It’s the folk music equivalent of David vs. Goliath. Or, perhaps more appropriately, David Crosby vs. Stills, Nash and Young.
CityFolk (Sept. 16-20) features five nights of multi-stage lineups in Lansdowne Park — five days after that, Burnstown’s Neat Café hosts the first Neat in the Woods festival (Sept. 25-27) with a one-day lineup of official performances (there’s a weekend camping option that promises surprise acoustic musical session on Friday night and Sunday).
It’s probably unfair to compare the lineup at the Glebe’s mega festival with that of a small community event (especially since they’re happening at different times). Moreover, folkies aren’t supposed to be competitive. But that said, festival-goers trying to decide between the two do need to know which one will hit the right notes — and the answer isn’t just blowing in the wind.
And so, to equal things out, we stacked up comparable artists for a festival head-to-head under the following categories:
Alternative Rock Royalty
Wilco vs. The Trews
Wilco’s ninth studio album, the newly released Star Wars, reconfirms what anyone with functioning eardrums and a modicum of musical taste already knows: the Chicago-based alt-rockers are out of this world. Frontman Jeff Tweedy can go toe-to-toe – err, finger to fret? – with the best songwriters in modern rock history.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotian natives, The Trews, have five albums under their belt and a reputation as one of this country’s finest noisemakers. Fan favourite songs like “The Power of Positive Drinking” and “What’s Fair is Fair” should be spellbinding in a forest setting. But Wilco is simply out of the The Trews’ orbit. For now, anyway.
Marvest vs. MonkeyJunk
CityFolk features Marvest, the festival’s free lineup of nearly 60 local musicians at shops and venues along Bank Street, as well as Lansdowne’s Aberdeen Pavilion.
But Neat has Ottawa’s best band – the perpetually JUNO-winning blues crusaders, MonkeyJunk. Steve Marriner and company will teach Mother Nature a thing or two about the blues. [Silver Creek’s local take on southern rock also flows into the smaller fest’s lineup].
Edge: Neat in the Woods
Van Morrison vs. The Sadies
Sure, Van Morrison is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — and the Irish legend will have every eye in the crowd riveted on him (brown or otherwise). But Van the Man isn’t known for his stage banter and warmth. He’s all business — it just happens that business is making great music.
Veteran Canuck alt-country band, The Sadies, have been together for over 20 years, and have collaborated with the likes of Blue Rodeo, Gord Downie, and Neko Case. Simply put, they’re good guys, and that collaborative spirit shines through in their live shows. (Their last album, 2014’s And The Conquering Son, was with Downie. If the Hip frontman makes a surprise appearance in the woods, Burnstown won’t be getting much sleep.)
Patrick Watson vs. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings
Montreal’s Patrick Watson (the band is named after its frontman and primary songwriter) crafts sublime orchestral pop. They took home the 2007 Polaris Prize for a reason; Watson’s a master craftsmen of indie rock.
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s Blackie and the Rodeo Kings are a folk-rock, alt-country, super group featuring Tom Wilson, Stephen Fearing and Colin Linden.
Lucinda Williams, Lord Huron, Terra Lightfoot, Scarlett Jane, Lisa Leblanc, Elle King etc. vs. Mother Nature
CityFolk is chock full of talented female artists, but there’s nary a woman on Neat’s current roster. Nature herself will have to play the misses.
Edge: CityFolk (if you’re keeping score, at this point CityFolk is winning)
The Real Deal
Corb Lund vs. Matt Andersen
A genuine Albertan cowboy and honky-tonk country singer vs. a shaggy-haired blues guitarist from New Brunswick?
Kitty, Daisy & Louis vs. Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers
Three British 20-something siblings inspired by Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, and Louis Prima vs. a gritty Canuck folksinger with a long, wiry beard and half-growled vocals (Ben could be Tom Waits long-lost brother)
CityFolk has a slight edge when it comes to one-on-one contests, but Neat draws even thanks to its unique, woodland setting. Folk music is at its best when it has room to breathe — especially around a potential campfire. Still, the concentration of talent — that also includes the likes of The Sheepdogs and Of Monsters and Men — at Lansdowne is a near-impossible siren call to ignore.
If you’re a true music lover, both festivals are can’t miss.