Montreal based band We Are Monroe opened Ottawa Folk Festival 2014 on the Ravenlaw stage in Hog’s Back Park on Wednesday night. The four-piece band played to a relatively small but engrossed crowd, with fans standing front row centre. Front man Pat Gomes, rumoured to have played ping pong with Mark Foster of Foster the People, invited the crowd to dance to his favourite song. He cried, “It’s dancey!” And the crowd willingly obliged. Their alternative yet pretty punk rock sound was enjoyed by audience members of all ages. For their last song and latest single, “Modern Day Gentleman“, Pat retired his guitar to dance and sing, engaging fully with his fellow band members.
M. Ward, who puts the ‘Him’ in the duet She & Him, performed on the Eh! stage, lit in deep reds, purples, and blues. Ward’s velvety voice, in tandem with the impending dusk, made for a hazy and rich atmosphere. The sound of the steel guitar cut through the crowd, where fans were dancing to the singer/songwriter’s crooning. The four-piece moved smoothly from song to song, making the most of their time on stage, only stopping to thank the crowd for their ample applause between songs. Ward supplemented his own vast catalog with covers of “I Get Ideas” (previously recorded by Tony Martin, Louis Armstrong, and Peggy Lee), and closed with a version of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”. At the end of the set, fans rose to their feet with applauding hands in the air.
Blues Traveler welcomed the crowd by stating how happy they were to be back in Canada. Front man Jon Popper carefully selected his harmonica, and, after a mere few bars of music, the majority of heads in the crowd were nodding along as the familiar rhythms filled the park. Midway through the set, the rain finally started to come down, but it didn’t dampen the crowd’s spirits at all – hoods went up, and the dancing feet remained. The Travelers covered the Charlie Daniel’s song “Devil Went Down to Georgia”, which was embraced warmly by the crowd. After a few social sips of tequila, Popper, accompanied only by piano, performed the song “Cara Let the Moon”, written about a bar in Brooklyn, New York, which left the crowd in contemplative silence. This quickly changed when the band started jamming, and the crowded cheered them on.
Foster the People walked onto a dark Eh! stage to an uproar from the crowd. Vocalist Mark Foster approached front and centre with his hands cooly placed in his jean pockets, as he sang the first words of “Pseudologia Fantastica“ from their latest album Supermodel. Centre stage was adorned with backlit white crystal stalagmites. Band members frequently changed instruments between songs; Foster took over on keys, while other members doubled up on percussion. They seemed to be having as much fun as the audience. The rain persisted throughout the set, acknowledged by Foster who said, “may the rain bring you closer to God.” The mud under foot only provided an excuse to dance to their infectious rhythms. Foster the People were able to provide an alternate sound to some of their more well-known songs – definitively a more electronic sound – while still remaining true to the original versions. Keeping their breakout song “Pumped Up Kicks” from the album Torches in their back pocket until the second last song, the crowd celebrated with an outburst of cheering and whistles. They ended their set with another song from Torches, “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)”, closing out the first night of Folk Festival by leaving the crowd in awe of both their musicality and enthusiasm.
New Zealand native Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, otherwise known as Lorde, graced the Eh! Stage at Folk Festival on Thursday night. Set against a brilliant ornate backdrop of an oversized chandelier and empty picture frames, Lorde took the centre spotlight and opened the set with the song “Glory and Gore”, from the album Pure Herione. The light shone through her black and white outfit, complete with a black cape, only adding to the haunting experience. In time with the crescendo of the song, Lorde began to dance like a marionette who had just been cut from her strings. Her dancing continued throughout other songs from her canon, including “White Teeth Teens” and “Buzz Cut Season”. During the song “Tennis Court”, sections of video were projected into the gold frames, and aqua and green lights were introduced on stage. After a quick costume change, a patterned light board was brought on stage, creating a individual backdrop for the singer. She made one final costume change, getting into a red crop top, pants, and cape, for the song “Royals”. She then closed the evening with “People Will Talk”, a poignant precursor for the crowd reaction to her brilliant performance.
Closing the festival on Sunday night on the Eh! stage was Hey Rosetta! from St. John’s, Newfoundland, filling in at the last minute for Gaslight Anthem. If you don’t enjoy biased reviews, then perhaps this is where you should stop reading. Being from Newfoundland, Hey Rosetta! can do no wrong in my eyes. In my experience, there are two things that always happen at their shows. First, there is the inevitable ‘Hey Rosetta!’ hockey chant, used primarily to coax the band on stage at the beginning of a set, or to encourage an encore. Second, sparklers always magically and spontaneously appear during the performance of “Yer Spring”, likely inspired by the song’s video. I was not disappointed as both the chant and the sparklers made an appearance at Folk Festival. Within the first three songs, singer and front man Tim Baker had switched from keys to tambourine, and then to guitar. The other members were also shuffling instruments: brass to string to percussion – quite a demonstration of musicality and talent. They drew on some older songs, such as “Red Heart” from the album Into Your Lungs, but also debuted a number of new songs from their upcoming album Second Sight, to be released October 21st (catch a teaser here). Hey Rosetta! reappeared on stage for an encore, and played the song “Bandages” from their 2011 album Seeds. The audience left satisfied with the performance of the last minute addition, and I left with just a little piece of home. If you missed Hey Rosetta! at this year’s Folk Festival or, if my overly-doting review of them has got you intrigued, you can check them out at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on February 7th, 2015. Tickets go on sale September 19th and are available on their website.
Despite the cantankerous and uncooperative weather, Ottawa Folk Festival 2014 was a resounding success. The musical acts were diverse, talented, and encouraged a spirited atmosphere. The organizers, sponsors, and volunteers are to be commended for outdoing themselves in the planning and execution of such a great festival.
Written by Melissa Dawe
Photography by Stacey Rebertz Stacey Rebertz Imaging