The 16th annual Ottawa Folk Festival gave everyone a chance to “dig their roots” in a glorious community celebration of music, dance, culture and healing.
The festival warmly welcomed Tatiana Nemchin, Director of Planning and Operations, who joined Artistic Director Chris White and Volunteer and Outreach Manager Julia Adam, office staff and more than 700volunteers to present the “sweet sixteen” edition of the festival.
And sweet it was. In addition to music from a wide array of performers, the festival offered a Kidzone, gardening village, sound healing conference and many participatory activities. The latter included learning swing and Cajun dance steps in the beautiful dance tent, singing in the Terry Penner Festival Choir, and painting a giant mural.
Some popular traditions continued. The Third Annual Cross-Cultural Artist Collaboration featured 25 artists from a range of musical traditions who appeared in groups throughout the festival. The Artisan and Craft Village and the Food Fair continued to be popular elements of the festival experience.
This year’s main stage hosts were CBC broadcasters Amanda Putz and Tom Power. They were ably joined byAna Miura, a local singer-songwriter who also took on the task of coordinating the gardening theme introduced at this festival.
Each year the festival presents the Helen Verger Award to an individual who has made valuable contributions toCanadian folk music. This year’s deserving recipient, Paul Mills, has been an integral part of the Canadian folk scene for more than 30 years. Paul has worn many hats in his roles as a multi-instrumental musician, performing songwriter, arranger, producer, recording engineer, and founding partner of Borealis Records. He has produced more than 140 albums for artists such as Stan Rogers, Ron Hynes, and Sharon, Lois & Bram. Some of the albums he produced or engineered have reached gold or platinum status, and won both Juno and East Coast Music Awards.
Three cheers for the festival’s Green Team! The greening of the Ottawa Folk Festival continued with the introduction of reusable cutlery and ending the sale of bottled water on-site. Festival goers were encouraged to bring their own water bottles and fill them at hydration stations and thus avoid having plastic bottles filling up the trash. This plastic water bottle-free initiative was achieved with the help of Ottawa Riverkeeper, CUPE, The Water Store and The Council of Canadians.
In the months leading up to the festival, staff, volunteers participating on the Ottawa Folk Festival Green Team and partner organizations put in many hours of work. They ensured that the festival became the first regional festival to become 100% plastic water-bottle free and to actively promote city water as a healthy, sustainable alternative to bottled water. Hydration stations were provided at key points on the site where people could refill their water bottles. The main hydration station consisted of a mobile water dispenser, a large stainless steel tank with five hoses and nozzles for refilling water bottles. The tank was filled continuously from a hose connected toone of the Ron Kolbus Centre’s exterior taps. Thanks to a donation by CUPE local 503 – which represents the city’s own water department employees – we were able to sell stainless-steel bottles to those who didn’t bringtheir own. And, in collaboration with Ottawa Riverkeeper, we developed and distributed a fact sheet outlining“10 Reasons to Say No To Bottled Water”.
Two partners actively participated on-site at the festival talking with festival goers about the water-bottle-free initiative, distributing educational information at satellite hydration stations, and assisting the Green Team in refilling and dispensing city drinking water to festival goers. The most impressive part of the operation was the low-tech white board where the usage statistics were recorded all weekend. Festival attendees were very interested to see concrete results: by Sunday evening, 3,819 litres (or more than 1,000 gallons) of water had been dispensed.
Gardening demonstrations and workshops blossomed in the Gardening Village. Here you could get expert advice and information from master gardeners and gardening guru Ed Lawrence, explore a themed patchwork garden or relax in the calming Zen Garden created by Rebecca Cragg. The Worm Factory was also on hand to entertain and educate one and all about worms and the joys of recycling.
The Matsuri Room inside the Ron Kolbus Centre featured traditional Japanese culture ranging from origami (paper folding) and ikebana (flower arranging) to calligraphy, poetry and music. The Ottawa Japanese Cultural Centre, Camellia Teas of Ottawa and KaDo Ottawa graciously provided displays and demonstrations at this and other venues.
The CUPE EnviroTent was in full swing with talks and demonstrations given by USC Canada and Ottawa’sArbour Environmental Shoppe, to name a few. The Sound Cycle performances by the energetic band Mr. Something Something, featured Canada’s first bicycle-powered sound system.
One of the most exciting festival initiatives this year was Ottawa’s first annual Sound Healing Conference, which incorporated interactive and experiential workshops, dancing, drumming, singing, chanting, sound healing sessions and a panorama of live indigenous music. Sound healing is a therapeutic practice that makes use of chanting, a variety of bowls, gongs, drums, tuning forks and sound tables. Two stellar examples were David Hickey and Debbie Danbrook. A popular sound healing practitioner, David gave an exceptional evening performance of meditative healing music presented with crystal bowls, gongs and chimes. Debbie expertly played the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute. She is one of the first women to have mastered this ancient sacred instrument.
Perennial festival favourites included the Kidzone where kids of all ages enjoyed music, storytelling and a variety of crafts and games. A 40-foot mural offered another fun way to get involved at the festival. Young and old took up brushes to paint their favourite festival images to accompany those created by veteran artist Arthur II. Thiswas Arthur II’s third festival mural in as many years and he was assisted by Patricia Rodi.
Friday, August 21
On the CUPE Main Stage, Arthur McGregor’s delightful acoustic version of our national anthem opened the 2009 Ottawa Folk Festival. Thanks to Arthur, owner of the Ottawa Folklore Centre, for continuing to open the festival with this charming festival tradition!
A set with great gusto followed with the Third Annual Cross-Cultural Artist Collaboration. Old-style performers Sheesham and Lotus were up next on fiddle and banjo. The Prince Edward Island group Vishtèngot a great response from the crowd with their fiery fiddling and stunning stepdancing. B.C. resident Kinnie Starr has performed at the festival both as a poet and as a musician. This time around she introduced the receptive audience to her hip-hop groove.
Following intermission, Amy Millan, a member of Stars and Broken Social Scene, took the stage. The evening closed with Steven Page (formerly of The Barenaked Ladies) whose spirited set and amusing banter received a rousing response.
In the big, beautiful Dance Tent, Toronto alt-country rockers The Sadies got the audience up dancing. The crowd was entranced by Mihirangi’s soulful hip vocals in English and Maori. Mr. Something Something, an ecology-minded band with a bike-powered sound system, closed the evening.
At the Hall Stage inside the Ron Kolbus Centre, the entertainment began with Asani, a trio of Aboriginal women from Edmonton. Victoria Vox, a ukulele-wielding woman from south of the border followed. Festival favourite Ray Bonneville performed an emotive set. Bryan Bowers lived up to his reputation as a virtuoso of the autoharp, a stringed folk instrument. Lively piano and accordion wunderkind Radoslav Lorkovic and friends had as much fun performing their blues zydeco music as the audience had listening!
Saturday, August 22
Festival goers enjoyed music, dance, talks and demonstrations at eight daytime and three evening venues.
The fun in the Dance Tent began with the joyful cacophony of Junkyard Symphony. Debbie Danbrook, a master of the shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute), was accompanied by Wendy Morrell for a session ofSacred Dance. The dancing continued with the Ottawa Ondo Dance session, presented by the Ottawa Japanese Cultural Association. A surprise hit of the festival, the band Mr. Something Something entertained with a bike-powered sound system and infectious world beat songs. The Favourite Colours session featuredAmy Millan, The Sadies and newcomer Charlotte Cornfield. The next performer was That 1 Guy, famous for his homemade instrument The Magic Pipe, which is a seven-foot-high conglomeration of pipes and strings. The day concluded with a performance by Group 1 of the Cross-Cultural Artist Collaboration.
The weatherproof indoor venue known as the Hall Stage offered a wide variety of musical experiences. Things kicked off with a double bill featuring guitar-playing duo Tall Trees and American ukulele virtuoso Victoria Vox. The Dig Your Roots session presented Lyndell Montgomery, That 1 Guy and brothers Travis and Dallas Good of The Sadies. The Uke-Cello Duos session gave us a chance to see two of the best musical pairs around: ukulele virtuosos James Hill and Victoria Vox, and cellists Anne Davison and melaniejane. The mood shifted with the Life in Japan session showcased Ellen McIlwaine who grew up in Japan, and Debbie Danbrook, who studied flute there. They were joined onstage by Linsey Wellman, Catriona Sturton, Ana Miura and Kyoko Tsunetomi. The session Your Brain on Music was presented by Daniel Mauro and Gary Baker. The Balloon Orchestra was one of the most amusing sessions ever presented at the festival. Universitymusic students “played” balloons using various techniques and achieved surprisingly entertaining results.
The wonderfully named Moon Stage opened with a lively ukulele jam led by virtuoso James Hill. A double bill followed with Charlotte Cornfield and Jason Lang, son of Penny Lang. Jeremy Sills and Theda Phoenixfollowed with a spiritually-centred performance using acoustic instruments, crystal bowls and voice to create healing vibrations. The Gourd Grooves session featured Sheesham and Lotus, Dirk Powell, Christine Balfaand Michael Jerome Browne. Bryan Bowers, Stewed Roots and Ottawa Folklore Centre owner Arthur McGregor participated in the Something Old, Something New session.
Up on the Hill Stage, Amelia Curran, Mihirangi and Charlotte Cornfield took part in the Sources of Inspiration session. The Music to Garden By session featured master gardener Ed Lawrence who was joined by musicians Penny Lang, Anne Davison, Robbie Anderman and Petr Cancura. Vishtèn in Concertshowcased this Acadian ensemble from Prince Edward Island. Tom Power, James Keelaghan and the Good Lovelies graced the stage for the powerful Deep Roots session. Dirk Powell, Vishtèn and Troy MacGillivrayjoined together for the Waterbound session. The day closed with a mother and son collaboration: Penny Lang and Jason Lang in Concert.
The Point Stage opened with the Three session, which featured talented Australian David Ross MacDonaldand Canadian Catriona Sturton. Joel Plaskett had been scheduled to perform in this session but was delayed due to transportation problems. A diverse group of musicians was showcased in the Musical Arrangementssession: newly solo singer-songwriter Steven Page, Newfoundlander Amelia Curran and piano/accordion player Radoslav Lorkovic. There were musical harmonies in abundance at the Harmony Singing session withThe Arrogant Worms, The Breakmen and Michael Ball and Jody Benjamin. Rich Warren hosted theBlues and Beyond session featuring a premier bluesy lineup of Ray Bonneville, Terra Hazelton and Idy Oulu.
The VIP Tent was the site of Musical Yoga with Tanya Nash and Jeremy Sills. Vocal Warm-Up withMeredith Matthews preceded a Terry Penner Festival Choir rehearsal with Andy Rush. Spins and Needlesled a Kite-Making Workshop, where festival goers could make a kite in an hour.
In the OFC Music Tent, Ottawa Folklore Centre co-founder Arthur McGregor led a vocal session called Rise Up Singing, named for the songbook of the same name. The Tin Whistle Workshop, led by Ross Davison, offered a free tin whistle to the first 20 participants. Other participatory sessions included Intro to Irish Stepdance with Michael Farrell and a Didgeridoo Workshop led by Chris Lavigne. The first 30 participants in the didgeridoo session received free mini-didges. The day concluded with an OFC Music Open Stage.
In the Garden Tent, a variety of activities came to fruition. Advice Clinics were presented by the Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton. Earthworm Choreography was a session with The Worm Factory. TheJust Food session explored aspects of community gardening. The Zen Gardening session was presented byRebecca Cragg. A talk on gardening without pesticides by master gardener Ed Lawrence was followed by a question-and-answer session and book signing. The USC session was titled Seeding for the Future from the Past. The day’s activities concluded with a Kimono Demonstration, showcasing some beautiful Japanese garments.
On the CUPE Main Stage, Aboriginal artists DiggingRoots wowed the crowd with their musical presentation melding roots, rock, hip-hop and blues. Perennial festival performers The Arrogant Worms made us laugh with their silly stories and songs. From the ridiculous we moved to the sublime with renowned ukulele virtuoso James Hill, and his life partner, cellist Anne Davison. After intermission, the Good Lovelies delivered a set of heavenly vocal harmonies. Headliner and Ottawa hometown hero Bruce Cockburn offered up a superb set of songs featuring many fan favourites.
Between sets, awards were presented to the winners of the local auditions that precede the festival each year.Tall Trees (Kelly Peltier and Trevor Pool) received the Galaxie Rising Stars award given annually to the under-25 winners. In the open category, Stewed Roots (Neva Tesolin and Jeff [Jennifer] Hale) received the 2009 One Fret Less Award sponsored annually by Harvey and Louise Glatt.
In the Dance Tent, the entertainment was perfectly suited to dancing the night away. However before the boogeying began, Crystal Journey with David Hickey gave a profoundly relaxing presentation of meditative healing music using gongs, bowls and tuning forks. A feeling of peacefulness and spiritual harmony filled the tent. The music then turned to the mellow musings of Michael Jerome Browne, a brilliant interpreter of vintage blues and Cajun and Appalachian music. Things really kicked into high gear with a Saturday Night Cajun Dance Party with Ball and Chain & the Wreckers, featuring Jody Benjamin and Michael Ball. They were joined byChristine Balfa and Dirk Powell of Balfa Toujours, a traditional Cajun band from southwest Louisiana.
At the Hall Stage, Jody Benjamin got audience members kicking up their heels with a participatory Cajun dance lesson. James Keelaghan, who has delighted festival audiences over the years with his wonderful stories in song, performed next with renowned bass player David Woodhead. They were followed by the lovely Newfoundland singer-songwriter Amelia Curran. That 1 Guy hosted the Power of One, which included a mesmerizing vocal performance by Mihirangi, a native woman from New Zealand.
Sunday, August 23
Festival goers enjoyed music, dance, talks and demonstrations at eight daytime and three evening venues.
Sunday morning opened in the Dance Tent with a performance by Group 2 of the Cross-Cultural Artist Collaboration. The members of Junkyard Symphony followed and filled the tent with infectious rhythms created with a variety of funky instruments. No experience was needed for the Hip Hop with Frank! session. Festival goers also got into the swing of things with an Intermediate Charleston Lesson presented by theSwing Dynamite Dance School. Geoff & Andrea presented the Beginner 1920s Charleston Lesson. The Woodchoppers Association with Jah Youssouf and special guest Abdoulaye Koné provided the next dance tracks. The day ended in style with a Sunday Swingtacular, presented by Dance with Alana and featuring the jazzy Terra Hazelton & Her Easy Answers. Terra is a jazz vocalist who was mentored by the late Jeff Healey.
At the Hall Stage, the day’s entertainment began with a double bill featuring Captain Dirt and the Skirt, andThe Breakmen. Flowing with the Go was the enigmatic title of the next session featuring sax/flute playerLinsey Wellman, cellist Anne Davison and flute player Robbie Anderman. Instructors Alana & Fred led two dance sessions: Beginner Swing Dance Lesson and Intermediate Lindy Hop Lesson. Focus on the Guitarwas the theme of a session with Kristin Sweetland and Jason Lang (son of Penny Lang). The afternoon ended with an amazing performance by Group 3 of the Cross-Cultural Artist Collaboration.
On the Moon Stage, the Uke Addiction session presented an impressive performance by James Hill, Jason Lang and Victoria Vox. Theda Phoenix was up next with her healing and meditative music. She was followed by an eclectic set with Stewed Roots. There were sweet harmonies aplenty in the soulful Sing It Sister session with Terra Hazelton, Penny Lang and the Good Lovelies, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Radoslav Lorkovik. Uke 101 was a participatory session with ukulele master James Hill. The final session was a double bill with Jeremy Sills and the female Aboriginal group Asani.
The Hill Stage rang with Spirit Voices, which showcased a diverse group made up of Raven Kanatakta, ShoShona Kish, Mihirangi, Albert Dumont and Asani. The Human Condition was the emotive theme explored in a session with a talented lineup including Ray Bonneville, Ellen McIlwaine, Michael Jerome Browne and hosted by Montreal folk DJ Mike Regenstreif. Bruce Cockburn, Joel Plaskett, Steven Page andAna Miura were featured in the popular session Songs from the Road. The Outstanding in Their Fieldsession brought together gardener Ed Lawrence and “earthy” musicians The Arrogant Worms, DiggingRoots, Stewed Roots, Tall Trees and Charlotte Cornfield. The afternoon closed with Albert Dumont, Mr. Something Something, and Vishtèn lifting their voices in the Natural Harmony session.
The Point Stage opened with the African Roots session featuring the rhythmic offerings of Jah Youssouf, Abdoulaye Koné and Lewis Melville. The Canadian Spaces session, a salute to the CKCU-FM folk radio show, was hosted by Chopper McKinnon and featured David Ross MacDonald, Captain Dirt and the Skirt, and James Keelaghan. Toes were tapping at the next session showcasing Troy MacGillivray & Canadian Grand Master Fiddlers. The Be the Change session was hosted by Peter Conway and featured Asani, Catriona Sturton and members of The Woodchoppers Association. The Participate session highlighted the talents of Todd Crowley, The Breakmen and Petr Cancura.
In the VIP Tent, Tanya Nash began the day with a Musical Yoga session. Meredith Matthews followed withVocal Warm-Up, which led into a Terry Penner Festival Choir rehearsal with Andy Rush. Debbie Danbrook, a virtuoso of the shakuhachi, led the session Breath Work. The Balladry session brought together two Maritime singer-songwriters, Tom Power and Amelia Curran, along with Brian Bowers, a master autoharp player from the U.S. A second Vocal Warm-Up session with Meredith Matthews led to the third and final Terry Penner Festival Choir rehearsal.
In the OFC Music Tent, Arthur McGregor started off the afternoon workshops with a Jaw Harp workshop. The first 25 people who attended Marc Seguin’s Harmonica Workshop were given a free blues harp courtesy of the Ottawa Folklore Centre. Jesse Greene gave a Blues Guitar Workshop, while Dean Adema gave aBanjo Workshop.
On the OFC Music Open Stage, Jack MacGregor closed the afternoon with a Drum Workshop and Free Dance.
The Garden Tent was a popular site that offered a wide variety of information and activities. Advice Clinicswere given by the Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton. This group also presented a session on Gardening in Hypertufa Troughs. Tea enthusiasts flocked to the Zen Garden for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Ed Lawrence gave a talk about gardening without pesticides, followed by questions and answers and a book signing. Rebecca Cragg demonstrated ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. The Dig Your Rootssession offered advice about gardening in your backyard. The USC gave a talk on Seeding for the Future from the Past. The day ended with the lively session Come and Dance the ONDO!
The early evening performances started with one that many people look forward to each year: the Terry Penner Festival Choir directed by Andy Rush. Thank you to Andy and this dedicated group of singers who volunteered their time and energy to practices throughout the festival. They spread a little light and love in song in memory of Terry Penner, the late co-founder of the Ottawa Folklore Centre. The audience was in for a treat with a set by the charming Ellen McIlwaine, a master of the slide guitar and a consummate storyteller. TheCircle of Song was hosted by silver-haired folksinger Penny Lang, who shared the stage with Ray Bonnevilleand James Keelaghan. Joel Plaskett showed us why he is one of the young stars on the Canadian music scene. He performed a folky set accompanied by his father Bill. African world music and reggae was the flavour of the last musical guest of the evening. Idy Oulu and his band performed with instruments both traditional and modern.
The music in the Dance Tent began with Sunday Swingtacular, a swing dance extravaganza with Terra Hazelton & Her Easy Answers. That 1 Guy (a.k.a. Mike Silverman) gave us a unique set that only a classically trained one-man band who plays wild and wonderful homemade instruments can. The Vancouver foursome The Breakmen dispensed a little bluegrass joy to help the audience get that dancin’ feeling.
At the Hall Stage, the effervescent Good Lovelies showed why they have been described as “the perfectantidote to world gloom and doom”. Australian songwriter and fingerstyle guitarist David Ross MacDonaldamazed the crowd with his nimble-fingered performance. Classically-influenced instrumentalist Lyndell Montgomery and singer-guitarist Kristin Sweetland, known collectively as Captain Dirt and the Skirt, delivered an enjoyable set. The evening closed with a Kirtan session featuring The Bhakti Connection. This Ottawa ensemble gave participants a chance to experience blissful devotional music.
On the Monday night after the festival, a mix of volunteers, staff and general public who hadn’t yet had their fillof the wonderful musical array that was the 2009 festival, met at the Elmdale House Tavern for the Festival Wrap-up Concert. It featured the ever-popular Ray Bonneville and one of this year’s festival “finds”, Victoria Vox.