Local talent takes to the stage at Ottawa music festivals

Jesse poses for a photograph with a red guitar.
Kitchissippi-born guitarist Jesse Greene will rock the Bluesfest stage on July 7 with her bandmates. Photo provided by Jesse Greene.

By Bradley Turcotte

Ottawa will be booming this summer as music festivals make a comeback. 

Touted as the largest music festival in the country, Bluesfest runs July 6 to 16, with headliners like Weezer, Shania Twain, and the Foo Fighters.

Kitchissippi-born guitarist Jesse Greene, along with her bandmates, Kitchissippi resident Dave Schroeder and Jeff Asselin, rock the Barney Danson Theatre stage at Bluesfest, July 7 at 8:00 p.m.

Born to musical parents, Greene first played piano before switching to guitar while attending Canterbury High School. Greene recalls playing in a Beatles cover band with the school principal as their drummer while wearing a mop on his head. “We were not popular,” Greene laughs.

With influences ranging from Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt to Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin, Greene’s output is powerful and raw, pulling from blues, folk, and rock. 

Jesse Greene Band’s Bluesfest set will be “an outpouring of emotion,” Greene previews, as her mother, Heather Walters, passed away earlier this year.

“It was heartbreaking. She has been my biggest supporter. She did all the graphic design for the band. She was an amazing singer and an amazing person. I am going to be doing some tributes to her,” Greene said.

Currently a guitar teacher, Greene previously taught as part of the Bluesfest School of Music and Art and says she loves playing the festival as “it’s close to home and I’ve always been treated well.”

Looking forward, Greene is spearheading a women’s collective and review to encourage and showcase women, as well as members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, who play “rock, rhythm, and blues.”

“Women desperately need this. I think it’s been 20 years since we’ve had a women’s blues review here. I’ve got a big list of eager musicians who are ready. I’m talking about getting some funding for the collective, and going to Toronto and trying to bring some of that goodness from the Toronto Blues Society back here,” Greene said.

Petr poses for a photograph while holding an instrument.
Westboro’s Petr Cancura is Ottawa Jazz Festival’s programming manager. Photo provided by Petr Cancura.

It’s a humorous observation that many Ottawa music fans say Bluesfest does not exclusively showcase blues acts. But Ottawa Jazz Festival’s programming manager Petr Cancura says Jazz Fest lives up to its name.

“It is a very curated festival. We pay attention to the quality of the music. We continue to pride ourselves on that,” Cancura said. “I am thinking about our overall model, which is to fill the soul and present artists who tell an authentic story. I can confidently say we are heavily jazz.”

Jazz Fest takes over downtown June 23 to 30. Cancelled in 2020 and held virtually in 2021, this year’s shows are a return to normal, said Cancura, as last year many artists did not tour due to the pandemic. More international artists were able to join the line up this year.

With stages at the NAC, Confederation Park, and City Hall, Jazz Fest is structured to resemble a “giant nightclub” with a lot of “solid party bands like Grammy nominated Cuban artist Cimafunk,” Cancura said.

Other performers at this year’s festival include Juno-winner Feist, Brad Mehldau Trio, Icelandic artist Laufey, and the John Scofield Trio.

Seminal musicians Herbie Hancock and Buddy Guy are some of the last living connections to the origins of jazz, Cancura noted. “I don’t know if people realize how special it is to see those two in particular.”

Born in the Czech Republic, Cancura calls Westboro home and will be “sitting in on many sets” at Jazz Fest as a saxophonist. He developed his taste for brass at 15 when he heard Lenny Pickett on Saturday Night Live. Cancura studied music at Carleton University, as well as in Boston, and will release an album as part of the trio Mod Cons, with Charlie Hunter and George Sluppick, on July 7. Cancura described the trio’s sound as “1950s rock and roll.”

Many of the shows featuring Cancura are part of the Jazz Festival’s Hometown Club Series taking place the week before the official festival dates at venues like Irene’s and Live on Elgin.

“This is something we have never tried before,” Cancura said. “When we do a lot of the free programming during the festival, it kind of gets lost because it is competing with all the visiting artists. But this way it puts the focus on all this homegrown talent that we’ve got.”

There is no shortage of talent performing at CityFolk, September 13 to 17. Produced by the same team as Bluesfest, CityFolk closes out the summer at Lansdowne.

 “I’m really looking forward to Gov’t Mule,” said AJ Sauve, City Folk director of media relations. Gov’t Mule features Warren Haynes who is best known for his work as guitarist extraordinaire with the Allman Brothers. 

“I’m also looking forward to Kingston-formed rockers Headstones, American singer-songwriter David Kushner, Swedish singer-songwriter The Tallest Man on Earth, upstate New York pop-rockers X Ambassadors, and, of course, Hozier.”

Punk pioneer Iggy Pop, 76, makes his Ottawa festival debut at CityFolk on September 13.

“He’s this iconic figure who doesn’t really tour on a regular basis so you have to get a one-off date,” said Mark Monahan, CityFolk executive director. “He’s not someone you’ll probably ever see here again. I picture him with Lou Reed and David Bowie. They’re part of an era we’re losing connections to.”

In an effort to make the festival more accessible, CityFolk has a layaway plan this year, where festival goers can put a $20 down payment towards their ticket.

“If Bluesfest is an indicator, we’re going to have a very strong year,” Monahan said. “We’re hearing that a lot of festivals are having the best year they’ve had since the pandemic. People are a lot more comfortable with going out.”

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