Annual folk music fest draws large crowds to Lansdowne Park

Photo: Marta Kierkus

The management team at CityFolk may have rebranded the festival this year, but they made sure that it stayed as true to its folk roots as possible.

Unlike its sister festival RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, which gets less and less bluesy every year, CityFolk was filled with folk acts big and small.

Van Morrison headlined the third night of the festival on Sept. 18. The 70-year-old Northern Irish singer attracted an older crowd, many of whom were wearing shirts with tour dates from the ‘90s.

Morrison abruptly began his set almost 10 minutes before the scheduled start time—a rare occurrence at concerts. The crowd was relatively relaxed and content to just listen to Morrison belt out a mix of songs from his 57-year career, except during big hits like “Moondance” and “Brown Eyed Girl,” where everyone sung along.

The end of Morrison’s set was almost as abrupt as the beginning, with him quickly thanking his band and the audience before walking off the stage. The singer barely chatted with the crowd, blending many of his songs together, and only taking miniscule breaks in between the occasional tune.

Sept. 19 was a dreary day weather-wise, but this didn’t prevent the festival from attracting large crowds for its evening acts. The Sheepdogs, a rock band from Saskatoon, performed at 6:45 p.m. for a soaked but excited crowd that rocked out to their hits like “Downtown” and “Feeling Good.”

The rain stopped minutes after they left the stage and the crew began setting up for the final act of the night, Of Monsters and Men. The Icelandic band mostly stuck to songs off of their 2015 album Beneath the Skin, including summer hit “Crystals,” but also included classics like “Mountain Sound” from their debut album, My Head Is an Animal.

Near the end of their set, they finally played “Little Talks,” the tune that everyone was waiting to hear, and the crowd danced and sang along to the energetic indie pop hit.

The group played one more song before exiting the stage, but came back for an encore of two songs, one being their 2013 single “Dirty Paws,” and thanked the crowd for coming out to their first show in Ottawa. As one of the lead vocalists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, said goodbye to the lively crowd, she said that she wished they could play longer, but promised that they would be back.

The final day of the festival, Sept. 20, featured British folk rocker Passenger. He interacted with the crowd in a playful way, joking around and graciously thanking everyone after each song.

Passenger played a mix of old and newer songs, encouraging the crowd to join him in the outro to “Scare Away the Dark,” closing his set. However, the audience wanted more, and they continued to sing the outro until he came back on the stage for a two-song encore.

Wilco was the last band to perform on the main stage, ending the festival with more of a whimper than a bang. They began their set by playing their new album Star Wars in its entirety, before moving onto more well-known songs from their critically acclaimed album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The highlight of Wilco’s set was “Jesus, Etc.,” their most well known song from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Although the festival’s new digs at Lansdowne Park were slightly more accessible than the previous location at Hog’s Back Park, there was a large divide between the stages unusual for festivals.

In order to go from the main Telus stage to the smaller Ravenlaw stage, festivalgoers had to leave the lawn and wait in another line to get into the Horticulture building, where the smaller stage was housed. Many fans opted to stick to one stage to avoid the constant lineups.

Although not drawing the same numbers as RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, CityFolk welcomed thousands of folk fans, proving that it is definitely an Ottawa staple that will continue to thrive in years to come.

With files from Spencer Murdock.