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It’s Day 4 at the Ottawa Folk festival and as I arrive, The Belle Game are rocking the CUPE stage. The Belle Game are a power pop sextuplet, with origins that lie in Vancouver and Montreal. Though I only caught the last few songs of the set, I enjoyed the harmonies by the vocalist and keyboard player, Andrea Lo and Katrina Jones during their cover of Nirvana‘s “All Apologies”.  The Belle Game will be playing again in nearby Wakefield, Quebec at the Black Sheep Inn on October 14.

Sondre Lerche was up next on the RavenLaw stage.  Lerche opened his set with “Good Luck.”   ‘It’s been 10 years since I’ve been to Ottawa, I must have been 5 years old,”  he joked early in the set “I have no memory of it except I missed you.”

Though plagued by insects and the sound check from Hey Ocean!, he entertained an enthusiastic crowd with only his voice, guitar and distortion pedal playing fan favourites like  “Living Dangerously”, “Taxi Reception” and “My Hands Are Shaking”. Halfway through “Modern Nature” he mentioned that the song is a duet and invited the ladies in the audience to sing along in the third verse Which was something they were very willing to do. ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, that’s how you do it.’ he stated afterwards, clearly moved by the amount of duet partners he had.

Vancouver BC’s Hey Ocean! then took to the CUPE stage. Bass player David Vertesi declared early on “We’re Hey Ocean! Let’s have some fun,” and they brought lots of that throughout the set.

This group, which includes Vertesi along with David Beckingham on guitar and Ashleigh Ball on lead vocals and flute, are not the type of group you can put into a box. Every time I thought I had a fix on them they’d change everything and shatter my expectations (which is nothing but a good thing).

The set opened with ’I Am a Heart’ followed by ‘New Love.’  Ball then dedicated the next song to “…all the ladies that know what it’s like to be in a relationship that’s lopsided… one day you have to wake up and say…” and then she broke into the song “Change”.

Before starting “Fish”, Ball gave us a little insight into the writing process. ‘Our home town Vancouver sits beside this beautiful body of water (that) we can’t help write songs about, or name our band after it, this song is about spending too much time in the water.’

Though Ball did the majority of the vocals, Beckingham and Vertesi has their moments in front of the mic.  Beckingham taking lead on the mellow “Islands” and Vertesi  doing the same on their nod to Dolly Parton, “Jolene” . Another thing that blew away my expectations was the world music-like feel to the song ‘If I Were a Ship.’

As Hey Ocean! played, the crowd in front of the stage grew with every passing melody and they undoubtedly made several new fans.

‘Every summer we come down to Ottawa to rock with you,’ the lead singer of The Sheepdogs, Ewan Currie, stated after opening their set to a blistering jam on the Revenlaw stage , ‘so that’s what we are here to do.’

A large crowed packed in front of the stage, so much so that if you had just saw Hey Ocean! from the right side of the CUPE stage and wanted to see Hayden down at the Tartan stage it  was easier to exit the grounds at a little side exit and then reenter at the main entrance then to battle thought the crowd. Not that anyone was thinking of leaving (even when the rain started) because the Sheepdogs were just cooking. Breaking in early to the tunes “Gonna Be Myself”,  “I Need Help”  and “Please Don’t Lead Me On”  the Sheepdogs play exactly like you’ d want them to live, with strong vocals, great harmonies and blistering guitars. Currie has a great stage presence and bass guitarist Ryan Gullen along with lead guitarist Leot Hanson continually went to he lip of the stage to engage the audience.

The newest Sheepdog, keyboardist Shamus Currie (Ewan’s younger brother), at one point , came to the front of the stage and jammed along with the band on his trombone. Close to the end of the set the elder Currie stated ‘ we have a couple more songs left, and then we are going to drink beer in Ottawa, who’s with us?’  The group then started in favourites “I Don’t Know” and “How Late How Long”. The set then ended the same way it began, with a blistering jam.

The Avett Brothes were up next, headlining the evening on the CUPE stage. The Avett’s are a band from North Carolina, that although have strong roots in country and bluegrass, also draw inspiration from folk and punk worlds.  The group consists of brothers Scott Avett on banjo and Seth on guitar with both brothers sharing lead vocals. Their backing band includes drums (naturally) as well as bass player (who went from electric to upright as the songs required) violin (or is it fiddle) and cello.

With abidance and energy  the Avetts  blistered thorough  “Live and Die”  and “Kick Drum Heart”.  I have to admit It was a first for me to see a cellist playing, jumping and clapping at the same time, nd it was quite a sight to see.

They also took the time to find the tender moments with songs like “Down with the Shine”, “You And I Are The Same” and “Life” and this crowd was with with them for every step along the ride.

So with “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues”  and suggestion from The Sheepdogs on what to do with the rest of the evening day 4  of the Ottawa Folk fest was in the bag.


Photos by: Ryan Seyeau and Laine Gustafson –

The Breakdown

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith really likes music. Like 'more than a friend' likes.

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