Ottawa Folk Festival
The Ottawa Folk Festival is a Canadian folk music festival held near Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The organization presents a four-day weekend festival in September, as well as an evening benefit concert series throughout the year.
The festival books both local, national and international talent. It follows a standard format in which invited artists play several short sets on various stages throughout the weekend, often grouped into quadruple or quintuple bills by topics (e.g. In the Tradition, East Meets West, etc.); this format allows for interaction and jamming between invited artists (be they established stars or newcomers). For the 2011 festival, workshop stages were curated by the Ottawa Folklore Centre, one of the hubs of folk music in Ottawa and the Founding Sponsor of the festival. Prominent artists also played sets on the CUPE-SCFP Stage with headliners performing one hour to one hour and a half. The festival is slanted toward contemporary and popular folk, bluegrass, rock and blues performers, but some traditional folk artists are invited as well (see Folk music for more on this distinction).
In addition to musical performances, the festival generally includes a contra dance as well as other types of folk dance, the Terry Penner memorial choir (of audience members), a commercial marketplace area for craft artisans, a Merchandise tent, an international food court, a Community Tent, this year presented by the Ottawa Citizen, spoken word performances, a “KidZone” for children including separate kid-friendly programming, an “EnviroTent” to learn about and discuss green practices, and jam sessions throughout the site for audience members and artists.
Festival headliners over the years have included The Levon Helm Band, Jim Cuddy, Feist, Kris Kristofferson, Rufus Wainwright, Valdy, David Wiffen, Murray McLauchlan, Quartette, Bruce Cockburn, The Sadies, Roy Forbes, Connie Kaldor, Broken Social Scene, Martin Sexton, Jerry Douglas, Jane Siberry, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Jorane, Jesse Cook, Odetta, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, John Prine, Stephen Fearing, Richard Thompson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, La Bottine Souriante, Emmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie, Natalie MacMaster, Steve Earle, Sarah Harmer, and Ron Sexsmith.
The Ottawa Folk Festival recognizes the contributions and achievements of a wide range of individuals to the folk festival and folk music community in Canada. The main award presented annually is the Helen Verger Award for contribution to Canadian folk music. The Galaxie Rising Star Award is presented to an up-and-coming artist, The Beth Ferguson Award is presented to an Ontario female songwriter under the age of 30 who pens songs of social relevance with an emphasis on social issues and the newest award, the Supernova Award presented by Galaxie Rising Stars Program to a deserving, emerging Canadian artist on the festival bill.
The festival was established in 1994 by Max Wallace (Station Manager of the community radio station CKCU-FM and the festival's Director for its first two years of operation, 1994 & 1995) and Chris White (a local singer-songwriter) and a large committee of volunteers. First held on Ottawa, Ontario, Canada's Victoria Island, it moved due to a First Nations occupation of the island to the facilities of Britannia Park in 1995 where it has remained through the 2010. The festival now has a new, more accessible home at Hog’s Back Park, near Mooney’s Bay also in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
The festival was established 15 years after the demise of the Festival for the Folks (1976–1979), a previous folk festival in Ottawa. The first Festival of the Folks (1976) was held in Brewer Park and organized by Sheldon Wilner (CUSA programmer) and Jim Wright (CUSA Finance Commissioner).
The first Ottawa Folk Festival was held on Victoria Island, a small island between Ottawa and Gatineau in the Ottawa River. It ran only a single day, on August 28, 1994. Headliners on the inaugural festival included Valdy and David Wiffen. From this initial festival until 2006, the folk festival was formally known as the CKCU Ottawa Folk Festival acknowledging the support of the CKCU-FM radio station at Carleton University.
In its second year, the festival moved to Britannia Park, a large park near historic Britannia village in the west end of Ottawa. Britannia Park was also home for the Festival of the Folks for its final three years, and would remain the folkfest's home until 2010. The festival was also extended to run for two days (Saturday and Sunday) that year; in 1996, it was extended to run three days beginning with Friday evening concerts.
In 1996, the festival had cash flow problems that almost broke the organization. The festival retains close ties with Arlo Guthrie who performed at the two sold-out benefit concerts in that year that enabled the festival to continue. In more recent times the festival has turned toward the inclusion of non-folk and mainstream artists (such as a 2010 performance by Arrested Development and 2005 performance by Canadian Idol Kalan Porter) in an effort to boost attendance.
The festival underwent major changes, including a venue change, again in 2011. Facing a heavy debt-load which was exacerbated by heavy rain and high winds on the final day of the festival in 2010, the festival board accepted an offer from Ottawa Bluesfest organizers to take over the running of the festival. The new management decided to move the festival to Hog's Back Park near Mooney's Bay along the Rideau River. The new location was felt to be more central and more accessible by transit. By this time it ran to four days of programming, starting with Thursday evening concerts and extending through Sunday.
Gene Swimmer was the Festival Director from (1996–2006). He has since retired, succeeded by Tamara Kater in 2007. At the conclusion of the 2008 festival she accepted the position of Executive Director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Chris White, artistic director since 1994, resigned in 2009. Dylan Griffith, former artistic director of the Dawson City Music Festival, became artistic director in January 2010, and Ottawa singer-songwriter Ana Miura became general manager of the festival. In late 2010 after a very rainy festival that saw low ticket sales, the organization accepted an offer from the Ottawa Bluesfest to create a supporting partnership, pulling the festival out of debt and increasing its artistic budget to approximately $500,000 – triple from previous years. The two festivals remain separate organizations. The core staff now include Miura, who shifted to Sponsorship Manager, Mark Morrison as General Manager, Operations, Emily Addison, Community Engagement and Volunteer Manager and Crystal Kirkpatrick, Admin and Operations Manager. Mark Monahan is now Festival Supervisor.
The festival utilizes hundreds of volunteers—from stage crew to hospitality crew and beyond – who are the core that the festival is built around.