It’s always a bittersweet feeling, the end of sensational festival like City Folk, but there’s no doubt that this was one of the best editions of the festival yet and we could not have asked for a better ending. The weather was perfect, the mood was mellow, and the acts were outstanding to say the least.
The beginning of the end of the fest on Sunday night for the bus was in a small, but intimate crowd at the Ravenlaw stage for NEFE’s performance. A truly inspiring young woman, NEFE is used to playing in bars and her interaction with the crowd really shows that. Engaging with the room more than most other acts, the Guelph native puts on a show that just screams soul. Her vocals are huge, varied, wide ranging – all enough to truly captivate her audience every time she takes the stage. Her heart is on her sleeve and you can genuinely feel it when you see her perform. Before playing her beautifully heartwarming love song written for her mother, she told the crowd about how her mom hated the jeans that she wore, but she decided to wear them anyways. The whole set nothing but lovely, but the stand out moment was when she covered Amy Winehouse’s Valerie, bringing attendees to tears.
Following suit with another uplifting set, Bahamas took the time to shine a little light on showing love. Talking about “daddy issues” and how to aid a person in overcoming such feelings, Afie Jurvanen told the crowd of how his father left before he was born and never even sent any monetary aid. “My dad left before I was born and never sent money or anything. I realize now that for people like that, I have to show them more love than they’ve ever felt before, because they didn’t get that when they were younger,” adding that if you see someone cutting you off in traffic, that you “don’t flip them off, you blow them a kiss.” Making the short trip over from Toronto, he noticed on his way into the city that a lot of Ottawans are dressed in active wear. “You guys are a fit bunch, take pride in it.” The female vocals from Felicity Williams were striking enough to send chills down your spine and Jurvanen’s banter with the crowd contrasted it wonderfully. Getting the whole crowd going back and forth with him during Bad Boys Need Love Too, he had a way of making everyone feel like it was just them hanging out. Thanking Ottawa for its hospitality, he closed out his set by saying thanks for all the wonderful catering and noting that when they were doing sound check he felt like he was “busking outside of a U2 show.”
The theme of the night seemed to be peace and inspiration, but when Sweet Crude took the Ravenlaw stage, it was all about the fun. With smiles from ear to ear on both the front man and woman, it was abundantly clear just how much fun they were having up there. Jumping around and dancing, the two had chemistry that could even be compared to Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis of July Talk. She is quite vivacious. Watching the two of them up there was almost like watching a live music video in the making. So animated that you could tell she was going between characters and really sticking to the ones she chose, her voice was loud enough that it could be that of an opera singer’s. Not many bands can be called truly unique, but with their out for fun vibe, interesting stage set up, full use of characters and mix of french and english vocals, it’d be hard to say that they are anything but that. Sonically, their sound is as large and full as the Arcade Fire, but everything else about them is quite one of a kind. Covering Fleetwood Mac’s If You Don’t Love Me Now, the New Orleans group showed a bit more of their diversity. The definitely quirky group of musicians finished up with one of their fully french songs, telling the crowd to “all come together in a giant primordial soup.”
Closing out the City Stage was one of the most legendary acts that Ottawa has ever seen. Beginning his display of peace and love in music with covers of Elton John’s Your Song and Lou Rawls’ Dead End Street, Sixto Rodriguez shared life lessons with Ottawa throughout the show. “So many people talk about peace, but you have to practice peace. You have to smile. That’s the first lesson in peace and we’re going to do that together.” Hearing Rodriguez was tough, but the audience was so captivated that you could hear people shushing each other. While his covers of songs like the Beatles’ Somebody To Love and the Doors’ Light My Fire were magnificent, it was when he played Sugarman that the crowd cheered loudest. “I’m from the 70’s, you know,” he said, giving even more meaning to his statement “get your hugs, stay off drugs.” His story is unquestionably one of the most interesting tales of a musician who didn’t even know he was one of the biggest sensations around – while living in dives in Detroit, working labour jobs to make ends meet. Life has a funny way of treating you, but in the end it makes you who you are, and his path humbled him greatly. “It’s an honor, a pleasure, and a privilege to be here with you tonight,” he said, happy to be playing for such an adoring crowd. Although it didn’t seem he was intending to be, he was quite comedic, and if you have not seen Sugarman, you need to stop reading this article right now and turn it on.
It was like two completely different worlds finishing off the festival, with Scott Helman rocking the Ravenlaw stage as Rodriguez’s breezy set put the City Folk stage to rest. A 21-year-old on one stage and a 75-year-old on the other, the staunch contrast between the two was a perfect description of how perfect of a family festival City Folk is. The conversations at the City Stage were about the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane, while Helman was being called out for making a “Taylor Swift” song as he told the crowd that “this song is about someone who was just not cool to me, which was great, because I got to write a mean song about them,” before closing out the festival with Gaslight.