Audiences attending the 2011 Ottawa Folk Festival experienced many changes, along with a reassuring number of familiar elements. In the fall of 2010, the board of the Ottawa Folk Festival was faced with a high debt load accrued over several years exacerbated by the torrential rains of the final day of the 2010 festival. The board decided to gratefully accept an offer by Ottawa Bluesfest to take over management of the Ottawa Folk Festival under the supervision and guidance of Executive Producer Mark Monahan. A new general manager (Mark Morrison) was brought aboard, with continuity provided by core staff members, including sponsorship manager Ana Miura, volunteer manager Emily Addison, and office manager Crystal Kirkpatrick.
The second major change for the festival was its relocation to Hogs Back Park at Heron Road and Riverside Drive. The new location was chosen not only for its natural beauty but also for its more central location, readily accessible by bike and public transit, and with ample parking nearby.
The festival returned to a four-day format (Thursday and Friday nights; afternoons and evenings on Saturday and Sunday). Increased programming funds became available. The festival featured a number of “side projects” bymajor Canadian and international artists with wide reputations and followings from their bigger, more familiar bands or careers. The central location and advertising theme – “Meet the Folkers” – were aimed at attracting new and younger audiences. But also present were familiar elements of years past such as daytime workshops and the popular mixing and mingling of artists and styles; small stages where roots and acoustic acts drew intimate audiences; kid-friendly music and crafts; and the long-standing commitment to the environment and progressive educational and community activities.
Three major stages dominated the expansive site built along either side of the public bike path: the CUPE-SCFP Main Stage (with the PSAC Moon Stage alongside for “tweener” performances); the Ravenlaw Stage with its magnificent natural-bowl acoustics; and the Falls Stage with a larger than ever sprung-floor dance tent. Three smaller daytime stages (Legacy, Heron and Slackwater) and Workshops on the Point were programmed by the Ottawa Folklore Centre. Food vendors and artisan crafts, as well as Arthur II’s annual participatory mural project rounded out the site.
Except for a cooler final day, the warm weather brought out large audiences and was conducive to kicking back and enjoying the music well into the evenings. There was plenty of space in the vast lawn in front of the main stage for lawn-chair and standing/dancing crowds to coexist happily. Overall consensus: the changes were largely positive, and the essence of the Ottawa Folk Festival remained intact and healthy.
Thursday, August 25
On the CUPE-SCFP Main Stage, Arthur McGregor launched the weekend with the festival tradition of his unique acoustic version of our national anthem. This was followed by a tribute to recently deceased NDP leaderJack Layton by PSAC Regional VP Larry Rousseau and CUPE National President Paul Moist.
With the audience growing steadily larger over the warm evening, the main stage was opened by Ottawa’sMegan Jerome, singer-songwriter-pianist and 2011 Galaxie Rising Stars Award winner. Next up was Canadian rocker-songwriter Hawksley Workman who performed a crowd-pleasing, dynamic set. The evening ended with American pianist and singer Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, back in Ottawa after a 21-year absence. The set ranged widely across folk, jazz and bluegrass, delighting the audience all the way.
Two award presentations took place on the PSAC Moon Stage. Board Vice-President Penny Bertrandpresented the inaugural Festival Builders Hall of Fame awards to 18 people whose involvement in the first years of the festival gave it early momentum: Karen Flanagan McCarthy, Rachel Hauraney, Roberta Huebener, Suzanne Lessard-Wynes, Joyce MacPhee, Rod McDowell, Chopper McKinnon, Arthur McGregor, Alan Marjerrison, Pam Marjerrison, Barry Pilon, Sheila Ross, Carol Silcoff, Gene Swimmer, Max Wallace, Chris White, Dean Verger and Peter Zanette.
At the next break, Gene Swimmer, Ottawa Folk Festival Executive Director from 1996 to 2006, returned to the stage to receive the 2011 Helen Verger Award, presented by Mark Monahan.
Drawing good crowds over on the Ravenlaw Stage were Ottawa roots-rocker John Allaire, gypsy folk bandDry River Caravan, and roots collective Punch Brothers, led by mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile.
In the dance tent at the Falls Stage people kicked up their heels to the country and western sounds of Ottawa’sGerry Wall band (featuring the festival’s own Ana Miura) followed by improvisational singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman. A big crowd gathered to hear Justin Townes Earle, the son of Friday’s headliner, Steve Earle.
Friday, August 26
All three stages were again active throughout the warm Friday evening. Leading things off on the CUPE-SCFP Main Stage, with their foot-stomping, old-time fiddling and songs were The B-Flat Sisters (Kimberley Holmes and Sherryl Fitzpatrick). In a change of pace from this rootsy start came singer Dallas Green (City and Colour) who attracted a large and enthusiastic audience. Closing out the evening to one of the weekend’slargest crowds was New Orleans country, blues, and folk rock act Steve Earle and the Dukes (& Duchesses)featuring singer Allison Moorer. Between sets, John Allaire and Jayme Stone appeared on the Moon Stage.
The hillside in front of the Ravenlaw Stage also drew large, enthusiastic crowds. The evening’s entertainmentincluded creative drumming (on anything and everything!) from the Los Angeles ensemble Street Drum Corps. Veteran singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys delivered a spirited performance of hits and new material. The U.S. festival-circuit favourites, upstate New York’s Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams also performed.
As an alternative to the big sounds on the main stage, the more intimate Falls Stage featured banjoist and world- music afficionado Jayme Stone, followed by the social commentary of deep-voiced American singer-songwriterVance Gilbert.
Saturday, August 27
The CUPE-SCFP Main Stage ran solidly from 2 p.m. until closing time. Veteran folk-blues finger-guitaristRick Fines led things off, followed by singer-songwriter and master storyteller, Steve Poltz. Transitioning to the evening program, the Street Drum Corps got everyone on their feet with infectious beats. The audience grew steadily, attracted by indie-rock group Rural Alberta Advantage, followed by the hard-hitting political songs ofTom Morello (The Nightwatchman), and culminating with Conor Oberst and his roots-rock band Bright Eyes(joined for the final number by Tom Morello).
Between sets, the Moon Stage was the venue for Spencer Scharf, TJ Wheeler, Kim Churchill and The Little Stevies.
The Ravenlaw Stage operated steadily from 1:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m., with offerings from around the world through sets by Memphis bluesman TJ Wheeler, Australia’s The Little Stevies, New York duo Chris Brown & Kate Fenner, and Californian Matt Costa. By 7:30 p.m., the hillside bowl was packed for Polish-Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat and on into the late evening with Australian musician Colin Hay.
The Falls Stage dance tent started the day getting people up with an Intro to Contra Dancing featuringOttawa’s Old Sod Band. The dance-beat continued with Montreal’s Havana-inspired Doc Weiss and band, Victoria, B.C. folk-rockers Jon and Roy, folk-country-rock band The Wooden Sky, the harmonies of Madison Violet (Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac – this year’s Galaxie Supernova Award winners), JJ Grey & Mofro, blending southern rock, blues and Florida swamp soul, and young guitar sensation Kim Churchill. The last act was Lazybones (East Coast duo Matt Wells and Tim MacNeill and their hillbilly-reggae style kitchen party). Lazybones replaced the American performer J. Mascis who was prevented from attending the festival by hurricane-related travel difficulties.
Afternoon workshops took place on the three smaller point stages on Saturday and Sunday. On the Legacy Stage the annual Terry Penner Festival Choir formed for two rehearsals Saturday and another Sunday, under the direction of Lee Hayes. Their final performance, originally slated for the Slackwater Stage, was moved to the Sunday 4:30 p.m. slot on the CUPE-SCFP Main Stage in keeping with the festival’s tradition.
Also on the Legacy Stage a series of instrumental skills workshops were presented under the title Pass It Down. They included Intro to Ukulele with The Little Stevies, Banjo Basics with Ann Downey, Don’t You Put ItIn Your Mouth? (tin whistle, nose flute, and kazoo with Andy Daub) and I’ve Got Rhythm
with Ottawa drummer Don Gibbons.
On the Heron Stage, Vance Gilbert led the session Judgement Day: Crash Course for Performers. This was followed by the first part of a two-day Music Olympics featuring Lynn Miles and Keith Glass. Old Traditions, New Songs showcased Rick Fines, Vance Gilbert and Jayme Stone. An Interview with Colin Hay was led by Joe Reilly. Song Maps with Orchid Ensemble & Kim Churchill was the final act.
The intimate Slackwater Stage featured Storytelling & Mythology with Anaïs Mitchell, Garland Jeffreys,Josiah (of Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus); and two sessions of Bluebird North (presented by theSongwriters Association of Canada), the first featured Lynn Miles, Jeremy Fisher and Dry River Caravan; the second showcased Rick Fines, Megan Jerome and Ana Miura.
Accompanied by all-day face-painting and crafts, programming at the Kidzone tent began with Yoga for Big and Small with Sheila Craig, delighting kids and adults with an imaginary camping trip to introduce yoga stretches and moves. An afternoon of rhythm activities began with the Bang! session with the Street Drum Corps, who made music on buckets and almost everything but actual drums. As well, Leo Brooks of Treefrog Percussion led a make-your-own drum workshop and rhythm jam session. Wabi-Sabi Textile artist Carol Secordled a create-your-own-art workshop, teaching the basics of felt making. The day ended with an imaginative, all- ages history of blues and jazz by TJ Wheeler.
A small tent near the community displays housed Jam Sessions open to anyone with a yen to join in on Saturdayand Sunday afternoons. Saturday’s lineup featured Open Acoustic Folk Jam/Spirit of Rasputin’s, and aKlezmer Extravaganza led by Don and Peter of the Sunday Ottawa Bagel Klezmer Jam. Arthur McGregor of the Ottawa Folklore Centre hosted Singable Songs and Ukulele Jam with the Bytown Ukulele Group (BUG).
Again this year, Arbour Environmental Shoppe’s Sean Twomey programmed an eclectic two days ofEnviroTent lectures and workshops. Saturday’s topics were Go Solar and Make Money with Seanna and Steve Watson; Birth Options with Gillian Szolios of Ottawa Labour Support; Wild Edibles with Peggy Calder; Exploring Hogs Back Park with the Macoun Field Club; and Growing Gardeners: Gardening with Children by Geri Bilnick.
Sunday, August 28
With a sudden cool front and threats of rain, daytime audiences were somewhat sparse, although the evening’sprogramming, especially the lure of headliner Levon Helms, brought larger crowds. Many sported ski jackets in the chill of the evening.
The CUPE-SCFP Main Stage ran steadily from 1 p.m., starting with Lazybones, continuing with Californian experimental band Pepper Rabbit, Canadian folk-pop troubadour Jeremy Fisher, and concluding with the annual performance of the Terry Penner Festival Choir. The evening lineup featured Newfoundlander Sean McCann, Texan singer-songwriter Hayes Carll, and American country-music duo Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison. The festival drew to a rollicking close with the eclectic Levon Helms Band. It was led by the legendary drummer and member of The Band. This group was renowned for being the backup band for Bob Dylan.
Between sets, the Moon Stage showcased Ottawa’s Anders Drerup, and Alex Boyd & Ian Sabourin (from Ottawa band The Riot Police). A Volunteer Recognition presentation by Volunteer Manager Emily Addisonawarded 5-, 10- and 15-year volunteer pins. Singer Rick Fines did a set before the presentation of the Galaxie Rising Stars Program Award to MadisonViolet (Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac).
The Ravenlaw Stage lineup featured Ottawa’s The Riot Police, Toronto singer-songwriter Royal Wood, andOrchid Ensemble, which blended ancient musical instruments and traditions from China and beyond. Boston- based quartet David Wax Museum led the crowd in a conga-line with their catchy Mexican-American rhythms.Also performing were songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Arthur, singer-songwriter Joe Pug, and east coast singer-songwriter Jimmy Rankin of the Rankin Family.
Starting mid-afternoon, the Falls Stage presented ways to keep people warm, starting with Intro to Cajun Dance featuring Ball and Chain, followed by a steady stream of talented singers who made the crowd forget about the cool weather. Also included were sets by locals Lynne Hanson, Anders Drerup and Kelly Prescott; Vermont-born, world-traveller Anaïs Mitchell; Canadians Catherine MacLellan and Lynn Miles; American alt-rocker, singer-guitarist Thurston Moore; and Ontario indie-star Serena Ryder.
The Terry Penner Festival Choir held its third rehearsal on the Legacy Stage, along with more of the Pass it Down series including Intro to Harmonica with Catriona Sturton, Intro to Ukulele with The Little Stevies,Sea Shanty Singalong with Chris Ricketts, Accordian with Megan Jerome, I’ve Got Rhythm with Don Gibbons and Delta Blues Basics with Rick Fines.
The Heron Stage was the scene of the second day of the Music Olympics. The events included an interview with Newfoundlander Sean McCann by Joe Reilly, and The Write Way workshop with Canadian singer- songwriters Jimmy Rankin, Bruce Robison and Serena Ryder. This was followed by another interview by Joe Reilly, this time with Thurston Moore.
The Slackwater Stage workshops began with Cigar Box Guitar Jam-Along with TJ Wheeler, My Home Town with Nils Edenloff of Rural Alberta Advantage and Halifax’s Steve Poltz. The fun continued with Sirens with Strings with MadisonViolet and Basia Bulat; Southern Folk with Ottawa’s Lynne Hanson, David Wax Museum and Texans Kelly Willis and Hayes Carll; and Together & Apart with The Little Stevies and Chris Brown & Kate Fenner.
The Kidzone featured a workshop with American improvisational singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman where the participants wrote a song. Sophie Latrielle of Fireweavers led a Poi Workshop for kids of all ages to learn some moves with poi (Maori-inspired performance instruments) and to make poi to take home from recycled materials. After rehearsing a couple of lively tunes with Brian Sanderson, kids of all ages took to the site with the annual Sunshine Parade (accompanied by a tuba and a bass drum). Buffeted by strong winds, everyone hunkered down after the parade, and did origami and finger braiding in the shelter of the tent.
Jam Sessions included a Storytellers Story Swap led by Ottawa Storytellers; a Celtic Session with Daev Clysdale, Paul Hawtin and Alexis MacIsaac; a singalong session led by Almonte Trad Sing; and the open-to- everyone Carleton Tavern Appalachian Jam Session. Jam session participants also performed for the hard- working volunteers at the EnviroDish tent that afternoon. The Klezmer group entertained for the volunteers on Friday and the Ukulele group performed for them on Saturday night.
Sunday’s EnviroTent workshops were The Wisdom of Trees with Algonquin elder Albert Dumont, DIY Bike Repair with Mark Rehder, Climate Change with Helene Maynard (Climate Project Canada), The Clean Energy Future with Adam Harris (Ecology Ottawa), and Is Being Green a Moral Issue? with Kathryn Guindon (Green Sacred Spaces).