CityFolk online was a surprise end-of-November treat. Image: CityFolk/Provided.
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Our arts editor’s review of Ottawa’s newly-adapted favourite music event

As we approach the Fulcrum’s holiday break, I’ll admit something a little controversial: I’ve become really tired of online cultural events in the last few months.

This is no one’s fault; I’m thrilled that festivals and special events have been able to survive thanks to the digital tools at artists’ disposal. But Zoom fatigue is real, and music events in particular don’t lend themselves particularly well to fallible online platforms with often-shoddy recording quality.

CityFolk may be the first digital concert this year I’ve really, truly enjoyed.

Tickets weren’t exactly cheap (at a cool $17.50 a pop for something I watched on my laptop), but the experience was a lovely surprise of high production values and excellent curation. 

A minor technical issue with logging into the secure ‘venue’ was solved by CityFolk’s on-call production team in under five minutes, which I appreciated, and the online software was slick and free of any glitches once I got in.

I could see exactly what my $17.50 was paying for. The sets I decided to catch (Ben Caplan and Tim Baker on Nov. 28) were gorgeously filmed; we’re talking multiple camera angles in crazy high resolution, with sound quality which rivaled that of a professional recording booth. 

Ben Caplan’s set was high-energy as always, and really did capture the energy of an in-person music festival — I caught myself missing pre-COVID times terribly, remembering seeing Caplan live at the National Arts Centre in Hannah Moscovitch’s Old Stock last year. At this year’s CityFolk, Caplan performed to an empty venue — a little weird, yes, but with enough space for his enthusiasm and note-perfect voice to swell and shine on camera.

Tim Baker’s set was a special and sentimental time for me, too: I adore both him and Hey Rosetta!, and really enjoyed getting to hear sweetly sad songs like “Bandages” from Baker’s living room. Even though it wasn’t in a “standard” musical venue, Baker’s set was still expertly filmed and had excellent sound quality; it felt like a coffeehouse set (remember those?) and I can’t really think of another way I’d have rather spent my Saturday night.

This year’s CityFolk should be the model upon which all online music festivals are based. That’s a praise I don’t give lightly: the curation featured a wide range of artists to suit a number of tastes and the production values really did blow me away. Ticket prices were, to my mind, fair for what audiences received, and I felt for the first time in months a close replica of live concert camaraderie. 

It’s likely we’ll be living in this digital new normal for a while; let CityFolk be proof that that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.


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