Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Review: Serena Ryder "Harmony"

Serena Ryder has been on my radar for the last few months. Her latest single has been playing non-stop on MuchMoreMusic and I am obsessed! This song is so catchy; it's always stuck in my head. You've probably heard of her as well. You have may seen her perform during the 2013 Juno Awards in Regina two weeks ago.

Although I had previously heard of the Toronto singer/songwriter, I had never actually listened to her music before. This is surprising, seeing as Ryder has been making waves in the Canadian music scene for many years.  Her latest album "Harmony", released in November of 2012, is Ryder's 6th full-length LP.

Image courtesy of ca.shine.yahoo.com
The album starts off on a very strong note. The first track "What I Wouldn't Do" is by far my favourite song of the album. It is a catchy and fun tune that exudes really great energy. The song "For You" exudes a very old-school, jazzy flavour. Other tracks that stand out include "Fall", "Call Me", "Baby Come Back" and "Mary Go Round".

Ryder's voice is crisp and mature and her sound is classic without sounding dated. "Harmony" demonstrates Ryder's strength as a songwriter. The songs are similar in themes but they are quite different from one another. In her songs, she deals mostly with love and relationships.

Although I missed her last show at Mavericks this past Winter, I am looking forward to seeing her live at Bluesfest this summer. Be sure to check out "Harmony"; it's definitely worth a listen. In the meantime, check out her video for "Stompa" below. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Back to the Roots of Folk Music

Originally published on Couch Assassin.

This week-end Ottawa's folk music lovers will gather for the Ottawa Grassroots Festival (OGF). The festival is described as an annual family-oriented celebration of folk music, dance, and spoken word. Now in its second year, the event will be taking place over two days at the Rideau Curling Club.

Festival producer Bob Nesbitt is no stranger to the Ottawa music scene. He was the site manager at the Ottawa Folk Festival for many years, during which time he worked with a crew of people who bonded and worked very well together. The team’s work even went beyond Folk Fest, tackling other local events like the Community Cup and the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival. However, when Folk Fest was handed over to new management, Nesbitt’s longstanding relationship with the event came to an end.

Nesbitt was encouraged by his network of friends to create a new festival. Before committing to this new endeavor, he gave the idea some serious thought for about a year and a half. Nesbitt, who is now retired, worked as a general contractor for many years. “I knew how to build just about anything,” he said. Safe to say, this is an important quality to have when one is going to build a festival from the ground up.

Nesbitt added that something was missing in Ottawa's music scene. “Some people wanted a more traditional folk music experience,” he explained. “In the last few years, it hasn't been quite the same as it used to be.”

When asked about the origin of the festival’s name, Nesbitt laughed. “Ottawa Grassroots Festival suits us to a tee," he said. "It’s what we are. We’re in the community, we’re for the community and the whole festival is run by volunteers, including myself. It is the perfect name.” The team behind the OGF is comprised of more than 70 volunteers. “Some of them are folk music lovers, some of them are festival lovers,” added Nesbitt. “Some of them are just part of my old crew and they enjoy working together for a common cause.”

The festival will feature local artists and performers. When choosing the festival lineup, the main criteria Nesbitt was looking was entertainment value. “They must be entertainers, especially for headliners and openers,” he explained. Another factor is the balance of male and female artists featured in the lineup.

Ana Miura is one of the artists scheduled to perform at the festival. Her involvement, however, goes beyond just being a performer: she was one of the people who encouraged Nesbitt to start the OGF. “I worked with Bob [Nesbitt] at the Ottawa Folk Festival,” she said. “We became fast friends over our love of festivals, people and music.”

Miura shared the reasons why she enjoys participating in this particular festival. “The appeal [for me] is two-fold: the love of the music and the sense of community - not only among the organizers but also with the audiences,” she explained.

The festival will not only feature live performances but also a variety of activities and workshops, all free during both days of the week-end (while tickets for the evening performances run from $15-25). Nesbitt hopes to see a lot of families at the festival, because the majority of the programming is geared towards young music fans. “I remember when I had young children of my own, we couldn’t afford to go to expensive entertainment activities,” said Nesbitt. “Most of what we did was stuff that was free… I wanted to provide that to the community.”

Some of these workshops include Madlab, which allows kids to solder their own electronic kits that make different noises. Musical instruments will feature six or seven people acting as specialists of specific instruments, sharing the history of that instrument, and demonstrating how to play it. Afterwards, it will turn into an instrument petting zoo where kids will be able to touch or play the instruments. The workshop Writer’s Block will be led by Greg Kelly and will touch on the steps to making up a new song.

Miura, who is performing Saturday evening, will also be hosting a workshop alongside Amanda Rheaume, another local musician, entitled Producing a Charity Event. “Amanda and I will be talking about Babes4Breasts, a national organization that I founded and which Amanda and I now run together,” explained Miura. “We raise funds for breast cancer-related charities through music.” If anyone wants to learn how to organize a fundraiser, Miura says that this would be the ideal workshop to attend.

The First Time is another event where the artists will share with the audience how they got started in music and what the early years were like for them. “It’s good for the artists because it humanizes them to the audience,” explained Nesbitt. “The audience can feel closer to [them] if they understand them a little better.” Miura agreed: “I'm sure there will be a lot of interesting stories on that one!” she said.

The OGF is one of the many music festivals that will take place in Ottawa during the spring and summer seasons. “We are so fortunate to have so many incredible festivals in the city,” Miura said. “Each provides its own unique thumbprint in terms of programming and vibe, to experience and enjoy.”

Both Nesbitt and Miura agree that the OGF will be a great time for everyone who enjoys great music. But how is the Ottawa Grassroots Festival different from the other festivals in the city? Nesbitt said it’s all about community. “The festival will offer a grassroots flavor,” said Nesbitt. “It’s something you can feel when you walk into this festival.”

Ottawa Grassroots Festival
April 27 + 28, 2013
Rideau Curling Club (715 Cooper St)


Want to get involved? The Ottawa Grassroots Festival is looking for volunteers! If interested in becoming a volunteer, email ogf.vols@gmail.com.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Review: Ariane Moffatt @ National Arts Centre

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to catch a show with a great friend of mine. She had won a pair of tickets, and I'm not usually one to say no to a show (especially if it's free!) So off we went to check out Ariane Moffatt at the theatre of the National Arts Centre.

Now, I had heard of Ariane Moffatt before, but never actually heard her music. I don't usually gravitate towards to francophone music, although I am a big fan of certain francophone artists. For some reason, francophone music rarely appears on my radar. This is unfortunate, because apparently I've been missing out!

Ariane Moffatt is a well-known singer/songwriter from Quebec. Moffatt, whose sound is a fusion of rock, pop, folk and electro, has had a successful music career for over ten years.

Image courtesy of www.cbc.ca
She began her set with songs from her latest album "MA", which her first bilingual record. The album has more of an electronic sound compared to her previous ones, and it's quite obvious that her fans enjoy the new material. Moffatt was rocking out on stage like it was nobody's business, and it was fun to watch. Unbeknownst to me at first, she is currently pregnant with twins.

At one point, her band members left the stage and Moffatt sat down at her keyboards. That's the moment she won me over. She performed a stripped down version of songs like "Poussière d'ange" and "Imparfait". Her vocals are so raw and powerful! It's impossible not to fall for her... Not only does she have an incredible voice and stage presence, Moffatt is also adorable and quite delightful. She has great interaction with the audience, and it makes you love her even more.

The highlight of the show for me was she performed an amazing cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill".

The crowd was quite pleased with Moffatt's performance, and many times, everyone was on their feet dancing, which can be a rarity in Ottawa, especially at the National Arts Centre. Moffatt also did two encore performances, much to the fans' delight.

There's nothing I love more than discovering an artist by going to their show, and then being completely blown away. However, the only downfall of discovering an artist by seeing them live is that sometimes their recordings don't measure up to their live shows. I feel like this is definitely the case with Moffatt. I checked out some of her songs on iTunes after the show, and they don't do her voice justice!

Regardless of this, I can now honestly say that I am a fan. I look forward to seeing what else Moffatt has up her sleeve and I will definitely go see her perform live again. I highly recommend that everyone check out her live show. In the meantime, check out the song "Imparfait" below. It's absolutely beautiful, and I know you will enjoy it!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Broken Music Festival Dreams

Although I was semi-impressed with the Osheaga lineup, I decided that I will not be buying the full festival pass this summer as I had originally planned. There are a few artists that I would like to see. However, the price for a festival pass is a bit steep when you only want to check out a handful of bands.

Image: www.glidemagazine.com
However, this year's edition of Lollapalooza has a phenomenal lineup. Before tickets for Lollapalooza went on sale, my partner and I discussed a possible trip to Chicago to check out the renowned music festival. Unfortunately, it did not seem like a feasable idea for this year so my music festival dreams fell apart. In addition, festival passes and individual tickets all sold out soon after they went on sale. It was insane!

Yes, some of the headliners of Lollapalooza are the same as Osheaga. However, there are more bands that I genuinely want to see. Some of these include Nine Inch Nails, the Killers, Major Lazer, the Postal Service, Band of Horses, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, among others. I'm really sad that I will be missing this festival. To all those of you going: I am jealous beyond words!

But who knows? Maybe during the summer 2014, I will be traveling to Chicago. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Lights! Camera! Tassels!

Originally published on Couch Assassin.

April is going to be one hot month in the nation’s capital. In case you feel there’s a shortage of burlesque shows in this city, the spring will surely change your mind. There are tons of burlesque shows coming your way in the coming weeks. Couch Assassin recently caught up with Ottawa's own Miss Helvetica Bold, founder of Rockalily Burlesque in 2006 and one of the pioneers of Ottawa's scene.

Over the last few years, Ottawa has seen an increase in the number of burlesque troupes performing. Miss Bold shared that one of the factors that led to this surge of performers was the release of the movie Burlesque (starring Christina Aguilera and Cher). “[The movie] was a sad misrepresentation of the modern, underground movement that we have in most cities, but it sure was pretty and glittery,” said Miss Bold. The film definitely gave the impression of glamour, and Miss Bold understands the appeal. “I applaud the performers who were inspired by that movie to start doing burlesque,” added Miss Bold, “especially after they discovered the less glamorous side of [the industry], like blowing your nose to find glitter, and having to sew all of your own costumes.”

Zaphod's is one of the many local venues that hosts burlesque events on occasion. Owner Eugene Haslam said that he enjoys working with local performers. “The troupes we've dealt with are well organized, very entertaining and fun to partner with.” In addition, Haslam feels strongly that the burlesque scene is legitimate and should be taken seriously. “What's important, and may sometimes be overlooked, is that burlesque is an art, with established traditions and nuances. The young ladies who perform today are as much entertainers as they are women of intelligence, beauty and confidence.”

When asked about Ottawa living up to its reputation of being boring and prudish, Miss Bold said that that could not be farther from the truth. She explained that Ottawa has a thriving arts scene, but you have to look for it. “I've had the privilege of performing in a handful of other cities, and Ottawa remains my favourite,” shared Miss Bold. “We, as a city, have real appreciation for our artists and entertainers.” And Ottawa always shows love to its burlesque performers. “Ottawa crowds hoot and holler the loudest when the bra comes off,” she laughed.

With the increased number of burlesque troupes and performances, there is more and more pressure to stay current and keep the crowds happy. “Rockalily began incorporating variety acts many moons ago with live music, cabaret, and juggling,” shared Miss Bold. “I love that burlesque revival has been able to offer a stage to other art forms that are often forgotten. When I produce a show, I make sure that there is more than just striptease.”

Some of the upcoming events will be featuring performers from various troupes in Ottawa, even some from outside of the city. Miss Bold shared that she enjoys working with other performers. “We don't always see things the same way, but I do love getting to work with new people, and more often than not, I am amazed by the creativity and diversity that our growing community has to offer.”

Although there are new burlesque performers and troupes emerging regularly, Miss Bold points out the hard work that was put in to establish the local burlesque scene that we know today. “I feel that some of the veteran performers, and I've been guilty of this, feel like they had to work a lot harder than the newbies to get stage-time. Sometimes I feel like the newbies don't understand that we [the veterans] were running uphill for years to build the foundations of what is now a thriving scene, and they aren't always respectful [of this].” However, at the end of the day, Ottawa’s burlesque performers ultimately support each other. “Despite a little bit of misunderstanding between the old gals and the newbies, we play very well together.”

Rockalilly Burlesque has come a long way since its inception and they are still working just as hard. “We're preparing for Strip Hop (April 27), and the 6th Annual No Pants Dance Party (June 15),” shared Miss Bold . “This time next year, we will be preparing for No Pants 7!”

This week-end, check out the Burlesque Vanguard tour when it stops in Ottawa. The show will feature Paco Fish, a boylesquer from Baltimore, who is touring the US and parts of Canada. Joining him will be Cherry Typhoon from Tokyo, Lady Josephine of Montreal, and from the Ottawa area Jolie Stripes and Miss Helvetica Bold herself.

To get your burlesque fix later this month, head over to Yuk Yuk's Elgin. Red Herring (Toronto) will bring her Babes in Candyland production to Ottawa on April 21, featuring some of Toronto and Hamilton's finest performers, and including Ottawa's own Rockalily Burlesque, Bella Barecatt, and The Mansfield Brothers. On April 26, Burbon&Spice Burlesque will be celebrating troupe member Betty Mae's 30th birthday at the Rainbow while the Jivewires entertain the crowd.

Although April will be a busy month for Ottawa’s burlesque enthusiasts, don’t expect the spring and summer seasons to slow things down. Keep your eyes peeled - the city's many burlesque troupes will be hard at work entertaining and tantalizing us.