The 39th edition of the Festival Franco-Ontarien, held from June 12 to June 14, has ended on a high note after three days packed with live music and family-friendly activities enjoyed by young and not-so-young. This year’s Franco, as it’s called for short, offered once again a winning formula combining accessible youth-friendly shows and activities along with a variety of performances and animations to please the older public. The episodes of rain and below-average temperatures didn’t stop festival-goers from attending, although there seems to have been a drop in numbers this year.
The annual festival, which celebrates Francophone music and culture, was once again held at Major’s Hill Park, an ideal location compared to the previous site situated in front of the Ottawa City Hall, where festival-goers felt somewhat constrained. The open park concept at Major’s Hill allows for a nice balance between the stage, crowd, food vendors, VIP section, kids zone and buskers.
The 2014 edition gave members of the public the opportunity to discover emerging talent from the National Capital Region and beyond and to sing along to their favorite songs from popular Francophone artists. The only down-side to the programming is the lack of change when it comes to performing buskers. Year after year, organizers seem to book the same busking artists, like the Remesha-Drums of Burundi and the Transe-Express troop from France, which ends up being a bit dull for returning festival-goers who attend annually. It would be refreshing to see new acts for the 40th edition to ensure a variety in programming.
To kick off this year’s instalment on Thursday, June 12, festival organizers presented up and coming musicians Alice Winters, Big Balade, Martine Fortin and Dider Lozano, who all participated in Rond Point, previously known as Ontario Pop, a program which supports emerging talent from Ontario. Following their performance, De Rose et de Fer, an all-female collective composed of Anique Ranger, Tricia Foster, Geneviève Toupin, and Scarlett Jane, took the stage with a set dedicated to the pioneer women who stood up for French education in a predominantly anglophone community. Towards the end, headliner Lisa Leblanc joined the girls for the traditional folklore song V’là l’bon vent to which the public happily sang along.
Immediately after, New Brunswick singer-songwriter Lisa Leblanc hit the stage, whistling her way into the intro and kicking off her set with J’pas un cowboy as the crowd cheered on. A reasonable amount of people had gathered at Major’s Hill Park for the occasion despite the soggy weather. Armed with her banjo, the Acadian musician, known for her folk-country trash, sang songs off of her debut self-titled album including Cerveau ramolli, Kraft Dinner, Câlisse–Moi Là, Chanson D’une Rouspe’teuse, Avoir su, and Y fait chaud. Not only did she sound great, but she projected a lively stage presence and exuded tons of energy and charisma. She definitely had a grand old time with the Ottawa-Gatineau crowd and thanked the public several times for their warm welcome. She asked for permission to perform songs from her upcoming English EP, and with the crowd’s benediction she presented a few of them. She closed off the opening night with a few tunes as part of her encore, including the popular Aujourd’hui, ma vie c’est d’la marde and Race Track, from her upcoming EP.
On Friday, June 13, Célèste Lévis, an emerging singer-songwriter from Timmins who won the 2013 Ontario POP contest, opened the evening accompanied by the musicians from AkoufèN. The young artist with a beautiful voice introduced the public to her material and performed a variety of songs including L’oiseau bleu.
Célèste Lévis’s performance was followed by Montreal-based singer-songwriter Karim Ouellet, who took the stage with his group of musicians to the delight of many fans gathered at Major’s Hill Park to see the talented Senegalese-born artist live. Ouellet has a charming personality and great stage presence, which makes him enjoyable to see and hear. He sounded sublime and effortlessly performed song after song, clearly at ease on stage. He also threw in a good dose of wit and humor throughout his set, which included the songs Cyclone, Les brumes, En couleurs, Le monstre, Fox, Plume, L’amour, La Moindre des Choses, Foudre, Le Lapin Blanc concluding with Marie-Jo.
Fransaskois hip-hop artist Shawn Jobin came after, but should have been placed before Karim Ouellet since he hardly managed to get the crowd warmed up for headliner Marie-Mai. A bit of a lull within the programming.
Day 2 of the festival ended with a high-energy performance by Marie-Mai, a popular pop-rock singer who has a big following throughout the province of Quebec. Marie-Mai attracted an impressive crowd of fans who filled Major’s Hill Park for a chance to see the artist live. Joined on stage by her musicians, she delivered her main hits including Mes yeux te prennent pour de l’or, Jet Lag, C’est Moi, Heart Attack, Transparent, Jamais trop tard, and Encore une nuit among many others from her repertoire. She managed to include a medley of English songs that have inspired her including several from Beyonce and no one seemed to be bothered by this. Special guest Boogat joined her on stage for the track Ne m’écoute pas throwing his hip-hop flavour into the mix. Marie-Mai gave her fans a well-deserved encore and closed the night with Emmène-Moi.
The final day of the festival was clearly geared towards an older audience, a move which attracted perhaps less people than it should have given the performers. En Bref, a folk rock blues group from North Bay, Ontario kicked things off with a one-hour set featuring the tunes Ici dans l’nord and Funky Monkey.
The evening continued with Gatineau hometown favourite Pierre Lapointe, whose presence attracted a good crowd of supporters. Strumming his guitar and sitting behind the piano for some of the songs, the singer-songwriter’s setlist featured Des Maux Sur Tout, Le colombarium, Nu devant moi, Barbara, Vous, Les sentiments humains, La sexualité, Au bar des suicidés, L’étrange route des amoureux, Les callas and Deux Par Deux Rassemblés. Lapointe alternated between mellow darker songs and more upbeat ones throughout his well-recieved set.
To conclude the annual festival, Marc Hervieux headlined the final night in front of a more mature public gathered to enjoy to the voice of the opera singer. The crowd’s reactions seemed mixed, with some pleased with the performance and others criticizing the lack of variety in song selection. Perhaps it wasn’t the best programming choice to close off the festival, but then again, there was something for everyone over the 3 days.
All in all, organizers can be pleased with this year’s turn-out despite fluctuating temperatures. The FFO continues to position itself as a welcoming event accessible to all which supports Francophone culture and there’s no doubt that fans of the Franco are already looking forward to the 40th edition of this important local festival.