Sporadic rainstorms weren’t enough to dissuade Ottawa fans from flocking to CityFolk on Saturday.
The festival, which ran from September 15th to 18th at Landsdowne Park, showcased a diverse line-up ranging from traditional folk to hip-hop and rock. Saturday’s itinerary consisted of seventeen acts on three different stages, including Canada’s own Fred Penner, Basia Bulat, and The New Pornographers, along with up-and-coming international artists like Marlon Williams and Vance Joy.
By the time The New Pornographers took the stage at six o’clock, the crowd was well-prepared for the weather, huddled under umbrellas and ponchos as they bobbed along to power-pop favourites like “Brill Bruisers” and “Mass Romantics.”
The audience’s dedication did not go unnoticed. “I would never stick around for any band in the rain,” lead singer Carl Newman confided. “I’m kind of a fair-weather person.”
With equipment and keyboards draped in ethereal-looking tarps, the evening must have been a soundman’s nightmare, but the songs were so infectious that the inclement weather was all-but forgotten.
After a half-hour break, Toronto’s Basia Bulat took the stage with the intention of throwing “a dance party.” Switching between guitar and piano, Bulat showcased her musicianship and diverse vocal stylings with a set that included indie-pop, piano ballads, and an out-of-left-field jazz cover.
Although similar in format to Bluesfest, CityFolk brought a much more easygoing vibe to the Capital. The decently-sized crowd swelled throughout the evening, but the grounds were never packed, making it easy to score spots near the stage. The park was lined with food trucks offering everything from Thai food to shawarma poutine. Additionally, festival-goers fleeing the rain could retreat into the Aberdeen Pavilion, which housed the indoor BMO Stage as well as dozens of booths from local businesses and craft breweries.
The downpour resumed towards the end of Bulat’s set, driving people indoors and creating a huge crowd at the BMO Stage for folk singer Marlon Williams and his band.
Starting softly and gradually increasing in intensity, Williams played an eclectic set that mixed original alt-folk with traditional country and folk music from Canada, the U.S., and his native New Zealand. The crowd was hooked. By the time the rain stopped, much of the audience opted to skip the headliner and stick around.
Closing with a handful of killer bluegrass songs and cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Portrait of a Man,” Williams left the stage to a standing ovation. After several minutes of applause and calls for an encore, the band returned for one final song.
It may have been the first genuinely spontaneous, crowd-demanded encore I have ever seen.
The storm let up in time for the evening’s headliner, up-and-coming folk-pop superstar Vance Joy. Fresh off the success of his single “Riptide,” Joy drew the biggest crowd of the night.
The Saturday line-up struck a balance between catering to existing tastes and showcasing emerging artists that bring audiences out of their comfort zones. For CityFolk audiences, the thrill of seeing a great live act, whether it’s an old favourite or a new discovery, was worth a rainy evening out.
Originally published in The Fulcrum as Music Lovers Weather the Rain for CityFolk; September 20, 2016