Folk Festin' 2013

I spent five evenings checking out last week’s line-up at the Ottawa Folk Festival and I have nothing but good things to say. I'm used to going to big expensive festivals in the middle of summer so this was a nice change. Not only was there more (green) space, but it was a different type of crowd altogether; slightly more chill, if you will. Also, it was chilly. So cold that we had to wrap up in scarves and I broke out the old puffy vest for a couple of nights. The perks of this festival included free lemonade, real dishes to reduce waste and a nice variety of food vendors. The warm drinks were also well enjoyed.

Day I: Nika had just rolled-in from Toronto and we were still in catch-up mode when we arrived at Hogs Back Park, so while Patti Smith played her set, we had coffee and chatted. That night, Neil Young and Crazy Horse would have headlined but due to some broken bones, Dallas Green stepped in with City and Colour. I have to admit, I'm not a big fan but I enjoyed the set and I have to give props for his cover of Heart of Gold. It was a nice little tribute to the would-be headliner.

Day II: We showed up a little late but caught most of Shred Kelly's set on arrival. I was thoroughly impressed with these guys. They played on a tiny stage and put on a big show - I especially loved it when they got some audience members to waltz. The main act that night was Vampire Weekend. The first thing I noticed was the polished look and sound of their stage compared to the previous band, obviously these guys have the money. A few songs in, I began to dig it. And I will admit, I started to have a little crush on the lead singer.
Day III: After checking out Beth Orton we sat for the Dusty Drifters' set. They used to play a weekly bluegrass gig at Irene's (sadly missed by many but well replaced by the Jack Pine Trio), so it was great to see the set. They too, played a waltz but didn't have the same kind of willing audience members. We were looking forward to seeing Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell that night but it was Matt Andersen who blew me away. As we were walking through the grounds, I had to stop to see who had attracted a massive audience. This guy alone with a guitar, was wailing the blues. He also managed to get the crowd to back him up - usually that kind of things ends up being a big fail but he somehow had the right touch. It was awesome and made my day.

Day IV: The Carolina Chocolate Drops were recommended by Nika and they too blew me away. The song that really stood out for me was a Scottish Gaelic tune; it was huge and garnered a long standing ovation from the crowd. After their set ended, we walked up and caught the last two songs by Hey Ocean!, one of which was a decent cover of an Arcade Fire hit. Then the Sheepdogs opened for the Avett Brothers. The first time I saw these guys was a few months before their appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone. I had no idea who they were but my friend Jess was an old friend of theirs and asked me to join her to see them open for Randy Bachman. After the gig we hung out backstage, went for drinks at Barrymore's where everyone seemed to know them and then the six of us went back for more drinks at their hotel - it was a PG soirĂ©e, for the record. They've become pros onstage and put on a good classic rock show at the Folk Festival. The Avett Brothers were also great. They opened with a lot of new music that I didn't know and just as I was about to call it a day they played a few tunes from their I and Love and You album and my night ended on a high note.

Day V: Nika departed for Toronto and I insisted Dean take the night off work to come see some shows especially since the Carolina Chocolate Drops were scheduled to play a second show. I was a little worried that my repetitive "they're so awesome" would be overkill but it wasn't. When we walked away from it, Dean admitted he was a little verklempt by the raw talent. That set was followed by Gordon Lightfoot who played all his legendary hits. We walked around a bit and caught a couple of songs by David Lindley, an interesting old guy who tells stories at the same pace as my dad. And, last of the evening, the highly anticipated Wailers closed the festival. It took me a little while to get into it, but once they began playing their old stuff I didn't want to leave. The fact that I had to work at 4 a.m. was put on the back burner and we stayed until the very end.

I managed to check a few boxes off the to-do list in those five days. Well done, Ottawa.

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