2015 was the first year that the new-ish owners and proprietors of the Ottawa Folk Festival rebranded the fest into Cityfolk, a name that I suppose was related to the relocation of the festival grounds from the rural-feel of Hog’s Back Park (the festival had been moved from Britannia Beach to Hog’s Back the moment the Bluesfest took over the reins) to the decidedly downtown vibe of Lansdowne Park. And though I was a big fan of the Hog’s Back setup I was really impressed with the new location. Aside from being virtually next-door to my house, the newly-renovated area surrounding the football stadium featured a fantastic lawn, plus the festival was free to utilize some great historical buildings: the cozy Horticultural Building and the striking and exalted Cattle Castle (which is actually called the Aberdeen Pavilion).
Following up an opening night of nostalgia at the hands of The Tubes and UB40, on September 17th I was onsite for night two, itching to discover a myriad of music mostly new to me.
First up was Walk Off The Earth on the main stage. I was interested to see them based solely on their super-hit novelty video (as in: it had millions of hits on the youtubings) in which the whole five-piece band simultaneously played a song on a single acoustic guitar. I figured they would be a pretty creative group and I figured wrong. After five minutes I wished they would Walk Off The Stage. They didn’t; I meandered. I found a beer or two and some friends with which to share my mocking of the band and soon enough it was time for Steve Martin’s backup band, Steep Canyon Rangers.
Alas, the recently-famous bluegrass group did not have their legendary frontman with them, lest the show would have certainly been on the main stage and not in the rather small Horticulture Building. Of course having a banjo-playing comic genius on the bill would have amped up my interest considerably as well, but I like my totally-pro high-level bluegrass as much as the next guy and I was in the room when the fist G chord was strummed.
Unfortunately the sound in the small rectangular venue was very unwieldy during the first season or two of Cityfolk, and in that inaugural year I remember it being very, very stuffy in there too. I held out for as long as I could – which I believe was somewhere between most and all of their set – but was relieved to step back outside into the fine September evening for the final main stage act of the night, The Avett Brothers.
I’m sure if I pored through the festival notes in my many ticket binders I would find The Avett Brothers written more times than I would guess; certainly way more times than I can remember. But today is not the day for such research – I have some practising to do – but let’s see what google can tell me about The Avett Brothers…
I see that they are one of the many bands that hooked on to the Folk & Roll genre that was popular for a dozen years or so. Basically a banjo-fronted group of frenetic bearded ever-strumming musicians with great vocals and tons of energy. In other words: another suitable backdrop for loud flat-beer-fuelled critical conversations with like-minded (or at least overly patient) festival friends.
And then just like that I was at my front door.