This article was originally published in the March/April 2011 issue of Ottawa Magazine.
By TRAVIS BOISVENUE
Jon Bartlett, the man behind Kelp records, is onto something. After bringing the label to Ottawa in 1999 and developing a core of musicians and artists around such bands as Jim Bryson, Hilotrons, and Andrew Vincent, Bartlett has no plans to rest on his laurels and enjoy the party (which, by the way, culminates in an annual two-day festival in May, a revelry known as the Kelp weekend).
For the past year, he has been working to make music his full-time endeavour, most recently landing a spot as director of Megaphono, a local start-up “music placement” service that licenses music by bands for use on television shows, adverts, films, and video games in Canada, the U.S., and abroad.
And though his surface demeanour is almost pathologically laid-back, Bartlett admits to yet another burning ambition — one that has nothing to do with music. This time it’s coffee. Specifically the awesome coffee he discovered in January 2010 at Raw Sugar Café. Bartlett is now working with the local foodie community to champion and sell the coffee, which is roasted by Neat, a fair-trade café run by Kim and Adam McKinty out of Burnstown in the Ottawa Valley.
Bartlett says he pulls much inspiration from the food community in Ottawa. “I get really excited when I look at what’s happening with the restaurant scene here in the last five years,” he explains. “Places like the Whalesbone — they do their annual hoedown thing in their yard, they have bands play, and they’ve been a big part of supporting local brewers and local farms.” What the Whalesbone and others have done, he says, is take risks and be unwilling to compromise the way they present themselves. “I think it’s awesome. They’ve created by collaborating.”
Bartlett is a man who, better than anyone, appreciates Ottawa’s local flavours in their various guises. And though he is loath to shine the spotlight on himself, he works tirelessly to make Ottawa a better place. “It’s awesome to go to the Mayfair for a movie and get a tourtière at Life of Pie after. Or it’s awesome to go to Whalesbone after work on a Friday and end up spending seven hours there and crawling home. They are some of our unique, interesting things, and I feel like [the city] is going in a direction that’s good,” he says.
He admits with a laugh that his varied business interests are based more on doing whatever he finds intriguing or unique rather than on solid “business principles.” And he’s quick to point out that he’s not a booster for all things Ottawa. A chat with Bartlett gives way to a discussion about parking bylaws (they discourage business owners setting up shop downtown), local music awards (“I mean, Hamilton has music awards, why don’t we?”), and the challenges of properly forging relationships with co-op coffee farmers in California.
It might seem scattered, but after talking with Bartlett, every idea he throws out seems to be part of a cosmic master plan. “You could easily just live in your own world within a few blocks’ radius and not know of something that’s happening across town,” he says. “People are interested in local culture and community and supporting that kind of stuff, even if they don’t necessarily know about it. I’m interested in making [those] connections.”