An explosion of festivals
Another new festival was just announced, and it’s called Arboretum. The other new festival — or new-ish, as it launched last year — is the Ottawa Explosion, and co-organizer Luke Martin has a clear idea of how it fills a need among so many other festivals as it moves into its second year.
“It’s really aimed at underground music,” says Martin, a co-organizer of the festival and also a performer. “We’re not interested in bringing bigger and bigger names. The bands that play us are not headline bands, they’re not selling out 500- or 1,000-plus halls anywhere. These are all bands that for the most part are pretty young bands. They have no illusions about the music industry or being famous, for the most part. They’re like the people that we know in the Ottawa underground garage punk and power pop and pop punk scene, but from around North America.”
It’s also distinct in where it takes place, he says. “It’s an urban festival … it’s not happening in a park. It’s happening in clubs and in driveways.” Those are venues dear to Martin’s tour-veteran heart.
“I like playing in clubs, I like seeing shows in clubs,” says Martin, who will play the Explosion as a member of Boyhood, and has played countless clubs with other bands, most recently the White Wires. “Something gets lost when there’s 30,000 people watching or 10,000 people watching. The intimacy is different.”
Different? He’s being kind. There’s nothing intimate about a concert with tens of thousands of people in the crowd — which doesn’t make a big show a bad show, but it does lose something that you can only get in a small club.
“It’s nothing against the bigger festivals,” he stresses. “I get it. Those are mainstream festivals and certainly they do a great job and try and diversify. I think Bluesfest does a really good job trying to include local bands. Westfest does the same, and certainly the festivals are great for what they are.” (Martin will perform at Bluesfest this year with the White Wires, and has played the festival in the past with Million Dollar Marxists, including one incendiary show with a muddy mosh-pit when the festival was still around city hall.)
The Explosion grew out of the annual Gaga weekend, which for three years was organized by local musician Ian Manhire (also in the White Wires). When Manhire bowed out, Martin stepped in with co-organizers Emmanuel Sayer and Azarin Sohrabkhani, chose a new name and “tweaked” the format.
“We’re trying to represent what’s happening with current music. These people are playing music for fun, you know. I don’t think any of these bands are expecting to be the next (he pauses) … ”
I suggest the bands at the Explosion don’t want to be Nickleback. “Yeah,” he says. “Definitely not.”
The lineup is a feast of underground sounds, with plenty of local bands (Robots Everywhere! The Creeps, Camp Radio, Kloven Hoofs, Fogbottom), bands from across Canada (Solids, Metz, the Nymphets, Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs) and from the United States (Crow Bait, Night Birds, the Men, Low Culture). At least 60 bands are scheduled to perform over five days, June 13 to 17 in clubs and more impromptu spaces around the city core.
Arboretum will have some musical overlap with Ottawa Explosion when the inaugural festival is held on Sept. 15, but otherwise it’s a much different event.
“The ultimate goal for Arboretum is to provide the region with a yearly camping-inclusive, region-defining, boutique music and arts festival, set in a natural location,” says a statement. “The site will reflect our region’s bounty of green space, and will give festival goers an opportunity to experience high-calibre art, culture, and food from local restaurants and regional farms, all in an immersive, natural setting.”
For this first year, the festival will be held in the ByWard Market on the grounds of Arts Court and the Ottawa Jail Hostel, which will be transformed “into an urban oasis thanks to partnerships with local artists and Carleton University’s Architecture students.”
Most of the two-dozen-or-so acts announced so far for Arboretum are from the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor. Acts include Andrew Vincent and Jokers of the Scene. There’s also a food component, with some of the city’s best restaurants involved (Whalesbone Oyster House, Wellington Gastropub, and Pascale’s all-natural ice cream, which is so good it should be a controlled substance). There’s a drink component (Beau’s Brewery, Kichesippi Beer, and others), and art galleries such as SAW and Galerie d’art d’Ottawa are involved.
The festival is launching a fundraising effort to raise $15,000 this year.
What: A festival of underground music, featuring at least 60 bands
When & where: June 13 to 17, in clubs and impromptu spaces around the city core.
Tickets: There are afternoon and evening lineups that are each $5 or $10, with a free closing show Sunday afternoon. A pass for the entire festival is $45.
Information: See the lineup and other details at ottawaexplosion.blogspot.ca
What: A “camping-inclusive, region-defining, boutique music and arts festival” that includes music, gourmet food and drink
When: Sept. 15 on the grounds of Arts Court, 2 Daly Ave., and the Ottawa Jail hostel