Ottawa’s annual Folk Festival returned to Lansdowne Park for a second consecutive year on Thursday, and is continuing strong as we plow through the weekend events, with more to follow starting Sunday afternoon. The festival, now widely known as CityFolk has continued to grow in new and inventive ways, included an expanded lineup of incredible performers throughout Ottawa’s local bar and restaurant scene….Marvest.
While this is my first year covering events for Sound Check Entertainment, this is far from my first Folk Fest as it is actually a festival that I greatly look forward to every year. Much like the world renowned Ottawa RBC Bluesfest, this four day affair more often than not features a plethora of incredible talent ranging the entire folk and blues spectrum, including Celtic, acoustic, international, country and western, jazz, and even pop varieties from all over the world.
What has made their formula work so well as the festival heads into yet another year, is its willingness to experiment and diversify. From current top forty acts like Vance Joy and James Bay to children’s performers like Fred Penner, country acts like Dean Brody, and even some protopunk new wave sounds like that of the Dropkick Murphy’s and Guided By Voices, this festival, much like its sister festival, does it’s best to offer something for everyone while also appealing to the audiences looking for the next big thing. In fact, undercurrent and rising-star songwriters is what this festival offers more than many others.
The festival kicked off to blue skies and punk rock legends Dropkick Murphy’s (yes, they are wrestling fans…how did you know?), which I have to admit disappointed me. Not in so much that they weren’t outstanding or enjoyable, but more so that their energy and intensity left a void that was harder to fill as the night went on. While starting strong is important, a 6pm Thursday slot made it hard for artists like Accorn to keep up. That said, they valiantly made every effort, offering a home grown contemporary indie rock experience that showcased their sincere songwriting craftsmanship, and a desire to take that next big step towards mainstay headlining. The stand out mainstage performer of the night was undoubtedly James Bay, who not only incorporated smooth, hook driven pop harmonies and positive exuberance, but also a tremendous musical pedigree that included some very bluesy folk guitar parts and a full band of talented songsters offering up a real kickstart to the weekend.
In my eyes, Friday’s real standout act was the legendary Guided By Voices. Playing the Ravenlaw Stage to a small but emotionally invested audience, this Killers-esque post-punk dance rock outfit didn’t let their collective ages fool you for a second. In spite of a few obvious lineup changes, the band brought something that seemed very authentic and unapologetic to an audience that broke out their cardigans and novelty canvas bag buttons, joining the elite rock icons for a surprisingly energetic set to the late night crowd.
Saturday offered something unique in that there was quite possibly the most stacked lineup on the main stage of the entire festival, including Vance Joy (not to be confused with celtic artist Joy Fance), Dan Mangan, Basia Bulat and a whole range of others. All of them bringing talent and cult followings to the forefront of the festival, even while the weather left a lot to be desired. The rain bogged down outdoor attendance and the umbrellas definitely made mitigating a crowd challenging. But you know what they say about September showers?…um…well let me know if you find out.
What I found surprising about Saturday’s festival lineup was that it wasn’t the acts that I anticipated stealing the show that actually did. Up and comers like Northcote were commanding their audience with the type of momentum and passion well beyond that of their years as a band. Canadian indie darlings The New Pornographers were successful in keeping tenacity concert goers immersed in every chorus and melody, and Canadian staple Fred Penner (can we make him a Senator please) wowed an audience of parents and their children alike with classic singalongs and surprisingly solid guitar work.
The fun continues Sunday with Dean Brody, X Ambassadors and many more. Will I see you there?
Oh and word to the wise, bring your umbrellas just in case
Marvest Images – Renee Boucher & Dave Di Ubaldo
More on Marvest later today.
Friday at CityFolk
~Leigh Zachary Bursey
Some great images from Ottawa Photographers Renee Boucher Doiron & Dave Di Ubaldo.