Dispatches from the Ottawa Grassroots Festival day one: Thursday
Benj Rowland and Moonfruits kicked off the Ottawa Grassroots Festival at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Thursday night, launching four days of intimate folk festivities.
This year’s festival theme is “rivers,” an ode to the flowing tunes that will be played throughout the weekend.
Ottawa Grassroots Festival is a non-profit, community-based, volunteer-run organization dedicated to cultivating community at the local level through annual concerts and workshops.
This year’s opening act for the evening shows was Benj, from Peterborough.
Benj is a prominent figure within the folk music scene, thanks to both his solo career and his role in the duo, Mayhemingways.
He took to the stage in black dungarees overtop a blue and pink striped shirt and sat atop a black chair surrounded by three microphones and the five instruments that he would eventually break out during the set.
The most unique sounding of these was the Hurdy Gurdy, an instrument Benj said he discovered through historical French music and has slowly learned to play over the last year.
Some believe that the instrument originated from fiddles in early Europe and the Middle East. When incorporated in Benj’s set, the sound that emanated was a constant droning akin to bagpipes.
Ian Tamblyn described the night performers as “sonic,” a notion Benj embodied. He performed heart-felt songs revolving around personal experiences and a few local landmarks that are near and dear to his heart.
At the end of his performance, Benj thanked the crowd for their attentiveness and for how quiet they were. He even joked that “you couldn’t even open a cough drop in here,” without it causing a distraction.
“It’s my first time at Grassroots, and it’s awesome, seriously awesome. It’s great for the community,” said Benj after his set.
Moonfruits sing about mental health and more
While Benj is a rookie at Grassroots, Moonfruits have a few festivals under their belt. The group is comprised of two members, Kaitlin Milroy and Alex Millaire, who were joined on stage by Tragedy Ann.
Moonfruits and their guests wore matching, all-white ensembles, with the female performers opting for flowy, beige tops. The male performers wore their hair in slicked-back buns, owning the hippie style synonymous with the genre.
The duo’s on-stage energy induced head bobs and foot taps from a few members of the audience.
Throughout their performance, the groups introduced the stories behind each song. Some were had mental health, as a them, which Alex said “can be fixed with something as simple as a muffin,” while others revolved around former living spaces or pandemic problems.
Moonfruits put on an exquisite concert that was at times marked by high energy numbers and at others by intimate ones. The duo was alone on stage after the midway point. Their sound and the language they sang in shifted as the night progressed. Their passion for each other and their craft was evident throughout.
There was avid crowd participation, as members of the audience were asked to clap along or sing along at different times during the night.
Tomorrow night is the festival’s second night and will feature performances from Mia Kelly at 7:30 p.m. and Ken Yates at 9 p.m., again at St. Michael’s Presbyterian Church.