Arts & Culture

Folk foundation: the 2016 Ottawa Grassroots Festival

Ottawa embraces its Grassroots this week.

The Ottawa Grassroots Festival (April 21-24) hits the first notes of music festival season. Producer Bob Nesbitt offers an inside scoop on this year’s lineup and new location:

Don't miss Canadian Folk Music Award nominee, Jill Zmud, on Sunday afternoon (free!) at The Ottawa Grassroots Festival. Photo Credit: Bair Gable.
Canadian Folk Music Award nominee, Jill Zmud, performs Sunday afternoon (free!) at The Ottawa Grassroots Festival. Photo Credit: Bair Gable.

Q: What makes the festival special?

A: Now in its fifth year, it takes place at Southminster United Church. It is a community gem, featuring multi-lingual artists performing folk, blues, roots, bluegrass, spoken word, world, jazz, ambient and fusions of all kinds. Now in a bigger venue and fully wheelchair accessible, this four-day event is poised to welcome an expected 1,700 plus visitors. Accessibility is extremely important to the organizers on so many levels, as is being inclusive. Artists, volunteers, sponsors and visitors come together on this weekend with a mentality that no one is above anyone else and the end product is a something to be revered! I think most performers love to connect with their fans. This special interaction is not always possible at other festivals in the city. The organizers place great importance in being inclusive, accessible, offering workshops that encourage participation, building on community partnerships and showcasing artists of all abilities.

Iconic folk singer-songwriters, Garnet Rogers (left) and Dave Gunning (right) will headline at the Ottawa Grassroots Festival on Saturday, April 24th. Photo Credit (right): Jonathan Beadle.
Iconic folk singer-songwriters, Garnet Rogers (left) and Dave Gunning will headline at the Ottawa Grassroots Festival on Saturday, April 24th. Photo Credit for Dave Gunning: Jonathan Beadle.

Q: What are the highlights of this year’s lineup?

A: The evenings are ticketed events while the daytime programming (Saturday and Sunday) is completely free, aimed at affordability and accessibility for everyone, and runs on three stages simultaneously. There are scheduled performances by local favourites Jill Zmud, Propeller Dance, Kristine St. Pierre, Kate Greenland, Bucko, storyteller Kim Kilpatrick, Howie Hooper, Sophie Léger, Amanda Jordan and Crisol. The internationally acclaimed Jessica Stuart Few and Kate Weekes, a Yukon singer-songwriter, are also on the roster.

Singing in both official languages, Sophie Léger's songs lead listeners on an intimate journey, bridging geographical, cultural and spiritual distance as she celebrates relationships and experiences she has enjoyed with people across Canada and around the world.
Singing in both official languages, Sophie Léger’s songs lead listeners on an intimate journey, bridging geographical, cultural and spiritual distance as she celebrates relationships and experiences she has enjoyed with people across Canada and around the world.

Q: What will surprise visitors about the festival?

A: The festival is run entirely by volunteers that are warm and friendly. This not-for-profit organization will amaze you with what can be accomplished when dedicated people come together to organize a music festival of this kind. If you have ever toyed with even the slightest thought of performing at an “open stage,” you’ll never find a more supportive audience than at Ottawa Grassroots Festival. That is a guarantee! There are many fun activities for youth of all ages, like a workshop with Ed Lawrence introducing them to gardening, a MadLab where kids learn about soldering using kits provided, in a safe and supervised environment, a show choir by Hummingbird Music that is “Glee-esque.” And parents with toddlers, yes, there is a workshop for you, too. Kristine St. Pierre will lead your babies and toddlers in discovering music and movement.

Propeller Dance's "Wheels On-Feet On" workshop is a creative movement and expressive workshop for anyone. It is part of the free Saturday afternoon programming at the Ottawa Grassroots Festival. Photo Credit: Alvin Sim.
Propeller Dance’s “Wheels On-Feet On” workshop is a creative movement and expressive workshop for anyone. It is part of the free Saturday afternoon programming at the Ottawa Grassroots Festival. Photo Credit: Alvin Sim.

Q: What are you looking forward to the most about this year’s festival? 

A: Personally, it is a concept I am looking forward to — namely the three performances/workshops put on by people of all-abilities. These are: Propeller Dance, Bucko (Chris Binkowski) and Kim Kilpatrick’s performance Flying in the Dark: a blind woman’s story.

Tickets can be purchased online or at Compact Music. Full festival passes are $45. Tickets for specific evenings are $20 (Thu), $25 (Fri) and $30 (Sat). Children 15 years and under can attend free if accompanied by an adult.