Published Aug 24, 2009Picturesque Britannia Park was flooded with folkies of all ages for the 15th annual Ottawa Folk Festival, which offered stellar performances and workshops by some of Canada's finest roots and folk performers. The Sadies started Friday with a bang, as the brothers Good and the band blazed through a lively set of their signature blend of country, folk rock, surf and psychedelia. The Toronto quartet got the crowd stomping through blistering performances of originals, as well as covers of Merle Haggard and Pink Floyd.
Amy Millan of Stars and Broken Social Scene took the stage later that day. Backed by stand-up bass and a pair of trombones, the songstress sang lovely, delicate ballads in her honey-soaked wisp of a voice. Former Barenaked Lady Steven Page closed out the first night with an acoustic set of BNL classics and newer solo material. Self-effacingly cracking wise about his exit from BNL, Page led the crowd through energetic sing-alongs of "Brian Wilson" and "The Old Apartment," and given the crowd's rapturous response, Page may just have a future as a solo artist.
Saturday's evening performances began with the jokey folk rock of Kingston, ON's Arrogant Worms, who crooned multi-part harmonized odes to cows, Celine Dion and the Canadian government. It was then off to check out Nova Scotian singer-songwriter Amelia Curran, who played a charming, intimate set, delivering her road-worn and intimate songs in a whiskey-tinged rasp.
Hometown legend Bruce Cockburn was the last set of the night. Cockburn's signature throaty croon and kinetic guitar playing captivated the devoted crowd as he sang prophetic takes on "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" and "Lovers in a Dangerous Time." By the time he played an encore of fan favourite "Tokyo," it became clear than anyone who wasn't already a Cockburn devotee had been converted.
Sunday afternoon offered some interesting diversions from the standard singer-songwriter set. The Woodchoppers Association played with West African musician Jah Youssuf, sweating out a raw set of deeply soulful grooves. Most surprising was That 1 Guy, a one-man band from Berkeley, CA, who tore the dance floor asunder with a mixture of discordant funk and Buck 65-esque oddball raps about butts, cheese and the moon.
Halifax indie veteran Joel Plaskett took the stage later that night, accompanied by his father on acoustic guitar. Plaskett's set split the difference between his rollicking rock and slower ballads. Modern classics like "Rolling, Rolling, Rolling" and "Nowhere with You" had the crowd swaying and singing along. Last up was Cameroonian guitarist, Idy Oulo, whose raw sugar vocals and airtight backing band spurred even the AARP members out of their seats and brought the fest to a suitably joyous close.