Going Out

Growing city’s “cultural footprint”: Arboretum Festival seeks greater rewards five years on

In an homage to the nature this city is surrounded by, the Arboretum Music Festival’s logo of three tree tops represents the trio of passions that drive the festival: music, culture, and community. There is no shortage of music festivals in this city, but Arb (as its creators affectionately refer to it) manages to stand out as being very Ottawa-focused, whether it’s with music, food, chefs, artists, or issues.

Stéfanie Power and Rolf Klausener (5th & 6th from left), directors of Arboretum Music Festival with team

This August, Arboretum celebrates its fifth anniversary. From its inception as a fundraiser back in 2012, the festival has snowballed into something much larger. Since the beginning, Rolf Klausener and Stéfanie Power — the tireless duo at the helm of the festival — have described their mandate as creating and curating a festival that reflects the vibrancy of the city. Initially, they placed their focus on showcasing primarily local Ottawa musicians, but as the city’s “cultural footprint” has grown, so has the festival.

Klausener, the creative director, and Power, the managing director, both agree that the capital city’s scene has evolved and is emerging internationally. Ottawa’s artists are still prominently featured at the festival —  from “pizza punk” band Bonnie Doon, to 17-year-old Trails, and rapper Morris Ogbowu, to name just a few. Along with celebrating local talent, they have been working to curate lineups that reflect the city’s place in the international musical community. With headliners like NYC’s Jungle Pussy, “the new goddess of progressive rap,” MTL’s Operators, a post-punk/electro-pop band, and Tim Hecker, the experimental/noise artist based in Montreal and L.A., Klausener believes this demonstrates how Ottawa is coming into its own; the city isn’t “waiting for Montreal or Toronto to let us know what’s cool.” And although the festival is growing, it continues to maintain an intimate feel; only two stages and no Jumbotrons.

Along with the musical lineup, the festival brings together new and established voices for cultural talks, gastronomy, music industry events, and local vendors. The festival is a not-for-profit; Klausener and Power hustle hard to make everything happen, and they’re humble about it. But they’re not alone. They work with a small team, dedicated volunteers, and community partners. The directors are busy people, too: Klausener is best known as the lead singer and songwriter for The Acorn, and a founding board member of the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, while Power works in communications for the Federal Government and the not-for-profit sector.

In a city with a full calendar of summer music festivals, Klausener and Power have set out to bridge a gap that can exist between bigger events that lose the community connection, and community events that don’t have enough funding to create “a transportive experience.” On a personal level, both Klausener and Power grew up as only children, and have long considered their friends and communities as their extended families. Not originally from Ottawa themselves, Klausener says they have a great family in the city, and sharing the things they love is how they make the city home.

“The mandate and the intimate approach of the festival make everything more challenging, from booking groundbreaking acts that we love, to transforming our spaces, but that’s exactly why we do it; harder choices have greater rewards. Those rewards are the ones we think a growing number of culture seekers share with us,” says Klausener.

Five years on, with five days of events spread out over nine venues in the city, it looks like Klausener is right.

Arboretum Music Festival is from Aug. 17 to 21