Westfest returns to its roots (plus bonus video)

By Jack Lawson –

Kitchissippi’s 12th annual Westfest will return to its roots as a street festival this year, moving from the Real Canadian Superstore to outside the Clocktower Brew Pub at 418 Richmond Rd. Headlining the two-day festival will be six-time Juno nominated musician Sarah Harmer.

Westfest founder Elaina Martin, Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper, and surprise guests Kris + Dee ushered in Westfest’s official lineup at the Clocktower Brew Pub. Photo by Jack Lawson.
Westfest founder Elaina Martin, Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper, and surprise guests Kris + Dee ushered in Westfest’s official lineup at the Clocktower Brew Pub. Photo by Jack Lawson.

“We’re going back to our roots, bringing the stage back to the street… it’s 10 blocks of programming and 100,000 people,” says Martin, the lead organizer and founder of Westfest.

Westfest was first launched as a not-for- profit in 2003 and will continue to be a free event. Visitors will be able to come and go as they please, while enjoying music from three different stages.

This year Westfest will be bringing 16 musicians to the stage, and six literary artists as part of Westfest LIT. The downstairs lounge of the Barley Mow at 399 Richmond Rd. will play host to a decidedly adult audience. Subject matter will vary from the romantic and racy to the comedic absurd.

“Communally it’s fantastic because we pull so many people together under one roof,” says Sylvie Hill, the curator of Westfest LIT. “To my knowledge this is the first time we’ve dealt with such racy themes.”

This year Westfest will operate on a budget of about $800,000. New sponsors include the Ottawa Citizen, 580 CFRA, and CTV Ottawa, according to Martin.

“We built a new sponsorship package this year. With that we were able to secure five or six new sponsors,” says Martin.

Even with the additional sponsors, Westfest will still run primarily thanks to Westboro businesses. Just under a third of the $800,000 for the festival will come from
 business owners in the
 community.

“Our whole mandate is about being free and accessible,” says Martin. “We’re really in our own category in this city.”

The press event on March 12 was hosted by Coun. Jeff Leiper. Although the focus of the event was on Westfest’s headliners and return to its origins, Leiper mentioned that he hopes to bring more life to Ottawa’s music scene during his tenure as councillor.

“What we’ve seen is that… devoting resources at the municipal level has helped,” says Leiper. “The city doesn’t have a role to play in promoting the acts… but what the city can do is play a connector role in this musical ecosystem.”

Attendees of the festival launch were also treated to a sneak preview of two acts that will be performing at Westfest. The first was 11-year-old Theland Kicknosway, a Wolf Clan Potawatami/ Cree Nation Walpole Island member, singer and grass & hoop dancer. The second was Kris + Dee, a pair of Kingston-area musicians who were listed on CKCU’s Top Artists of 2012 list along with Leonard Cohen, and Lucinda Williams.

“We are visitors here for sure,” says Dee Abbott of Kris + Dee. “But the community has made us feel very welcome.”

Westfest will take place on June 13 and 14. A full list of performers can be found at westfest.ca.

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