Country music in the capital soldiers on with revamped, intimate festival

Spencer Van Dyk | Fulcrum Staff

Country music fans should mark their calendars for the sixth annual O-Town Hoedown, a country music festival showcasing local talent for two consecutive weekends, Sept. 28–29 and Oct. 5–6.

In previous years, the concert series was a 10-day event. But this year, organizer Greg Harris—better known as Lefty McRighty—has decided to “tone down the hoedown.”
“In the past it’s always been a week-long affair, and no matter how long the festival was, there was a performer every night,” Harris said. “But the weekend shows are always the ones that are more highly attended, so I wanted to eliminate the in-between.”

Ottawa’s larger-scale Capital Hoedown event was cancelled in July due to unexpected costs and zoning problems. The festival was to take place Aug. 10–12 and would have included Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, and Reba McEntire. An estimated 15,000 ticket buyers were refunded after the event’s collapse.

According to Harris, what stands out about the O-Town Hoedown is the intimacy of the event and its determination to showcase local talent.

“The big difference between this and other festivals is that we have the shows at regular music venues and bars,” he explained. “So it’s not a large-scale ‘festival’ like the others. There are no vendors, not much by way of sponsors—that kind of thing. It’s more of a showcase. People would want to come to this because it’s a lot more intimate; there’s no backstage area, it’s just the bar, and we’re all hanging out before and after the sets.”

Harris added that the series is an ideal way for people to become better acquainted with the Ottawa country music scene. The relaxed and low-key atmosphere of the event allows for interaction between audience and performers.

“A lot of people showing up in the city don’t really know what local bands are like,” he said. “So this’ll be a really great introduction for them. Half the musicians in Ottawa are going to be playing, and the other half are just going to be in the crowd hanging out.”

All of the performers are local, except for two. One of those is The Divorcees from Moncton, N.B., a band that Harris suggests attendees keep an eye out for.

“I’ve wanted them to come to the Hoedown for years,” Harris said, “but it’s never really coincided with their tour schedule until now. So that’s the show that I’m most excited for.”
Another band to look out for is Ottawa’s own Uncle Sean & the Shifty Drifters. The band’s gig at the Hoedown will also serve as a CD release party for their second album.

Jack Pine, another first-time Hoedown performer, said he is looking forward to seeing some of his friends perform. Although he has been present at the Hoedown and even worked at it as an audio engineer for the past few years, this is his first time performing there professionally. He echoed Harris’s sentiment that the event’s intimacy is its main draw.

“It’s all local, first of all, or it tries to be,” Pine said. “I’d say it’s more focused within its genre than something like Folk Fest or Bluesfest. It’s more focused on the community and what’s going on in the city.”

Due to minimal demand in previous years, the O-Town Hoedown will not be selling advance tickets this year. Those concerned that a particular concert may sell out should show up early.