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

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