Evan Cranley, John Crossingham, Jason Collett and Julie Penner. It was packed with an incredibly diverse crowd that hung on every note. I remember taking the mick out of them, calling them “Broken Dinosaur Scene Jr”, with me and my buddy not making a lot of friends that night. In retrospect it was the highlight of all the times i have seen them. Most often the band will have a few of the contributors in tow. Any time BSS has Fiest, Amy Millian, or Emily Haines with them it makes for a special night.

The expectations for this reunion tour have the band as a six piece with Ariel Engle in for the three female artists, but in true BSS style, nothing is really known until they hit the stage. It’s too bad that BSS are limited to a one hour set, as they have been dropping a solid two hour set with a mix of earlier classic fan favourites, and a substantial selection from their latest record, Hug of Thunder. Seven years since their most recent release, and one of their best records (even if patched together), Forgiveness Rock Record, Hug of Thunder has been getting universal rave reviews.

Unfortunately, I think the effort is overall uninspired, and the formula that has worked over and over for them, that is of using simple song structures and melodies, and layering sound after sounds on top to create aural assaults and textured musical landscapes, has worn a bit thin. Maybe I can no longer see the trees from the forest here, but i struggle when listening to Hug of Thunder. I can’t wait to hear the new material live, so they can shame me and my pissy opinion, and prove once again that BSS is a unstoppable touring animal, beautiful to look at, dangerous to touch, and wholly unpredictable. 

My bet is that BSS will be outstanding live, as usual, and will bring out the festivals most rabid fans.

Saturday 16 2017

Indie Folk/Future Folk/ Alternative 

Twain

Saturday, September 16, 5:30 pm - 6:30 pm
RavenLaw Stage

Mt. Davidson is Twain. Six records in and his intensity meter is still being turned up. A singular voice at once heartbreakingly raw and achingly intimate. A voice with tender beauty, that makes me recall Montreal’s Jesse McCormack. Both these artist draw you in with little more than a guitar and voice, and edge you towards their transcendence. Out of Franklin County Virginia Mt. Davidson sights “This sweet old world” as an influence. Twain recorded an brilliant E.P. at the side of the road after his truck broke down along the highway in Iowa, under a billboard for “Jesus”. Alternator E.Pt, is a thunderstorm of turmoil, funnelled out through Mt. Davidson tenderness.

His follow up, Rare Feeling is set to drop in October, and best guess is that City Folk performance will high light these two records. Recently, on tour with Big Thief, Twin is another artist I have missed seeing this summer, but will be a priority for me here at City Folk. If the winds blow in the right direction, my bet is some cross pollination between Big Thief and Twin. Hold on to your hats, and bring a handkerchief. 

Royal Canoe

Saturday, September 16, 8:30 pm - 9:30 pm
RavenLaw Stage

From Winnipeg Manitoba, the Royal Canoe has put nearly a decade in touring and recording. They are a solid bet for anyone not super thrilled with Father John Misty’s shenanigans.  Starting 30 minutes before the festivals headliner, and over lapping by another 30, Royal Canoe makes for one of the festivals harder decisions. This sextet brings a multi instrumental and percussive bent on to their indie pop stylings. Always hooked filled, they are bright and lively and will be a counter point to a lot of the quiet, and damn near depressing music sprinkled through out City Folks 2017 lineup. Most will be able to reference their 2013’s Today We Are Believers LP. But most likely Royal Canoe will be supporting last years Something Got Lost Between Here and The Orbit record. Their genre mashing musical buffet will be the best place to hang for those who love intelligent pop and talented musicians.

Father John Misty

Saturday, September 16, 9:00 pm - 10:15 pm
City Stage

Joshua Michael Tillman, or Josh Tillman or J. Tillman created Father John Misty. One of theses guys use to play drums for Fleet Foxes. One of theses guys recorded a slew of solo records. Another one, played with Saxon Shore and recorded a couple of records. And Father John Misty, who ever he is, has dropped three outstanding records, with a forth on its way early next year. The 2017 release, Pure Comedy, is an unmistakable masterpiece. Do yourself a favour, listen to this opus over and over again, then go see him on the City Stage. I will be rail side, hanging on every note, and every word. My bet for City Folks most memorable and divisive show. You will love him, or hate him. Just go…. and take a minute to watch the over/under video, posted here, you will never wear a pork pie hat again.!

Sunday 17 2017

Singer/Songwriter

 

NEFE

Sunday, September 17, 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm
RavenLaw Stage

NEFE… as in Nefertiti. This is the moniker of Guelph native, Sara Jea Felker. Nefertiti had many titles including Great of Praises, Lady of Grace,  and Sweet of Love among others. High praise for an Egyptian Queen, and not too unreasonable praise for the future NEFE. What is certain right now is that NEFE has buckets of talent. The future seems bright for her, and will be laden with high praise just like Nefertiti. Her voice is strong and powerful, but sung with ease and youthful control. She sees the worlds’ beauty, and sings towards the empowerment of individuals in the world. After all what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding? When her debut EP hits the streets, she will be set to bust out. My bet for Biggest Future Canadian Star of this years City Folk Fest.

Rodriguez

Sunday, September 17, 8:30 pm - 9:45 pm
City Stage

Rodriguez is from Detroit Rock City. Some howhe made being big in South Africa a career defining moment. Few people have not heard of, or not seen, the 2010 Academy Award winning documentary, ”Searching for Sugarman”. Long story short, two early 1970 LP’s both sank into oblivion in the USA, Canadian, and the U.K. music charts. This appeared to have been the sole contribution from Rodriguez and then… fade to black.

Well, not exactly, rumblings from South Africa grew louder, and the as the documentary pulls back the curtain, we find out that Sixto Diaz Rodriguez is not dead, but he is living as a labourer in his home town of Detroit.…And every one lived happily ever after….. Fans have a way of keeping music alive. Nick Drake is a prime example of how a work of art can surface decades later and speak to a generation not even alive when it was first recorded. I remember Rodriguez’s “Coming from Reality” Lp sitting around our basement. It got played, but was filed under the “sounds like” Dylan meets Cats Stevens, meets Arlo Guthrie pile. I think me and my friends found the record underwhelming. After all, 1970-71 was a giant year for music around the world. The global youth movement was exploding with creativity.

Detroit was becoming known for The MC5, and The Stooges, and not so recognized for a couple of lovely folk records. The record industry has a way of chewing artist up, and spitting them out. Really the likely hood that Rodriguez would have a rebirth was slim at best. Not that I am selling him short, after all a man with a B.A. in Philosophy is a kindred spirit. So, fast forward to 2017, and Rodriguez holds down the Sunday closing spot for City Folk Fest. I can only imagine that his set will be bitter sweet, and will serve as a reminder that life can change on a dime, and sometimes, holding on is just as important as triumphing over adversity. Rodriguez will have a solid folk rock band behind him, and will send this years City Folk into the books. My bet for the feel good moment of the fest.