The Ottawa Grassroots Festival returns this weekend for its first in-person event after the two-year COVID hiatus, and this year’s event features almost all local artists and a thematic focus on trees.
“It was an artistic decision,” said newly-minted artistic director Ian Tamblyn, when I asked him if financial considerations or COVID logistics had influenced that choice to focus on local acts.
“I just saw this critical mass of really good people. One of the headliners is Angelique Francis, and she’s sort of blossomed on the scene. She was a student of mine at Carleton four years ago, and now she’s sort of one of the princesses of the Canadian blues scene.”
Other local acts on the mainstage include arty duo Moonfruits, who are scheduled to release a new single the week following the festival, and indie Indigenous duo Twin Flames, who are still winning awards for their 2020 release, Omen. Locals on the free daytime stages include Jack Pine, Chris MacLean and Kate Weekes, and some lesser-known but no less deserving names, according to Ian.
“Sunday, for example, there’s a gospel hour at Irene’s pub that is with Christine Graves and Jody Benjamin and a local favourite Russell Levia,” said Ian.
“And then after that in no particular order there’s a guy who’s been playing at the Lafayette House for 17 years or something. His name is John Carrol, and he’s fantastic. He sort of has a drole Waitsian approach to things, and he’s excellent … And then David Bignell … has been around the Ottawa scene for 50 years. He’s sort of what I would call the captain of cool. He’s just an unbelievable player.”
Even the non-local acts are – well, not entirely non-local. Rick Fines lives just down the highway in Peterborough. The Mavens are a trio featuring Ottawan Lynn Miles along with Shari Ulrich (BC) and Susan Crowe (NS).
The show kicks off tomorrow night at St. Andrew’s Church in Ottawa, and the nighttime shows will be livestreamed for those who can’t be there in person.
Schedules and tickets are available at https://ottawagrassrootsfestival.com/.
One particular highlight of the free daytime stages is the tree-themed stage Saturday at 2 p.m.
It features CBC Ontario gardening guru Ed Lawrence talking about how to plant a tree properly.
It also features presentations by Ottawa Riverkeeper founding executive director Meredith Brown, former Dominion Arboretum supervisors Marcel Beauchamp and Robert Cretien, and Canadian Wildlife Federation senior conservation biologist Carolyn Callaghan.
The session closes with music from Chris White and friends.
Chris has been a leader in what you might call the “save the trees” movement in Ottawa.
It relates to a move by the city to cut down around 500 trees in the Experimental Farm area – an urban research farm in the centre of town – to build a new hospital, Ian explained.
“Everybody’s really keen to talk about trees,” he said.
Ian took over the artistic director roll last year after founding AD Bob Nesbitt passed away.
So far it seems he’s to a great start.