By Andrea Tomkins –
This year’s 15th-anniversary edition of Westfest promises fans something familiar, as well as something new.
The familiar: a diverse roster of entertainment with fresh artists to discover. The new: a location that comes with extra perks.
“There is so much going on this year, and I’m psyched,” said Westfest event founder and producer, Elaina Martin in an exclusive interview with KT.
The 2018 festival line up was announced March 4 at Cube Gallery during a special edition of the All-Star Fundraiser, co-hosted by Councillor Jeff Leiper & Ottawa musician, Jim Bryson. Yellowknife’s award-winning Quantum Tangle, featuring vocalist Tiffany Ayalik and singer/guitarist Grey Gritt, headlined the event.
[Click on photos below to enlarge.]
First, the new Westfest location: Westfest is taking place June 8-10, outdoors, on the grounds at Tom Brown Arena 141 Bayview Rd.). Like in previous years, there’ll be a main stage, a family zone, food trucks, a VIP area, and artist and business booths. The most notable change is the earlier end to the evening program on the main stage, which will shut down at 10 p.m. The festivities, however, will move indoors, upstairs in Tom Brown on the Friday and Saturday nights of Westfest weekend. Visitors can expect a licensed bar and dance party on Friday night (June 8) with Ottawa DJ del Pilar and Craig Domenic. The Saturday night after party (June 9) will feature River City Junction and Mi’kmaq artist Thomas Starwalker Clair.
Elaina forecasts “huge” crowds for the 2018 festival compared to its previous site at Laroche Park. With its proximity to transit and busier thoroughfare, she predicts that by next year organizers may have to shut down the strip between Bayview and Wellington just to accommodate the crowd the festival will start to draw again.
The indoor space at the arena lends itself to another new opportunity for Westfest organizers. Residents are invited to Tom Brown on Saturday morning from 11 a.m. to noon, for what promises to be a lively panel discussion about the importance of cross-community collaborations moderated by Cara Tierney.
“It’s really about discussing and working together to understand and educate each other on intersectionality and the importance of cross-community collaborations,” explained Elaina. “At Westfest, we’re always striving to eliminate the barriers that affect queer people, people of colour, and marginalized/racialized people. So how do we move these things forward, well it’s about intersectionality, about all of us working together.”
A well-known aspect of Westfest has always been the community stage, a welcome opportunity for young and new groups to perform in front of an audience, sometimes for the first time. A big part of Elaina’s mandate is to shine a spotlight on younger performers and up-and-comers.
One of the “hardest plights” that artists have is simply getting heard, said Elaina, especially if they’re new. “We’ve always prided ourselves at Westfest, on being that festival that gives people those starts.”
“That’s a big part of what I do, it’s thinking: who needs this, and who can we help.”
Last year at Laroche Park, the community and youth stage partnered with the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO). According to organizers, the performances were so well-received they’re bringing them back on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Family Fun Zone.
Free festivals don’t just happen by themselves and Westfest wouldn’t exist without its corporate sponsors. Beau’s Beer has come on board as a sponsor for this year’s event. Elaina also sings the praises of festival sponsor, Ottawa real estate broker Thom Fountain.
“This is somebody who has really embedded himself into this festival,” said Elaina. “Not only is he our main stage sponsor… but he’s increased his sponsorship [and has] given us multiple opportunities to fundraise all year long… He’s certainly been an angel in our pocket these last couple of years.”
This year’s main stage line up is a diverse mix of performers, many of whom hail from the Ottawa area.
One act to look out for on Friday is Witch Prophet. “This is Lido Pimienta meets Bjork,” describes Elaina. “Really interesting, on the rise, really going to blow people away.”
Friday night’s main act is Bear Witness (A Tribe Called Red) an electronic music group known for its blend of hip-hop and Indigenous music. Accompanying them will be Indigenous youth dancers, Rhonda Doxtator and Sunrise Biidaaban.
“Friday night to me – I shouldn’t say this because each night is a treat – but Friday night’s got my heart,” said Elaina. “It’s a real launch to the rest of the weekend.”
Westfest’s Saturday night headliner was announced in October. Legendary Canadian rock band, The Pursuit of Happiness, is performing a 90-minute set. Formed in Toronto in 1985, TPOH scored with hit single I’m An Adult Now. The group retired in the late ‘90s but never officially broke up. This will be the first festival performance of The Pursuit of Happiness in over 20 years.
“I’m bringing my hairspray and letting my hair grow,” laughed Elaina, who joked she may or not be sporting parachute pants for their performance.
Also on Saturday: Folk duo Kris & Dee from Kingston. Kris is the lead guitarist from TPOH. Some fans may remember their Westfest performance in 2015 when the festival was in Westboro.
Other highlights of this year’s festival include dancer, Artin Avaznia. Elaina estimated it’s been 11 years since there was a contemporary dancer on the main stage. “He going to take over the stage for a 10-minute contemporary dance piece,” said Elaina. “This is an Ottawa contemporary dancer that nobody knows and they’re going be ‘holy sh*t where did this guy come from.’” Artin is performing on Saturday.
Ottawa’s spoken word/musical artist King Kimbit recently cut a double CD of her spoken word music. The daughter of Vietnamese boat people, the audience can expect “strong and powerful storytelling” of King’s experiences. King Kimbit performs on Sunday.
Sunday night’s headliner will be familiar to Westfest fans. Cody Coyote, an Indigenous rap artist, will be performing with Indigenous dancers, Frazer Whiteduck and Sunny Paippatoo. According to Elaina, there’s no better person to close this year’s festival. “He’s a really kind and wonderful young gentleman,” she said. “He’s young and talented and he’s up for a Juno this year.”
Westfest 2018 LINE UP
Friday, June 8 on the main stage (5 p.m. – 10 p.m.)
- Every Woman Drum Group
- Leonard Sumner
- Silla + Rise
- Witch Prophet
- Artin Avaznia
- Headliner: Bear Witness (A Tribe Called Red)
- Theland Kicknosway
- Rhonda Doxtator
- Sunrise Biidaaban
- DJ del Pilar – After Party – Upstairs Tom Brown Arena – $5 cover
- DJ Craig Dominic – After Party
Saturday, June 9, Tom Brown Arena (1 p.m. – 2 p.m.)
Panel discussion – “Cross Community Collaborations” with Cara Tierney
Saturday, June 9 on the main stage (2 p.m. – 10 p.m.)
- Iyondo Ede & the Leaning Lights
- Kris & Dee
- Julie Corrigan
- Kimberly Sunstrum
- Rita Carter
- Headliner: The Pursuit of Happiness
- River City Junction – After Party – Upstairs Tom Brown Arena – $5 cover
- Thomas Starwalker Clair – After Party
- Mauro Scatozza – After Party
Sunday, June 10 on the main stage (2 p.m. – 10 p.m).
- The One World Choir
- Bad Parent
- Tyler Kealey
- Lake Urmia
- King Kimbit
- Bella Straight
- Jade London
- Frazer Lee Whiteduck
- Headliner: Cody Coyote
For more information about Westfest, go to westfest.ca.