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It’s a country-themed sweet sixteen for Westfest 2019

By Bradley Turcotte – 

A country-themed sweet sixteen party is what Elaina Martin has planned for the 2019 edition of Kitchissippi’s multidisciplinary arts festival with multiple Juno award-winning musician Charlie Major strumming as this year’s marquee headliner.

Charlie Major is the Saturday night headliner at Westfest 2019.

Born in Alymer, Quebec, Major is renowned for his nice guy demeanour and musical prowess with his single I’m Going to Drive You Out of My Mind winning the Canadian Country Music Association Song of the Year in 1994.

Expect hay bales and herds of music lovers Saturday, June 8, as the prime Westfest day will be completely devoted to the country genre.

Country music has broad appeal but few will admit to their affinity for its bluesy twang, Elaina says.

“It’s a dirty secret that you love country but you don’t want to tell anyone,” she laughs. Elaina’s own musical background has its origins in country music and she’s looking forward to getting into the spirit with special “cowtown” cocktails and the hoedown chapeaus.

For the time being, the Westfest founder’s lips are sealed as it pertains to all of the acts to expect this summer, but Elaina says other country bands include an outfit from Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and a trio from Sudbury.

On Friday, June 7, prepare for the subversive style of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. The Toronto collective features members who identify as Chinese-Canadian, Filipino-Canadian, Japanese-Canadian and First Nations and the music they produce is tribal and confrontational. Currently on an extensive North American tour, their latest album, Dirt, was long-listed for the Polaris Prize. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s drummer and leader, Alaska B, told Now Toronto the album is the equivalent of an animated sci-fi movie from the 80s that went straight to VHS.

As is Westfest tradition, the festival closes out Sunday highlighting homegrown talent. This year’s weekend bookending headliner is rapper Aspects. Elaina describes Aspects as an “OG, original gangster” who returns to the main stage after performing a rousingly sweet duet with his daughter last year.

“He has worked with Grammy award winners, played with Motown legends, done videos with the Wu Tang Clan,” Elaina touts. “Eminem has rapped about him. [Aspects] is an independent artist of the absolute best kind.”

Always diverse and inclusive, Westfest 2019 will feature countless indigenous, female and queer artists, Elaina promises, including Ottawa’s premiere drag kings and burlesque performers.

“We are digging into some of the real grassroots programming that is going on in our city and we are giving them a platform and a spotlight,” she says.

A panel on collaborative art making inspired by the 83rd Call to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the 2018 edition of Westfest proved to be exceedingly successful and will repeat this year with Cara Tierny moderating.

“We learned how important it was to have that conversation,” Elaina says. Fresh panelists will join the main stage discussion with audience interaction encouraged.

Event producers are opting to move all Westfest programming outdoors this summer after last year’s use of the Tom Brown Arena facilities.

Elaina envisions the thought-provoking and unifying panel discussion “in the daytime with everyone and their children hearing these conversations.”

A storyteller’s series will precede the panel and Elaina says it is deliberate to put “a serious focus on the main stage.”

Now in its second year at the arena, Elaina says the layout of Westfest 2019 will be “tweaked” as the team “continues to make it more accessible” with the children’s area moving to tents in the main festival grounds.

“I want children, families and youth to experience the music and the art. The main stage will be less a stage and more a festival site.”

Westfest is currently in negotiations to secure a main stage, namesake or combination sponsor, Elaina reveals.

Real Canadian Superstore and Beau’s Brewery sponsor and hydrate the festival, which also receives funds from the City of Ottawa and Canadian Heritage. Yet Elaina says Westfest has never completely recovered from its 2015 financial loss and offers a heartfelt incentive to festivalgoers.

On Valentine’s Day, Westfest launches a donor campaign where generous music lovers who float $100 receive one night of all-inclusive access to the VIP area and enjoy a variety of Beau’s brews. Each donor will be entered in a draw for the sweetheart package of two festival VIP passes with backstage access and headliner meet and greets.

With the community response to the 16-year-old festival as rabid and passionate as a teenager, Elaina says there was “never any doubt” the festival would not continue and implores community members to join her army by emailing volunteer@westfest.ca.

“It doesn’t matter who sponsors us, everything about us and our mandate remains grassroots and organic. We want everyone. Every ability, every kind of human out there who wants to take part in community and have fun.”

For additional details about Westfest, go to westfest.ca.

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