Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ottawa Folk Festival, August 13-15

By this time next week, we’ll be well into this year’s edition of the Ottawa Folk Festival. It kicks off on Friday evening, August 13, and continues all day and evening on Saturday and Sunday. As I mentioned a year ago, the folk festival has long been my favourite Ottawa festival. Years before I actually started working in Ottawa in 2007, I was making an annual trip to the nation’s capital for the Ottawa Folk Festival.

This is a year of great change for the Ottawa Folk Festival. Chris White, the founding artistic director stepped down last fall after 16 years at the helm. The new artistic director is Dylan Griffith, who came to the Ottawa Folk Festival after four years directing the Dawson City Music Festival in the Yukon.

It seems to be a year of generational change for the festival. Despite the presence of certain older artists, most notably the legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, there is a greater emphasis on younger artists or on artists like Arrested Development, who are drawn from musical genres more likely to appeal to a younger demographic than the traditional folk festival audience.

This is not to say that there’s a lack of the kind of artists that have long been associated with folk festivals. Among them are the Old Sod Band, an instrumental band that includes Ann Downey and Ian Robb of Finest Kind; the Foggy Hogtown Boys, probably Ontario’s finest bluegrass band; Lynn Miles, a world class singer-songwriter from Ottawa who did an amazing set at the festival a few years ago just before headliner Emmylou Harris; and such other notable Canadian singer-songwriters as Jenny Whiteley, Chris MacLean, Jon Brooks and Kim Beggs.

Among the other artists I’m looking forward to hearing are Calexico, the southwestern atmospheric band; country rocker Carolyn Mark; and Ladies of the Canyon, a Montreal trio that I introduced at the Festival Folk sur le canal in Montreal in 2009.

As someone whose first folk festivals included the Estelle Klein-era Mariposa Folk Festivals of the 1970s, I’ve always felt that the daytime workshops are the heart-and-soul of the folk festival experience. The daytime schedule has now been posted and there are a bunch of workshop sessions that I’m really looking forward to.

I’ve had that honour and privilege of hosting many workshops at the Ottawa Folk Festival over the years. Among my favourites was a panel discussion in 2007 with me, Nora Guthrie, Kris Kristofferson and Jimmy LaFave discussing Woody Guthrie and his enduring influence. This year, I’ll be sitting down on stage with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – long one of folk music’s most influential and enduring legendary figures – to talk about his remarkable career that now stretches over a 60-year period. Jack was already a legend when I first met him back in 1971. The session, called A Conversation with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, is from noon to 1:00 pm on the indoor hall stage.

Pictured: (Left) Mike Regenstreif, Nora Guthrie, Kris Kristifferson and Jimmy LaFave at the 2007 Ottawa Folk Festival. (Right) Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Mike Regenstreif at the 2006 Pop Montreal Festival.

--Mike Regenstreif

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