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Ottawa Folk Festival 2008

The 15th Ottawa Folk Festival certainly lived up to its billing as a party for the people! And party we did, while listening, singing, dancing, building, painting and celebrating. A 2,000 square foot dance tent, a free ukulele- building workshop, a ParticiPaint mural honouring the late Willie P. Bennett and the Terry Penner Festival Choir were but a few of the opportunities people had to “party-cipate”.

Festival highlights included a moving performance from Odetta (who died on Dec. 2, 2008 at the age of 77); and appearances by The Experimental Farmers, Catherine MacLellan, Don Ross & Andy McKee, Finest Kindand the Healing Divas. A moving tribute to Rasputin’s Folk Café was particularly well attended after a July 2008 fire at the legendary Ottawa folk club led to its closing.

An exciting feature at this year’s festival was the 2008 Cross-Cultural Music and Dance Collaborationfeaturing Anne Davison (Nova Scotia), Benoit Bourque (Quebec), The Carolina Chocolate Drops (North Carolina), Claire Jenkins (Toronto), James Hill (Nova Scotia), Jaxon Haldane (Winnipeg), Mohamed Diarra (Guinea/Gatineau), Petr Cancura (New York/Ottawa), Radoslav Lorkovic (Nashville), Roda de Samba (Brazil/Ottawa), Shara Weaver (Ottawa) and Timothy Mason (Boston).

This year’s festival was the greenest yet. A festival Green Team was established and new initiatives included providing water stations to refill reusable water bottles, making compostable water bottles available on-site, arranging food for a volunteer lunch to be supplied locally from the Lansdowne Farmers Market, and composting food scraps. Other innovations included a vehicle-free site, pedal-powered cargo trikes to haul equipment and supplies, and using solar power to wash plates. Green printing materials were used for festival promotional material, banners and T-shirts. A partnership with Ottawa Riverkeeper and Ecology Ottawa was also established to educate people about local water and watershed management issues.

Continuing initiatives included the reusable dish program, electricity from renewable sources supplied byBullfrog Power, compostable beer cups provided by Big Rock Brewery and “cupsucker” receptacles providedby Blue Heron Solutions. Folks were encouraged to walk, bike or take public transit to the festival.

Grasshoppa Dance Exchange gave impromptu dance performances all around the site and was joined this year by Dancing in the Street, a project of the Ottawa School of Dance.

The Community Corner was designed to foster discussion and promote awareness. The following organizations had tables this year: Green Party of Canada/Ottawa Greens, ArtsCan Circle, Ecology Ottawa, Ottawa Riverkeeper, Amnesty International, Canada 211, Catholic Immigration Centre of Ottawa, Oxfam Canada, The Ottawa Food Bank, Ottawa Community Immigration Services Organization, and USC Canada.

There were many awards presented at this year’s festival. J. Chalmers Doane received the Helen Verger Award, which is presented to an individual who has made valuable contributions to folk/roots music in Canada. While working as the Director of Music Education in Halifax in the 1970s, Doane developed a method of teaching students to play music using the ukulele. More than 50,000 schoolchildren and adults throughout Canada and in parts of the U.S. learned to play the ukulele as a result of his efforts. He was recognized with the Order of Canada in 2004 and recently collaborated with ukulele virtuoso James Hill to develop the Ukulele in the Classroom program. Margaret Feuerstack and David Johnstone received the One Fret Less Award sponsored by Harvey and Louise Glatt. James Farr was presented with the Galaxie Rising Stars Award.Ana Miura was the recipient of the Beth Ferguson Award.

Arthur II is a gifted Ottawa artist and musician who designed this year’s participatory mural project to honourCanadian folk music legend Willie P. Bennett, who died in February. The huge success of the ParticiPaint mural project at the 2007 festival inspired Arthur II to create an 8 foot by 40 foot mural, which he named after one ofWillie’s best-loved songs, “Music in Your Eyes”. The result was a fantastic and heartwarming tribute to one of Canada’s finest singer-songwriters and musicians.

Windhorse Yoga offered participatory yoga sessions to help festival goers stretch, relax and breathe whileSantosha Yoga offered a group singing session.

Thursday, August 14

Ottawa Folklore Centre owner Arthur McGregor kicked things off with his acoustic ragtime version of “O Canada”. Colores Andinos, a Latin-Andean musical ensemble of South American and Canadian extraction, opened the festival with panache on the CUPE Main Stage. The wonderfully named group, The Experimental Farmers, stole the show that evening. The Farmers included Lynn Miles on vocals and mandolin, Lonesome Paul on vocals and guitar, and Keith Snider on banjo and fiddle. Finest Kind, a group who has performed at the festival since the first year on Victoria Island, took the stage next. Ian Robb, Ann Downey and Shelley Posen performed a mix of traditional songs and original tunes with their usual exquisite three-part harmony. Brilliant fingerstyle guitarist Don Ross was joined by percussive guitar sensation Andy McKee, renowned forhis YouTube rendition of “Drifting” that has garnered over 14 million hits. Vieux Farka Touré closed theevening with a lively set that combined traditional Malian blues music with rock and reggae. The group’sperformance was recorded by CBC Radio for Canada Live.

In the Dance Tent, the Carolina Chocolate Drops set the audience in motion with their old-time string band music of the Carolinas. The delicious Drops were followed by the D. Rangers, a band whose music has beendescribed as “mutant bluegrass”. The evening closed with Brisa Latina, a group known for their enticing fusion of classic and contemporary Latin rhythms, and their ability to get any crowd moving to the beat!

Friday, August 15

The lovely Ana Miura opened the CUPE Main Stage with her gentle, acoustic self-penned tunes. Bryan Bowers, a native of Virginia now living in California, mesmerized the crowd with his virtuoso autoharp performance. The Jerry Douglas Band featured another virtuoso. Jerry Douglas, renowned for his resophonic guitar playing, has appeared on a staggering 2,000 albums and has won a dozen Grammies. The audience witnessed a stellar performance from this master picker/slide guitarist and his bandmates. Dala features two 20- something vocalists who play guitar and piano. The duo created a set with uplifting sweet harmonies and folk- pop songs. The excitement built as indie favourites Broken Social Scene took the stage. The band delivered a free-flowing, guitar-driven and dynamic vocal performance.

In the Dance Tent, the fun began with a lively, infectious set with Genticorum, a Québécois band that has toured in over 15 countries worldwide. They were joined by the ever-popular Benoit Bourque. Bourque, who garnered a Juno Award and a Canadian Folk Music Award as a member of Le Vent du Nord, is an exuberant accordion player, a virtuoso percussionist on bones, spoons and feet, and a world-class Québécois step dancer.Spiral Beach, a band that includes the offspring of two well-known folkies, returned to the festival with their rhythmic indie rock and performed a rollicking set that was well received by the dancing throng. Donna the Buffalo, a five-member band from upstate New York, were up next with an eclectic offering of folk-rock, country folk, zydeco, reggae and bluegrass tunes. The evening concluded with a wonderful Big Bad Bluegrass Jam featuring Jerry Douglas, the D. Rangers, Leavin’ Train, The Experimental Farmers and Doug Cox. We could have danced all night with this gang!

The entertainment on the Hall Stage in the Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre kicked off with a round-robin Good Vibrations session hosted by Doug Cox. The talented group included Catherine MacLellan, the Healing Divas and Radoslav Lorkovic. They were followed by Claire Jenkins Avec Band, featuring the theatrical actress and singer and her accompanists, who performed quirky and catchy tunes in both official languages. TheDoc’s Pick session, named for a regular feature of the CKCU-FM folk music radio show Canadian Spaces was hosted by Doc and featured a diverse and talented lineup. Doc is Peter Conway of McCrank’s Cycles, a localbusiness that is a long time sponsor of Canadian Spaces. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, whose music is steeped in the string band tradition of the American South, was joined by modern bluesman Jaxon Haldane, cellist Anne Davison, and Boston-area spoken word artist Timothy Mason.

Saturday, August 16

Saturday Daytime

Entertainment and activities abounded in the many daytime venues and on the three evening stages.

In the Dance Tent, The Experimental Farmers got toes tapping and were followed by spirited performances from the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Donna the Buffalo. Anne-Marie Brugger, host of the CHUO radio show Hop the Fence, led the My Chemistry Experiment session featuring spoken word guy Timothy Mason, members of Broken Social Scene and Ana Miura. The last performance of the afternoon was a Cajun dance featuring Harlan Johnson & Grouyan Gombo, Michael Jerome Browne, Jody Benjamin, Michael Ball andMary Gick.

On the Hall Stage, a double bill showcased the talents of Catherine MacLellan and Doug Cox. Anne-Marie Brugger hosted the Hop the Fence session, named for her CHUO radio show that features Canadian musicians of all genres. Participants included Chris Velan, an unplugged Spiral Beach, and two members of the Claire Jenkins band. Andy Rush led the Terry Penner Festival Choir in its first rehearsal. Jowi Taylor hosted theSix String Nation Guitar session featuring pickers and grinners Shelley Posen, Catherine MacLellan andSean Cotton. The afternoon’s entertainment wound down with a supersonic double bill with two fascinatingensembles making their festival debuts. The five Toronto women comprising the Healing Divas entranced the audience with their positive energy, primal rhythms and luscious vocal harmonies. They were the best-kept secret of the festival. Raymundo & Balam dazzled the audience with their Spanish and Latin guitar styles.

On the scenic Beach Stage, the opening act was Village Harmony, a choir made up of 24 teenagers from Ontario and the eastern United States. The group performed music from Bulgaria, Georgia and South Africa.Roch Parisien, programmer of Galaxie’s Folk Roots channel, hosted the Full Moon, Rising Stars session withJames Farr, winner of the Galaxie Rising Stars Award; emerging artist Mélisande; and guitarists Raymundo & Balam. Claire Jenkins hosted the wonderfully fun Cheesy Songs We Love session with guilty pleasure conspirators Spiral Beach and Finest Kind. The Unaccompanied Ballad Singing session with Riley Baugusand Finest Kind was hosted by CBC Radio 2 host and traditional Newfoundland music enthusiast Tom Power.Genticorum hosted the Nos racines musicales (translation: our musical roots) session and was joined by Peter Andrée & Natacha Ducharme and Mélisande.

In the Artisan Village, audience members were fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the following hands-on workshops: Working with Wood – Solar Woodcuts (Ron Tremback); Wear Your Message –Global Aware (Sarah King); Healthy Products for Your Skin – U.fabu (D. Passmore); Reclaiming Old Fabric – Sew Very Vintage (Carol Elchuk); Working with Glass – Miller’s Glass Reflections (RandyMiller); and Re-working Jewellery for Metal Allergies – Creations of the Heart (Tunica Haris).

On the Hill Stage, Bryan Bowers hosted the Story Songs session. Joining him was Woody Johnson, an individual who creates guitar music for a variety of material dating back to the 1800s. James Hill hosted theWords and/or Music session with Margaret Feuerstack & David Johnstone and Timothy Mason. TheHand Me Down session featured Tao Rodriguez-Seeger and Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand, and was hosted by Michael Jerome Browne. Don Bird was the host of the Hummin’ and Strummin’ session withDala, Bryan Bowers and Doug Cox. Maura Volante led the audience in a Songcircle to round out the afternoon entertainment.

The verdant space of the Tree Stage set the scene for A Touch of Jazz. The session was hosted by Petr Cancura and showcased Radoslav Lorkovic and Margaret Feurestack & David Johnstone. Dallas andTravis Good of The Sadies teamed up with members of Broken Social Scene for the Behind the Scenessession. Anne Davison hosted Sources of Inspiration with Woody Johnson and Petr Cancura. Tao Rodriguez-Seeger hosted the Global Villages session with Village Harmony. The day concluded with the first concert in the 2008 Cross-Cultural Music and Dance Collaboration.

On the Point Stage, the afternoon kicked off with the Banjo Banjo Banjo session hosted by Ann Downey and featuring Dirk Powell, Riley Baugus, and Donna the Buffalo bandmates Jeb Puryear & Tara Nevins.Ottawa Folklore Centre owner Arthur McGregor led the audience in the Rise Up Singing session. Chopper McKinnon, host of the CKCU-FM radio show Canadian Spaces, led the session honouring his late, great friendWillie P. Bennett. Chopper told many anecdotes about his pal. Remembering Willie P. also included heartfelt performances by Jaxon Haldane, the D. Rangers, Dallas Good, Travis Good and Lonesome Paul. TheHealing Divas hosted the Musical Connections session with Peter Andrée & Natacha Ducharme andChalmers Doane. The Ukulele 101 session was hosted by virtuoso performer James Hill and also includedChalmers Doane.

In the Kidzone, a wide variety of crafts and activities were available all day. For example, kids could make a kimono or a drum. There were also performances by musicians and jugglers as well as storytelling. Yoga for Families gave everyone a chance to stretch and relax.

At the EnviroTent, green activities were happening all day. Jason Sonier of The Otesha Project presented the session Cradle to Grave: The Life Cycle of a Banana. The Greening the Home session was presented bySean Twomey of Arbour Environmental Shoppe. Leaf Bellaar-Spruyt of Berg en Dal Honey Farms spoke about Honey, Health and the Environment. USC Canada members Kate Green and Sarah Mohan addressed the topic Food, Farmer and Climate Chaos. The session Muscle Testing Techniques was presented byKatherine Willow of the Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre. Charles Jonah of Jademark gave the presentation The E-Bike: A Power-Assisted Electric Bicycle.

Windhorse Yoga sponsored a number of activities. In the morning the Catholic Immigration Centre’s CIC Community Cup Celebrity Soccer Match took place in the field behind the Dance Tent. The 30-minute Yoga Tasters presentations held in the morning and afternoon included the following flavours of yoga: Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, Yin and Final Relaxation. Uke Building for Kids allowed children to make their very own ukuleles. In the Dance Tent there were the 1,000 Cranes: Origami for Everyone activity and a display of the Six String Nation Guitar.

Our main stage hosts deserve special mention. Chopper McKinnon and Karen Flanagan McCarthy have hosted the festival main stage every year, starting in 1994 when the first festival was held on Victoria Island.Chopper McKinnon, an important figure in the Canadian folk roots music scene, is perhaps best known for his CKCU-FM radio show Canadian Spaces. The show first aired in 1980 and is the longest-running folk music show on community radio in Canada. Karen Flanagan McCarthy, affectionately known as KFM, is acommunications expert who has played a significant role in the festival’s evolution, having served as a member of the festival’s steering committee and board of directors. She is also a former board member of the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals. Tom Power is a Newfoundland musician, broadcaster and writer and the host of CBCRadio 2’s Deep Roots. Alan Neal is a journalist and radio personality who hosts two CBC Radio 2 shows:Canada Live and Bandwidth.

Thanks also to the many hosts who helped things run smoothly at the daytime sessions.

Saturday Evening

The Québécois band Genticorum opened the CUPE Main Stage and were warmly welcomed by the crowd.Country Joe McDonald, the iconic figure who played at Woodstock, sang his famous anti-war anthem, “I-Feel- Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag”, and showed he still has a radical bent and an unfailing sense of humour. Two blues artists followed. First up was Roxanne Potvin, a 26-year-old Gatineau-raised singer who has earned Maple Blues and Juno nominations for her soulful, sultry singing. Her high-energy set was followed by Colin Linden. Linden, a master of the country-blues guitar, gave a powerful performance that reverberated throughout the audience. The evening closed with the charming Sarah Harmer. It doesn’t get any better than listening to Sarahsinging under the stars on a Saturday night!

The Dance Tent performances began with Wil, a West Coast roots rocker known for his intense live performances. Next up were the D. Rangers, a Winnipeg band who served a heaping helping of their “mutant bluegrass” sound. Ottawa favourites Ball and Chain are always fun and their set was no exception. Country vocalist Jody Benjamin and fiddler Michael Ball are Ball and Chain. They were backed up by The Wreckers,and together they delivered classic country hurtin’ heartache with a Cajun twist. Just the thing to dance to on awarm summer night. The Sadies, led by Dallas and Travis Good, combined hillbilly and punk influences in their set.

In the Hall Stage, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger drew an audience eager to hear his songs of struggle and hope and stories about his granddad, Pete Seeger. The crowd enjoyed his “subversive acoustic traditionalist” approach tomaking music. A rousing set by Village Harmony rounded out the evening’s entertainment.

Sunday, August 17

There was plenty happening in the many daytime venues and on the three evening stages.

Sunday Daytime

In the Dance Tent, Roda de Samba presented The Story of Samba. Donna the Buffalo performed next.
The session Latin Breeze was led by dance instructor Nubia Cermeño who taught festival goers how to samba. The dance floor was jam-packed! The Experimental Farmers hosted the On the Edge session with the
D. Rangers, Wil and Lonesome Paul.

Andy Rush gathered members of the Terry Penner Festival Choir on the Hall Stage for a second rehearsal.Claire Jenkins Avec Band did a showcase set followed by a performance by Wil. A session posing the musical question How Can I Keep from Singing? featured Odetta, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger and Finest Kind and was hosted by Mike Regenstreif, host of the Montreal CKUT radio program Folk Roots/Folk Branches. The last choir rehearsal wrapped up the afternoon stage.

On the scenic Beach Stage a Ukulele Jam featured virtuoso James Hill and uke educator extraordinaireChalmers Doane. They were joined musically by audience members. An American patron of the festival for many years, Terry Eagan of Patio Records, hosted the Uncommon Ground session with Dirk Powell & Riley Baugus, Benoit Bourque and blues vocalist Roxanne Potvin. The Old Blues session hosted by Colin Lindenshowcased the talents of Michael Jerome Browne, Woody Johnson and James Farr. A very inspirational session, Spirit Connections, showcased the Healing Divas and Village Harmony.

A large crowd gathered for the Here’s to Rasputin’s session honouring Rasputin’s Folk Café. The revered Ottawa folk club was forced to close its doors in 2008 following a fire. Lynn Miles, whose musical journeyincluded a close involvement with Rasputin’s in the early years, hosted this session and shared the stage withColin Linden and Catherine MacLellan. This session provided some of the most poignant moments in the history of the Ottawa Folk Festival. Stories, songs, tears and laughter were shared. Owner Dean Verger spoke briefly and was given a standing ovation and many hugs during and following this moving tribute.

In the Artisan Village, there were presentations all day. Heather Boyd of Filament presented a workshop onWire Jewellery Techniques. The Lo-Down on Chair-Making was given by Jonny Lo of Lo-Chair. From Cutlery to Jewellery was the theme of the workshop hosted by Bloom/Ash/Postart Gallery. Ania Geertshosted a Silver Smithing workshop, while Robert Webster of Maple Leaf Studio demonstrated Working with Stone. Artisans Around the World was presented by Ian Brown of Ten Thousand Villages. The day concluded with Randy MacNeil of Canadian Bluesbook who discussed Photo Techniques for Music Events.

At the Hill Stage, the entertainment began with the second concert of the 2008 Cross-Cultural Music and Dance Collaboration. The Carolina Chocolate Drops hosted the Heaven and Earth double bill with theHealing Divas.

Black Sheep Live was hosted by Paul Symes, owner of the famed Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec. This session featured James Hill, Anne Davison, Roxanne Potvin and Catherine MacLellan. Themes and Variations was a session with Laura Cortese (Tao Rodriguez-Seeger), Jeb Puryear of Donna the Buffalo, and hosted by Pascal Gemme of Genticorum.

Over at the Tree Stage, Maura Volante led a song circle. The 20 Something session showcased two young groups: Spiral Beach and Dala. Anne Davison hosted the eclectic session Exploratorium with Timothy Mason and Genticorum. Instrumentalism was a session featuring Doug Cox, James Farr and Aaron Goss of D. Rangers. The third concert of the 2008 Cross-Cultural Music and Dance Collaboration was very well received.

The Point Stage opened with Colin Henein of the CKCU-FM radio show Music from the Glen hosting The Art of Accompaniment with Tom Power, Yann Falquet and Ann Downey. Arthur McGregor, owner of the Ottawa Folklore Centre, hosted the Songs with a Message session featuring Country Joe McDonald (of Woodstock fame) and Finest Kind. Karen Flanagan McCarthy led the Tuned In to Nature session withSarah Harmer, Jaxon Haldane and Ana Miura. The lively Accordion Overload session showcased Benoit Bourque, Radoslav Lorkovic, Harlan Johnson, Tara Nevins and Treasa Levasseur (Claire Jenkins Avec Band), and was hosted by Dirk Powell. Chalmers Doane and James Hill introduced the uke in Ukulele 101.

In the Kidzone, there were musical performances and many activities including kimono-making, drum making and craft workshops. There was also a session called Yoga for Kids.

The EnviroTent provided talks and demonstrations throughout the day. Albert Dumont (Algonquin, Kitigan Zibi, Anishinabeg) spoke about The Healing Power of Nature. Why Rivers Matter was the topic addressed byChristopher Kelly of the Ottawa Riverkeeper organization. Sean Twomey of Arbour Environmental Shoppe spoke about Renewable Resources. Practical Mud Pies: Cob for Building and Art Projects was the theme of a discussion by Leigh Thorpe and Brent Hyde of City Repair Ottawa. Katherine Willow of the Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre spoke on The Soul of Sustainability. The newly formed Folk Festival Green Team presented the How Are We Doing? session to discuss the progress of the festival’s green initiatives.

Windhorse Yoga sponsored afternoon events including Uke Building for Kids, 1,000 Cranes – Origami for Everyone and the all-day Six String Nation Guitar display. The 30-minute Yoga Tasters presentations held in the afternoon included the following flavours of yoga: Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, Yin and Final Relaxation. At theOFC Music Knoll, educational programs ran all afternoon. In the Catholic Immigration Centre (CIC) Language Village, you could get a language passport and learn a few words in up to 10 languages.

Sunday Evening

The evening opened on the CUPE Main Stage with an exuberant set by The Duhks followed by the final performance of the 2008 Cross-Cultural Music and Dance Collaboration, which was recorded by CBC Radio for later broadcast. The collaboration showcased the talents of more than a dozen performers from across Canada and the United States.

The entertainment continued with James Hill and Anne Davison. Hill, a virtuoso musician and world-class composer, was accompanied by classically trained cellist Anne Davison. The duo are known for creating magical performances and this one was no exception. Andy Rush and the Terry Penner Festival Choir performed a wonderful set of songs, including Willie P. Bennett’s “Music in Your Eyes”.

Festival goers were privileged to see Odetta in one of her final performances (she died three months after the festival). Performing in a wheelchair, Odetta was in fine voice and demonstrated why she has inspired so many inthe civil rights movement and legions of folkies including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Her rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” was particularly poignant because she had memorably sung this song unamplified andunaccompanied during a power blackout at the festival five years before. Odetta’s performance was recorded byCBC Radio.

The wild and wonderful Rufus Wainwright closed the evening with a thrilling performance. His mother Kate McGarrigle accompanied him on the grand piano for a few songs.

The performers in the Dance Tent included Spiral Beach and Prairie sensations The Dukhs, whose performance set toes tapping and feet flying. They were followed by Québécois band Genticorum. The evening ended with a Big Bad Blues Jam with Roxanne Potvin, Michael Jerome Browne, Radoslav Lorkovic and surprise guests.

Country Joe McDonald was the popular first performer on the Hall Stage inside the Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre. A set by the luminous singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan followed. The First Annual Ottawa Folk Festival “Kirtan”, a participatory session of singing, was hosted by Santosha Yoga. There was still time for spirited sets by Dirk Powell, Riley Baugus and Friends, and The Dukhs before the sun set on the 2008 Ottawa Folk Festival.