By Andrea Tomkins –
[Updated: 8:45 a.m. March 28/2016]
The theme of this year’s Westfest is “Homemade Jam,” an apt symbol for an event that is returning to its roots as a community festival with a fresh focus on local arts and culture.
The Westfest lineup was announced at a launch event held at the Orange Gallery on March 23. It’s a commitment to Ottawa talent, both established and new.
Past editions of Westfest have had one day devoted to Ottawa artists in the lineup, but this year there is more local content than ever before and plenty of music to discover.
The festival kicks off Friday June 3 at 4:30 p.m. with “family night” programming. “It’s going to be amazing,” said Elaina Martin, Westfest founder and producer. “People are going to be blown away by these interesting, awesome acts that are right here in Ottawa.”
Westfest Family Night will start off with a bang in the form of Westfest Tam Tam with Dr. Lee. Dr. Lee is a percussion-based musician and teacher whose performance credits include Cirque de Soleil. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own drums.
Other family entertainment on Friday: Sing Song Party Time with Derek McKinley, Rock the Arts Puppet Show, Magic with an Edge by Rynestone, and Giants of Junk by Junkyard Symphony. Family night will be capped off with Metis family dance troupe, Prairie Fire, who performed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s swearing in ceremony.
At 9:30 p.m. as the kids are getting tucked in bed, the poets will make their appearance.
“This year’s Westfest Spoken Word programming will help kick off the weekend with some of the best Spoken Word Ottawa has to offer,” said John Akpata, spoken word artist and curator of Westfest Spoken Word programming for 2016. “We will be presenting the powerful slam style of Apollo the Child, the Hip Hop swag and musical stylings of King Kimbit, the beautiful prose of storyteller and playwright Jacqui Du Tot, and the words of one of Ottawa’s hardest working spoken word artists, JustJamaal ThePoet. Your ears and mind will be expanded!”
Elaina described the lineup on Saturday and Sunday as a great opportunity for local performers who could use some extra attention.
“These are stellar acts that will really blow people away,” she said. “Most of these acts aren’t seen on a big festival stage.”
Giving young people a chance to be in the spotlight is a longtime Westfest tradition. This year’s youngest performers include Churchill School of Rock and the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band, who will be among the acts performing on Saturday morning.
Traditionally, Westfest always had a big name that captured the attention of mainstream music lovers and could be counted on to draw a crowd. So who’s the Sarah Harmer, the Sloan, the Bif Naked for 2016? The answer is simple enough. “Bif isn’t from Ottawa,” said Elaina. “This year it’s The Souljazz Orchestra, who’s up for another Juno this year.
“If we’re looking for someone who has not headlined Westfest before, while still being headliner material, The Souljazz Orchestra is it,” she said.
The Souljazz Orchestra is a “superstar band” that has been playing sold out tours overseas and just happens to be from Ottawa. For Elaina, they represent an international act that may not be getting the local love they deserve.
Other musical acts on the schedule for Saturday and Sunday include The Lionyls, The Split, Troubadours, Lucky Ron & the Rhode Island Reds, and Luther Wright and the Wrongs. Luther Wright is half of Kingston’s Weeping Tile, which Elaina described as “one of Canada’s biggest and most successful rock groups ever.”
Also on the roster, the Duo D’accords, Kitchissippi artists who have been playing on a stage at their Tweedsmuir Avenue home for over 20 years.
Elaina said the focus on homegrown talent grew of out the confusion that followed after Westfest lost its sponsorship from the Westboro Village BIA in 2015.
“The last eight months have been hard on me personally, it was really difficult for me to shake off the blur of that whole mess. What really got me out of that was the support of the community and the support from Ottawa musicians,” said Elaina in an interview with KT before the official launch.
“The arts community mended my broken heart. I just felt like I wanted to give back. So I said, ‘Let’s do a whole weekend of Ottawa,’ because let’s face it, Ottawa’s music scene is massive.”
In fact, her experience planning Westfest this year had her feeling a bit of déjà vu. She said laying the groundwork for this year’s event felt a lot like it did at the very beginning, before Westfest got big.
“Outside of Jane Siberry, almost everyone was from Ottawa in year one,” said Elaina. “This is really back to Westfest roots, grassroots… like the grass between our toes kind of grassroots.”
And there will be a lot of grass this year. Given Westfest’s new location at Laroche Park it will be a very different kind of festival.
“It’s going to look like a very big family reunion,” laughed Elaina. “There will be families, lawn chairs, blankets, and picnic baskets, coolers, kids and dogs…. It’s going to be really open, with tents, vendors, and food trucks.”
Elaina is looking forward to actually attending her own party this year and adds that the new location and change of direction has been a blessing in disguise.
“I feel like it’s going to be the family festival I always wanted it to be.”
For more details about this year’s lineup, go to westfest.ca.