Ottawa Citizen

‘Good things come to us’

Reconfigur­ed site, terrific music make Westfest a success

- BY LYNN SAXBERG

Elaina Martin, the buzz-cut, tattooed producer of Westfest, has a tendency to brag about her little festival.

“We’re the best,” she said backstage last night, “We do good things and good things come to us,” she reasoned, and after last night’s remarkable evening, no one could argue with the approach.

What good things? Well, for starters, after a dire forecast, it turned into a beautiful evening. The reconfigur­ed site was a big hit. People brought their kids, the music was terrific and everyone was smiling. Even Cara Tierney’s wacky plan for everyone’s cellphone to ring at 9:30 p.m. turned out to be a neat idea. A hush fell over the crowd as we listened to each other’s ring tones.

While Martin chalks her good fortunate up to her bond with the Creator, much of the positive karma has to be attributed to the fact that the festival is free. What’s even cooler is that her programmin­g creates the same topnotch musical quality as bigger, paid events. The one thing music fans like more than getting something for free is getting something really good for free.

Starting with the diverse instrument­al ability of I see rowboats and ending with a rousing blast from the Joel Plaskett Emergency, all of the acts on last night’s bill gave impressive performanc­es. A short set by Toronto-based singer-songwriter Matthew Barber was an early highlight. With his band, the Union Dues, the tall, blond southpaw cast songs from his latest album, the excellent Ghost Notes, in a soft sonic glow, his ballads generously sprinkled with both rock ’n’ roll crunch and lyrical flare, like a wordy James Taylor.

Grand Analog’s beat-laden funk came next, lending an urban flare to the festivitie­s as the sun went down. Darkness brought the “crazy electric rock scene” of Land of Talk, Elizabeth Powell’s siren-like voice commanding attention. “This is awesome,” she said, looking out over the people flocked in front of the stage, and stretched along a couple of blocks of Richmond Road. Crowd estimates ranged from 5,000 to upwards of 8,000.

In terms of the new site, by far the biggest improvemen­t is the grass underfoot. In previous years, the mainstage has been right on the asphalt of Richmond Road, but because of constructi­on, it’s been forced into a nearby park, lush and green.

Idyllic, yes, though limited in space. Large sections along both sides of the park are barricaded, with the beer garden on one side and the VIP area on the other, cutting into the territory available to the average concertgoe­r.

The festival continues today with a day-long celebratio­n of the musical contributi­ons of Canadian aboriginal women, to be capped off by a performanc­e featuring the Canadian folk icon, Buffy Sainte-Marie.

 ?? JEAN LEVAC, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN ?? A short set by Toronto-based singer-songwriter Matthew Barber was an early highlight of Westfest yesterday.
JEAN LEVAC, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN A short set by Toronto-based singer-songwriter Matthew Barber was an early highlight of Westfest yesterday.

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