Saturday proved to be yet another phenomenal day of music at Ottawa CityFolk. Despite the rain and the first cold winds of fall, the city’s music fans came out in droves for a number of great artists playing at Lansdowne Park.
We started the day by sitting in the grass on the Great Lawn and listening to a set from The Barr Brothers that far exceeded expectations. The Barr Brothers adapted their deep, lush indie-folk sound into a rather exploratory format, taking plenty of time to go into psychedelic exploration of their own songs. Creative use of instrumentation was a distinctive feature of this set, with members of the band using violin bows on just about every instrument in the place and Brad Barr pulling on some sort of string against his guitar to create a piercing, creaking, droning sound. The precise playing of a harp added a serene sound that we don’t get to hear nearly often enough. To top it off, the band was joined by Joe Grass and Mishka Stein of Patrick Watson, and they fit perfectly into The Barr Brothers’ vibe.
Next up on the main stage was Will Butler. Will Butler’s eclectic indie rock is reminiscent of Arcade Fire, but he has managed to make his own songs deviate from the almost iconic Arcade Fire sound. His voice shares a common quality with his brother, Win Butler, making us feel like we were listening to something both new and familiar. While I enjoyed the set, I would not say that I was particularly captivated by Will Butler. There was something missing from his music to really pull me in, but any fan of indie rock would most likely enjoy his show. He was solid, but not spectacular.
The middle of the day had me taking a non-indie break with the Sheepdogs and the first half of Of Monsters and Men, after which I popped over to the Ravenlaw Stage to catch the end of Lord Huron. Although I only caught the last few songs of their set, the band merged indie rock and folk into an energetic and crafty performance. I heard a few songs that dialed up the intensity and leaned more heavily in the rock realm, and others that favoured acoustic instruments in a more rural sound. I would very much like to get another chance to see a full performance from Lord Huron.
The night ended with Everyone Orchestra, which turned out to be one of the most unique musical experiences I have ever had. From reading up on the project beforehand, it was impossible to truly know what to expect. Matt Butler, the leader and jam conductor of Everyone Orchestra, assembles a new lineup of musicians for every show, so there is no way of knowing exactly how these musicians will play together. He then stands at the front of the stage with whiteboards and an iPad in order to conduct the musicians through a 100% improvised jam session. The musicians are invited to throw their own ideas into the mix whenever they like, while Matt Butler orchestrates key changes, shifts in mood or style, and helps the newly-formed band navigate through the set. He also frequently turns to the crowd to start chants, clapping, or simple parts for the crowd to sing, further pulling the audience into the jam. Last night Matt Butler was joined by Joe Grass and Mishka Stein, Ray Murray and Zakari Frantz from the Souljazz Orchestra, Aaron Barr from The Barr Brothers, Parker Shper on keyboards, and a female vocalist whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch. Together, they carried us through an expert jam session that would make you believe these members had been playing as a group for years. This may have been the best set of the day, and fortunately we get to close the festival with them again tonight!
What’s Happening Tonight:
Sunday has been my most anticipated day of the festival since the lineup was announced. Some tremendous indie acts will be playing tonight, including Lucius, Wilco, and another show (with a new lineup) from Everyone Orchestra. There are also a number of indie bands that I am not too familiar with, so there will be plenty to discover before the festival ends. See you there!