From one week to the next, Ottawa temperatures went from sub-tropical to chilly single-digit numbers with a fair share of precipitations. Despite less-than-ideal weather conditions, the Ottawa Folk Festival proved that a winning formula is all it takes to welcome a record number of festival-goers over the course of 5 days.
Held between September 10 and September 14, the 2014 edition of this popular annual festival attracted approximately 50,000 people to Hog’s Back Park, an impressive number given the circumstances. Mark Monahan, the Artistic Director behind the Bluesfest and Folk Fest, adapted the former festival’s tried-and-true recipe to the Folk Festival to diversify its offerings and ensure its survival, a move that’s proven to be successful and that’s only allowed the festival to grow since.
With an eclectic lineup mixing big headliners and local acts and featuring family-friendly activities, there was certainly something to please everyone.
Eventful Capital had the opportunity to cover the 2014 edition, and it was a pleasure to once again bear witness to its success and experience “the great escape”. Although circumstances prevented me from attending Day 2 of the festival to see Lorde and Serena Ryder, I did get to take in the rest of the programming, for which you can read the highlights below.
Foster The People
The 2014 Ottawa Folk Festival kicked off with a headlining performance by Los Angeles indie pop band Foster The People. The American trio, comprised of members Mark Foster, Mark Ponticus and Jacob Fink, rose to fame with their hit “Pumped Up Kicks” that went viral in 2011. Despite a rainy Wednesday night in Ottawa, a big crowd of people gathered at the Eh! Stage to catch their performance and the group was clearly pleased by the crowd’s presence. About 15 minutes into the set, Foster addressed the audience saying “it’s very nice to meet you Ottawa!” as festival-goers cheered and danced in the rain. Foster The People offered a solid 75-minute set including the songs Helena Beat, Best Friend, Coming Of Age, and Call It What You Want.
Lee Fields and The Expressions
Eventful Capital returned to Hog’s Back Park on Friday, September 12 for Day 3 of the Ottawa Folk Fest. Upon arrival on site, it was direction Eh! Stage to catch Lee Fields and The Expressions. At 63 years old, the accomplished American soul singer, who’s still a very active musician, has lots under his belt to be proud of. Not only does he sound fantastic live, but he’s also in great form and moves about the stage with ease and assurance. Fields and The Expressions charmed the audience with their set that featured the songs Standing By Your Side, Still Gets Me Down, Talk With Somebody, Just Can’t Win, Don’t Leave Me This Way and Ladies.
True story: during the set, I spotted J. Cole, who featured Lee Fields on “The Warm Up” track Ladies, hanging backstage, casually watching the show.
After Lee Fields and The Expressions’ set, I made my way over to the Tree Stage, where the Folk Fest offered free programming, to catch the first part of Pony Girl’s performance. The local indie art rock band, who’s been on an East Coast tour since August, was back in Ottawa to give a hometown set as part of the festival. Although the group started late, they managed to attract a crowd of a respectable size. The 8-piece band barely fit on the tiny stage, but the music and vocals sounded equally good. Pony Girl performed material from their debut album “Show Me Your Fears” including the beautiful piece Sun Of The Morning.
Meanwhile at the Ravenlaw Stage, a big crowd of parents and toddlers were leaving the grounds after having attended The Wiggles’ performance, making way for the sea of pot-smoking teenagers and young adults piling in for J. Cole. It was an interesting clash to say the least. The American rapper and producer, signed to Roc Nation, appeared tired at first, but he quickly fed off of the adrenaline that being on stage provides, and picked up the pace in a matter of minutes. The crowd however, seemed somewhat dormant, and lacking energy, despite J. Cole’s constant attempt at revving people up. All in all though, despite the audience’s disappointing behaviour (with the exception of a handful of rowdy youngins) J. Cole offered a dynamic performance complete with crowd favourites including the tracks Enchanted, Who Dat, Blow Up, Nobody’s Perfect, Work Out, She Knows, Higher, Kenny Lofton, Lights Please, In The Morning, Can’t Get Enough, Crooked Smile and he concluded with Power Trip, that has been stuck in my head ever since.
Day 3 of the Ottawa Folk Festival closed off with headliners The National over on the Main Stage. The Brooklyn-based indie alternative rock band from Cincinnati, Ohio attracted a big crowd of festival-goers who gathered at Hog’s Back Park for a chance to see the 5-piece perform live. The National provided a fitting moody soundtrack for another damp and grey night in Ottawa. The group barely interacted with the crowd, but that didn’t seem to bother festival-goers, who were clearly pleased by the whole thing. Unfortunately though, there seemed to be something missing from the performance, and in the end, I left feeling somewhat indifferent. Perhaps it’s the type of music that’s better appreciated when listened to in a closed intimate setting as opposed to the great outdoors. For the occasion, the band performed a variety of songs from its repertoire including Don’t Swallow The Cap, Afraid Of Everyone, I Need My Girl, Ada and This Is The Last Time.
On Day 4, a crowd of brave festival-goers huddled in the rain and cold at the Valley Stage for a chance to see Adam Cohen live, the son of the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter and storyteller Leonard Cohen. The set began late, following a 30-minute delay caused by the horrible weather conditions, a test that proved that only the true die-hard fans and music lovers stood it out. After what seemed like an interminable soundcheck, Cohen nonchalantly strolled out on stage, thanking the crowd for their patience and understanding. The charming musician from Montreal, who was joined on stage by a full band and string section, admitted that he didn’t expect more than 20-odd people to be there due to the weather, and that he was grateful that so many festival-goers had ventured outside to spend the hour with him. Cohen performed an array of songs form his repertoire and his set included the pieces What Other Guy, Like A Man, We Go Home and Love Is complete with crowd participation worthy of the biggest choir. To thank festival-goers for coming, listening and singing along, Cohen generously gave away a dozen CDs that he randomly threw around in the crowd. Although it was the only set that I caught that day, as my fingers felt as though they were going to fall off, it was well worth the trek and such a pleasure to experience.
The sun showed up on the final day of the festival, and this certainly encouraged a larger number of people to come out to take in the last performances. Upon arrival at Hog’s Back Park, I bolted to the Valley Stage to catch local artist Craig Cardiff. The Ottawa-based folk singer-songwriter and guitarist took the stage solo and gave a simple yet beautiful set. Singing from the heart and projecting a laid-back yet professional vibe, Cardiff charmed festival-goers with his well-written songs and humble personality. For the occasion, Cardiff offered material from his albums “Floods & Fire” and “Love Is Louder” including the songs Safe Here, Heart, Recovering, Fauther Daughter Dance, and the humorous That Band. During the song Lenny Bruce Lee, something really special happened. Cardiff challenged 80% of the crowd to slow dance to the song because someone he knew threw him a bet saying people wouldn’t go for it. Well, people were definitely up for the challenge and over half of the crowd slow-danced as Cardiff sang “let’s take the long way back home”. It was extremely beautiful and speaks volumes about the unifying power of music. Thank you for that Mr. Cardiff, it’s a moment that Ottawa Folk festival-goers won’t forget.
Meanwhile on the Tree Stage, Mont-Laurier, Quebec singer-songwriter Bobby Bazini was getting ready to do his thing. The 25-year old French Canadian blues and soul musician, who primarily sings in English, attracted an impressive crowd including many Francophones. Gifted with an incredible voice and joined by a band of talented musicians, Bazini immediately wooed the audience with his vocals and guitar-playing. The rising artist performed songs from his albums “Better in Time” and “Where I Belong” including Turn Me On, Oh Katy, Cold Cold Heart, Cherish Our Love, Down On My Knees, Worries Again and Bubblegum (I Can’t Stop This Feeling). It was a refreshing performance and nice to see such a young artist sounding so mature.
Coeur de Pirate
At the same time over on the Ravenlaw Stage, another Quebec musician by the name of Coeur de Pirate was serenading the crowd of fans gathered for a chance to see her. Sitting behind her piano for the majority of the set, singer-songwriter Béatrice Martin kept an eye on her daughter who was somewhere backstage. She offered her fans the most popular tunes including C’était salement romantique, Cap Diamant, Francis, Place de la République, and Saint-Laurent. She also tested out two new songs, one in French and one in English, that will be featured on her upcoming album, and both were very well recieved by the audience. True to Coeur de Pirate’s mellow and delicate style, the set started off rather smoothly, and picked up towards the end to finish on a solid note with the hit single Comme des enfants, that the audience happily sang along to. Unfortunately though, as adorable as she is, she lacks stage presence and is a bit of a bore.
The War On Drugs
As soon as Coeur de Pirate’s set ended, The War On Drugs took the Main Stage in front of a large crowd of festival-goers. The indie rock band from Philadelphia had very little stage presence and hardly interacted with the crowd, which made for a somewhat dull performance. Unfortunately for Sun Kil Moon who was performing at the opposite end of the park on the Valley Stage, there was significant noise bleed coming from the Eh! Stage and as a result they were seriously drowned out by The War On Drugs, to their obvious exasperation. But what can you do, the show must go on, so you learn to roll with the punches really. Sun Kil Moon didn’t seem to think so and proceeded to cursing out The War On Drugs and chasing me and others away in the process. The War On Drugs on the other hand, didn’t manage to retain my attention for very long either.
It was in the company of the lovely Joss Stone that I ended my 2014 Folk Fest experience. Performing on the Ravenlaw Stage, the very talented English soul singer-songwriter, came out wearing a beautiful pink dress and braved the cold barefoot. Joined by her band of musicians and back-up vocalists, Stone took the time to interact with audience members on several occasions, and her charismatic personality and great stage presence were evidently appreciated by festival-goers. She sounded fantastic, and although she skipped over slower songs to keep warm and maintain the crowd’s level of energy, she offered a generous amount of upbeat pieces including Stoned Out Of My Mind, You Had Me, Super Duper Love, Landlord, Put Your Hands On Me and Right To Be Wrong that she concluded her set with.