082511 Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers/Justin Townes Earle/The Punch Brothers, Ottawa, ON

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On August 25th, 2011 I went to Hog’s Back Park for the Ottawa Folk Fest.  This was the first night of the festival’s first year in their new location, just a pleasant bike ride along the canal and through the forest from my house.  I was excited to see how things were going to go with the festival now under control of the good folks at Ottawa Bluesfest and was happy with what I found.

And what I found was a professional fest snuggled into a large clearing in pretty park, with a troubling bike path running down the centre causing endless headaches for the fest and almost endless fencing, as the path that split the grounds in half had to remain open to the public and not ‘in’ the festival.  No worries, it was their problem and not mine, and besides constantly having to finish my beer before crossing the six-foot wide path this was the only downside I could see to the new site.

I caught The Punch Brothers on a side stage that had the audience sitting on a pretty little hill.  The young bluegrass band was just incredible, somehow keeping up with the remarkably skilled Chris Thile on mandolin.  It was an inspired set full of stellar playing.

I popped in the tent stage for a couple of songs from Justin Townes Earle.  I liked what I heard but this was before I had started really appreciating the guy’s music, so after just a few tunes I left the sparse crowd and returned to the outdoor stages.

The headliner of the evening was Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.  Seemed to me a booking like this had the Bluesfest signature on it, and I’m not sure the grassroots festival would have booked Hornsby if left to their own devices.  Will there be losses that will accompany this bigtime takeover of what was for years a small, homey festival?  Inevitably.  Not that I attended the folk fest too often in the past – located as it was in Britannia Park it was just too far away.

Hornsby’s set was quite brilliant, no question about that.  Bruce is a great piano player and he led his talented band through a set perfectly suited to a lovely night under the stars.  And at the end of the night I was just a cozy little bike ride from home.

I’m certainly a big fan of the new location.  

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