Top 10: Must-See Artists of Ottawa’s CityFolk Festival 2015

It’s that time of year again, folks.

Days are inexplicably hot, while the cool, early-on-setting darkness makes the evenings suddenly drop in temperature. Children of all ages (including university children and big children also known as “teachers”) go back to school, and the nation’s capital buzzes with excitement for the unofficial closing ceremony of summer festivals: Folk Fest (or CityFolk as it’s now known).

Wintersleep (Photo by Scott Munn; courtesy of Hand Drawn Dracula)
(Photo by Scott Munn; courtesy of Hand Drawn Dracula)

The four day music festival brings together talented acts from across the globe and although the name suggests it is strictly “folk” music, there is some variety in the lineup, including ’90s rock, soul, and pop music. For example, you can find yourself dancing along with Canadian pop group Walk Off the Earth, then jamming out to folk rock group The Avett Brothers, and finally taking in the eccentric indie rock of Halifax’s Wintersleep (that’s essentially half of Thursday night’s performances FYI).

And if you haven’t heard of any of those artists or know very little about them and are planning on attending this year’s festival then I would a) suggest you continue reading, and b) prepare to be impressed because it’s time for the Top 10: Must See Artists of Ottawa’s CityFolk Festival 2015.


10) Wintersleep

(Thursday Sept. 17 @ 10:00pm)

Hatched from a song writing session between friends in Halifax almost a decade ago, JUNO Award winners Wintersleep have impressed audiences since the days of their explosive hit “Weighty Ghost”. Five albums later, and with another on the way (*silent fist pump*), the five Haligonians have sustained a rich, textural sound that can range from folky-collective to distortion-fuelled rock. Not to mention their live performances are fantastic.


9) Of Monsters and Men

(Saturday Sept. 19 @ 8:30pm)

Icelandic folk pop group Of Monsters and Men released their sophomore album Beneath the Skin back in June of this year after dropping the instant-hit “Crystals”. But their continued success is thanks to their breakthrough chart-topper “Little Talks” that captivated music lovers around the world. Jangling horn melodies, dance-inducing rhythms, and the irresistible combination between lead singers Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (gesundheit) and Ragnar Þórhallsson (frog in your throat?) is something to look forward to – not to mention their extensive touring band that fills the stage with bodies and music.


8) Elle King

(Friday Sept. 18 @ 8:15pm)

If you haven’t heard already, Rob Schneider’s daughter (look closely, you’ll see the resemblance) is a fantastic musician. Elle King’s debut record Love Stuff didn’t just unleash the soulful blues hit “Ex’s and Oh’s”, it also contained plenty more jangling, alt-country tracks that have yet to hit the radio. Janis Joplin springs to mind when you hear her reach for those rough, sharp notes. Be sure to check her out – and sorry if you can’t un-see the Schneider connection.


7) Passenger

(Sunday Sept. 20 @ 6:45pm)

Ah, Michael David Rosenberg, or as he is more commonly known as: Passenger. The British singer-songwriter melted hearts with his international hit “Let Her Go” from his fourth studio album All the Little Lights back in 2012, and then proceeded to hit the ball out of the park with his 2014 follow up record Whispers (an album we believe is worthy of 5/5). His honest lyrics and unique vocal style combined elegantly with his folk-driven sound to captive music lovers (especially of the young female variety, but not exclusively) and earn his ranks in the popular music world. Whispers II was released earlier this year in the U.K. as a charity record with proceeds going towards UNICEF UK along with a short film (not only is he talented but he is also generous – win/win).

(And if your first thought is “wow, he resembles Ed Sheeran quite a lot”, you’re not far off – the two are friends and loyal musicians; Sheeran is credited and thanked on his albums).


6) The Avett Brothers

(Thursday Sept. 17 @ 8:30pm)

Seth and Scott Avett are the fronting duo of The Avett Brothers, along with multi-instrumentalists Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon. Originally from North Carolina, the Grammy-nominated troupe can be described as rowdy, eccentric, electric, and compassionate all in the same breath. With 8 studio albums and other recordings under their belt, 2012’s The Carpenter continues to be their most successful record, birthing the single “Live and Die” and accentuating their gleaming roots-folk/Americana sound (plus, who can forget the happy-go-lucky single “Kick Drum Heart”?).


5) The Sheepdogs

(Saturday Sept. 19 @ 6:45)

Sheepdogs (Photo by Matt Barnes)
(Photo by Matt Barnes)

Prairie rock group The Sheepdogs exploded out of Saskatoon in 2011 after winning an international competition to be on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, eventually building a sturdy fan base and going on to win five JUNO awards for their soul-crushing rock n’ roll sound. Their biggest hit “Feeling Good” has been used for numerous advertisements, on countless summer playlists (including one of ours) , and for bringing crowds to their feet during their exciting and animated live performances. Releasing their fifth official album Future Nostalgia October 2nd, the burly boogie boys should not be missed.


4) Everyone Orchestra

(Saturday Sept 19 @ 10:30pm; Sunday Sept. 20 @ 10:00pm)

When you hear the words “improvisational” and “musical” it often conjures the image of a bunch of wanna-be blues musicians who couldn’t get out of their hometown for whatever reason and have given up writing songs so they just jam on open mic nights at your local blues bar. Or it can be the right combination for a one-of-a-kind sonic experience that involves a regular house band that never plays the same thing twice and members of the audience. Yes. You. Audience members. Matt Butler is the conductor of the unique project, and his idea stemmed from an impromptu jam session while touring India with various foreigners communicating solely through music. Massive cue cards, audience participation, and a fresh whatever-happens-happens mentality is sure to be an exciting way to close off the weekend.


3) Will Butler

(Saturday Sept. 19 @ 5:30pm)

Will Butler (Photo courtesy of Billions)
Will Butler
(Photo courtesy of Billions)

Texas-born multi-instrumentalist Will Butler has a pretty solid grasp of the music world. Core founder of the award-winning indie rock band Arcade Fire (yay Canada!), DJ, score writer for the 2014 film Her, and countless other musical accomplishments, Butler also released his debut solo album Policy back in March of this year to positive reviews (no surprise). His live performance will most likely be his recent solo work, but he has also been touching back into electronic influences and inspirations so it will be interesting to see what he pulls out of his sleeve. I also hope he whips out his Pulp Fiction dance from the “Anna” music video.


2) Van Morrison

(Friday Sept. 18 @ 8:30pm)

It’s Van Morrison. Excuse me, Sir Van Morrison. He just turned 70 a few weeks ago (tick, tock). He’s definitely going to play “Brown Eyed Girl”. Of course you have to see him.


1) Wilco

(Sunday Sept. 20 @ 8:30pm)

Wilco (Photo courtesy of WilcoWorld)
(Photo courtesy of WilcoWorld)

Wilco encompasses everything FolkFest stands for: iconic songwriting, stellar musicianship, and varying musical styles within the world of country, alternative rock, and folk. Formed over 20 years ago in 1994, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco have released nine studio albums (including Star Wars which was a surprise free download from July), ranging from experimental folk (2012’s The Whole Love) to inspiring alternative rock (2008’s Sky Blue Sky). Decades of performing and crafting their skill is just the tip of the iceberg for Wilco’s anticipated appearance.


Tickets can be purchased at, along with the full schedule for the festival and the free Marvest shows, plus don’t forget to check out the Honourable Mentions (a.k.a. everyone else – seriously, the lineup is fantastic – Walk Off the Earth, The Barr Brothers, Lord Huron, Built to Spill, UB40, Lee Harvey Oswald, Patrick Watson, Fred Penner….)

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