Westfest 2017 continues tradition of boosting the local music scene

By Andrea Tomkins –

Last summer was the first year for Westfest in its new home at Laroche Park in Mechanicsville. This year’s festival promises to deliver an equally diverse mix of programming for music lovers from Kitchissippi and beyond.

Westfest producer, Elaina Martin, revealed details of the 2017 festival in an exclusive interview with the Kitchissippi Times.

Photo of Elaina Martin by Andre Gagne
File photo of Elaina Martin by Andre Gagne.

It’s a new roster of performers and there are some tweaks to the venue but two major aspects remain the same: Westfest is still free and the commitment to new, up-and-coming artists is as strong as ever.

“Like the last 14 years of programming, Westfest has always been a platform for young, amateur artists in which they can experience a big stage and experience opening for a big name,” says Elaina.

Audiences are guaranteed to see something completely new. Take, for example, River Doucette, a flutist beat boxer. “You’ve never seen anything like this, and that’s what I love,” says Elaina.

It’s been a personal mission of Elaina’s to give local performers a leg up – especially ones who have traditionally been underrepresented in the mainstream.

“I am all about introducing things to our audience and our community. I want people to leave Westfest thinking, ‘that was sick, that was awesome. I loved that.’”

Elaina says it’s the Westfest she’s always dreamed of producing. Although she refuses to play favourites, she is particularly excited about bringing Kimberly Sunstrum to the main stage. Elaina describes her style of music as being similar to the intimate and thoughtful melodies of singer-songwriter, Tracy Chapman.

“Kimberly is a young female, a woman of colour, and a solo guitarist. She’s mind blowing,” describes Elaina. “She’s a local Ottawa girl and nobody knows her.”

Kimberly’s set is a short one, only a few songs on Sunday night, designed to surprise and delight.

“I needed to give her this shot, and show her that she can do this if she wants.”

Headliners this year include Deejay NDN and A Tribe Called Red (electronic dance beats with elements of First Nations music), Monkey Junk (defined as a rock and roll/swamp/blues band and winners of a Juno Award in 2012 for Blues Album of the Year) and Lemon Cash (which Elaina describes as “the next Canadian Maroon 5.”).

Festival veterans already know that if you want to discover some great music, don’t just time your visit to coincide with the headline acts. Participants are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, sun umbrellas, picnic blankets and coolers and make a day of it.

Feedback about 2016 was “mostly positive” says Elaina. The grassy, intimate setting, she says, was the right choice for this kind of festival.

Although there are trees around the perimeter of the park and in the children’s play area, festivalgoers noted the need for extra shade last year. In response, Westfest will be providing extra canopies in strategic places and work harder to remind people to bring umbrellas and sunscreen this year.

Other changes are planned for the Westfest kid’s area, which was located next to an existing playground and splash pad and will be again this year. This year, however, fencing will separate the children’s space from the rest of the park. Although the details are still to be worked out, Dovercourt Recreation Association – who has once again come on board as an event sponsor – will be providing child-minding services so parents can take a bit of a break during the festival.

“It’s huge for everyone, but imagine what that means for marginalized people… people who can’t afford a babysitter,” says Elaina. “Westfest is free, and we’re about eliminating barriers for people so they can come and experience and take part.”

Accessibility is a key component of Westfest and it’s taken on a much greater meaning than ever before. For Elaina, it’s about a festival that is truly accessible for all.

Dovercourt will be improving access for people in wheelchairs with the addition of rubber mats and walkways. More volunteers also will be on hand to provide special assistance if needed.

Festivalgoers can also expect a larger Indigenous Pavilion as well, with more artists, food, and various family friendly activities such as weaving workshops.

There will also be more food available for purchase and the addition of covered seating.

Westfest 2017 will be taking place June 2-4. The complete list of performers and full schedule is available at Westfest.ca.

Fundraising party

Photo by Andre Gagne

Westfest’s second annual fundraising party – Westfest ALL STAR! – is taking place on Sunday March 5 from 2-7 p.m. at Orange Art Gallery and promises to be a who’s who of Westfest alum and 2017 performers. Hosted by Jim Bryson and Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper, it’s a chance to sample some great live performances, craft beer, wine, and food.

There are only 120 tickets available and can be purchased via Westfest.ca. for $100. All proceeds from the event will fund Westfest 2017 programming.

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