Sound Seekers

SOUND SEEKERS: Behind the Scenes at Arboretum Fest, 2/2

Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at <> . Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani

Thoughts on Ottawa’s Cultural Future with Fest Founder Rolf Klausener 

Klausener, 37, long-time Ottawa musician who toured widely with his band The Acorn, is the Arboretum Arts Festival co-founder. He, along with manager Stefanie Power, puts together a line-up of contemporary Canadian indie rock acts that he likes to refer to as “a big city-wide high five.”

This year’s Arboretum Arts Festival runs August 16-17 in Waller Park, the grassy area behind Arts Court, as well as in the nearby SAW Courtyard and at St. Alban’s Church. Headliners include Owen Pallett, Jim Bryson, Doldrums, Diana, and Holy Fuck along with Mike Feuerstack, NDMA, and Roberta Bondar. Find the full line-up here.

SOUND SEEKERS met with Klausener to talk about the behind-the-scenes details of festivals and cultural life in Ottawa. Here is part two of quotes and quips about the festival. Find part one here.

Rolf Klausener

Ottawa Defence League
“In The Acorn, I spent so many years touring. Everywhere I went, I was telling people that Ottawa was a really great town — and defending Ottawa. And instead of always defending Ottawa, I’d rather say, ‘come to this festival.’ I wanted to create something really cool that could exist in Toronto, or Paris, or London, or anywhere — and it would be relevant.”

The Legacy Factor
“The design theme for the festival is Breaking Ground, because the plan is to dig up Waller Park and build a condo or hotel there. This could potentially be the last event to take place in Waller Park, which is kind of exciting and could be momentous.”

Changing Game
“Being a musician, I have seen how the game has changed for people … The amount of money people draw from record sales at this point doesn’t even factor in unless you’re Arcade Fire or Feist. It’s a drop in the bucket in your already small bucket; you have to survive on publishing, grants, and touring.”

Acorn Survival Skills
“I have a publisher in L.A. I had a song in that movie Crazy, Stupid, Love. That subsidized my year last year.”

Do Those Gigs Net 30-40K?
“It depends. I don’t really want to say.”

Festival Funding Ideas
“We had been thinking of opening a bar or a venue for a long time, Stefanie and I. We’ve been roommates for 10 years and she books Raw Sugar; I obviously do my thing. We’ve always been huge music fans — we spend our winters watching music documentaries, and we’ve been really sad about the live venue situation.”

“We just jumped in with both feet and we’re gunning it as hard as we can. And things are happening. FACTOR sent us money out of the blue and PEI Music invited us expenses-paid to fly down to PEI to see some emerging music in September, which is cool, so we’re going to do that.”

1,000-Peeps Intimacy
“We don’t want to ever be as big as Bluesfest. That’s not the idea. I love going to see those artists and I understand that incumbent in that is drawing 50,000 people a day to pay for their insane guarantees. I completely understand that and I love it for what it is, but my favourite festival experiences are the ones where I can walk up to the front of the stage, and be surrounded by a thousand people and have an intimate experience.”

"I actually think that this festival is like a 1,000 times cooler than my band ever was," says Arboretum Festival co-founder Rolf Klausener. Photo by Jamie Kronick.

Bluesfest Proportions
“I would love to have any of my local acts — like Roberta Bondar or Chris Page or any of the more indie, mid-level local acts — be paid a $1,000 the way that Bluesfest does. A band that normally gets $150 to play Raw Sugar gets $1,000 and all the booze they can drink and an amazing rider at Bluesfest. I would love to do that, but we just don’t have the money to do that at this point. I don’t know that we ever will. Maybe, if things go really, really well. We’ll see.”

The Problem With Local
“It’s funny how the media latches onto that. I read this Citizen article about 30 local bands playing Bluesfest! But it’s like, yeah, they’re all scheduled at 1 p.m. It’s the throwaway slot. Do you really believe in these local bands? Have you gone to see them? That’s really important for us. Part of our mandate it to take local bands that we think are export-ready and we put them right next to Holy Fuck or Owen Pallett. Last year, we put the Steve Adamyk Band next to Ohbijou.”

Why did Ohbijou retire?
“They’re all doing different things and the economics of running a six-person band and touring is really challenging. They needed a break; they weren’t working in the same way anymore and priorities change. They’re like my band BFFs, we’ve had very similar trajectories.”

Go Green
“We’re an incredibly bucolic city because we’ve got this massive spread of Gatineau Park close by. A lot of our tourist literature touts our access to nature and yet none of the music festivals we have actually take advantage of this beautiful green space and let people actually get immersed in it.”

Camping Champ
“When you go to a campground, you ideally try to leave it clean or cleaner than it was when you got there. I’ve never encountered problems at camping festivals I’ve gone to. There is obviously stuff to clean up — but that’s part of it. It’s a really beautiful thing to wake up on the grounds. It’s a really magical thing. You’re there, you’re immersed in it. You feel transported. If things continue and we’re successful this year I think we will try camping events as pilots and then tiptoe towards that.”

We Wanna Platform
“What Ottawa has is this incredible cultural community. There’s some amazing talent in this city, whether it be chefs or visual artists or musicians. There is a tonne of talent here, but it seems like there are no stages; it seems like there’s no platform for it. We don’t even have an arts weekly to vault our artists on once a week to say this theatre show is really good or this band is really good. For all the good that Facebook and Twitter do, there are no social forums.”

Decade Past
“I feel like 10 years ago we were all shitting on ourselves; we were kind of rebelling against the city. Everybody just wanted to get the fuck out. Like Kathleen [Edwards] got out and Snailhouse, Jeremy Gara, all these great people left because it was a hard city to survive in, it was a city that ate its young and spat them out and said, ‘Nah, you’re not going to get anywhere living in this town.’”

“Now it feels like everyone is nurturing and supporting each other.”

Poster Appeal
“I don’t want to create an event that looks like an NCC event with shitty posters, and a happy atomic nuclear family prancing through the field saying come to our outdoor cultural event. No, I want to create something that’s rad, something that’s challenging, and try to get people out of their cultural complacency in the city.”

Audience Development
“There’s 5,000 of us in this cultural circle that seem to go each other’s things. We go to each other’s restaurants; we go to each other’s events. Then there are 350,000 other people in this city, there’s a bunch of them, and I’ve actually heard people say that Bluesfest is the one time of the year that they go and see live music.”

The People You Know
“I love the idea of being at a show and looking around and recognizing 50 percent of people in the room. That’s a very Ottawa thing and we wanted to create a reflection of that. When you come to Arboretum, you should look around and, ideally, see people you know.”

Somewhere Else
“If Waller Park gets torn up, I’d like to find another beautiful grassy location that is a reflection of the city. I’d love to be on the water — that would be amazing.”

So, Like, the Arboretum?
“I’d love to be on the Arboretum. Considering that Hillside Festival happens on a nature conservatory — it’s, like, protected land! That’s where they bring 5,000 people to come and party for the weekend. They spend two days cleaning it up. The rest of the time it’s a campground and nature reserve. Why are we so scared? I don’t understand. The Arboretum is one of the most beautiful spots in the city. I think it would be an amazing and ironic twist of fate if we ended up there.”

City Love
“I’d love to see more support from the city. Not money necessarily. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think we’re creating something vital. Every city has a folk festival, a jazz festival, and a lot of these great cities have very city-centric festivals and I feel that we’re creating something really vibrant, really necessary and exciting. I wish stuff like, House of Paint, and us, and Ottawa Explosion had the same kind of support as Folk Fest, and Chamber Fest like any of these other festivals do. Stefanie and I are really working to try to get there.”

Better than The Band
I really believe in what we’re doing. I actually think that this festival is like a 1,000 times cooler than my band ever was. I think it’s a way cooler project. I was thinking that yesterday. I was like, ‘I wonder if I ever want to say that publicly.’ I think so. I love my band and I love my music, but I think this festival is way cooler.”

Programming Deets
“It’s going to be one of Owen Pallett’s only shows this year because he’s recording a new record. We’re putting Doldrums in St. Alban’s Church and it’s basically going to be a rave. Last year, Mike Caffrey had these touch-sensitive toys that make noise and he had this orchestra of kids making music. It was the coolest thing, so we brought Mike back.”

For the Children
I don’t have kids; I want kids. Kids are amazing and as a child there was nothing that excited me more than art and music. If the festival can instil wonder and excitement for the arts, then that’s the goal. We want kids to feel empowered and included.”

Chef Sessions
“The chef thing last year was amazing, but we also took 12 chefs out of the restaurants for the whole day. That was fun, but it’s not sustainable and we had to rethink how we did that and we came up with the Chef Sessions. It was like this beautiful aha moment. When you ask a band to play a festival, you don’t ask them to play for 10 hours. They play a set and then they go home or they hang out backstage. We decided that’s exactly what we have to do. The chefs at Arboretum will have an hour to dole out one dish. When they’re done, they can go backstage with their pass and feel like a rock star.”

Career Ninja
“I’m on the reserve list and I book music at the Manx. I’m still writing music and DJing as well. I DJ at Babylon at 90s or Bust with Pat from The Acorn and I’m a fill in for Shameless. I do some freelance design work as well. I work all the time. I’m planning on going biking in the Gatineaus and for a run in the mountains. That and writing music is my alone time.”

Your Wrist Tattoo Reads, “Be Better.” What’s That About?
“I started going to therapy a year ago and I started realizing that I had a lot of bad patterns that I needed to change if I was going to be a real grown-up. It’s about personal growth. You want to look into your mistakes, reflect on them, and try not to make them again. I think I’m a pretty good person overall. I’m kind to my friends, I love my city, and I’ve come to realize I have a lot of energy for people. I’m a really social person, but like anybody I’ve made mistakes.”

Quotable Kicker
“Why start a festival in a city full of festivals? Why start a band in a city full of bands?”