It’s January and a Tuesday night in Ottawa. What could possibly be going on in this sleepy government town?
On a secluded side street in the West End suburbs, Shannon Murray welcomes us to Raven Street Studio’s signature room, and it is filling up for the monthly Songwriters Association of Canada’s (SAC) regional songwriters evening.
And that’s not the only thing going on. There are open-mics at Live on Elgin, a great new club making a splash downtown,the Chateau Lafayette hosted by John Carroll and, currently in transition, the Canal Oak hosted by Eric St. Cyr, an involved, hard-working Ottawa artist.
As an aside, Ottawa has a number of people showing leadership and breathing life into its scene. Tara Shannon of Willow Sound Records and Trish Bolechowsky of Red Leaf Music offer artist development, and both contribute in countless ways to this burgeoning music community.
But back to Raven Street. North Easton is leading Session 37 of SAC’s songwriters gathering. His theme? “A new approach,” appropriate as Ottawa seems to have embraced a new approach, building from the people upwards with its clubs, its organizations, and its festivals.
When thinking of Ottawa, some people simply think of Bluesfest and CityFolk, which bring big name artists to the city while featuring local Ottawa folk artists. But it’s events like the Grassroots Festival, Westfest, Arboretum and Megaphono that get at the heart of Ottawa’s music scene. Megaphono is doing something different, welcoming members of the international music scene to Ottawa in February of all months, nudging the Ottawa scene into a more global spotlight.
From the National Arts Centre to Pressed and Bar Robo, touring artists have plenty of venues of different sizes to choose from for their shows in Ottawa. And increasingly, there are some great live music venues on the outskirts, in Kemptville, Renfrew, and, of course, Wakefield, home to the popular Blacksheep Inn.
The songwriters evening at Raven Street Studios is now just getting started, and North draws the audience into his theme for the month. Always insightful, North pulls from his own dedication as a songwriter, and each month, discusses a different aspect of artistic life, such as creativity, networking, and organization.
Local and national organizations also help such professional development in our community. OMIC, the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition regularly holds themed workshops hosted by reputable, articulate music industry folks. OMIC was also involved in supporting the adoption of the City of Ottawa’s Music Strategy. Folk Music Ontario, also headquartered in Ottawa, holds a world-class event each year, the FMO conference, that attracts artists and industry from around the world.
Ottawa is blessed with not one, but two university radio stations with great shows, including the renowned Canadian Spaces, hosted by passionate DJs eager to share the talent, often hidden, in the city and around the country. These Ottawa DJs not only support artists through their radio shows; they get involved. organizing events and getting out to the shows.
There are close to 30 people now at Raven Street, a reasonable audience. And, one by one, Ottawa’s songwriters get up and bare their souls – sorry, share their songs – with a thoughtful, attentive engaged group. North provides his passionate, firm and informed feedback to these artists. He knows most of them, or gets to know them in advance of sharing his thoughts on each song. This gathering is about growth, individual and community, and the reason these types of events are so important.
Down at Whispers on Monday night, songwriters attend the Spirit of Rasputin’s open mic. They make their way to Irene’s at least once a month for Julie Corrigan’s Girls to the Front songwriter series sponsored by CKCU and Redleaf Music. And the Black Irish Pub is jumping into the mix with their Saturday afternoon jam and songwriters night.
The night has come to a close on Raven Street, yet there are 10 to 12 of us still chatting away. Someone just returned from Nashville. There’s a CD release taking place this weekend. We’re listening to a track someone recently completed in studio, and North is the last to leave. It’s the people that make this a wonderful community.
This is by no means a comprehensive description of the diverse Ottawa roots scene, but it reflects those essential ingredients of passion, involvement and caring that support a vibrant community. And that is truly what makes Ottawa a special place to be a singer-songwriter in Canada.
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