Well, I guess Summer is officially over, but it certainly went out with a bang here in Ottawa. This past weekend was CityFolk Festival and it was packed with a slew of great acts, headliners and supporting alike.

While I wasn’t able to attend the first two days, Friday through Sunday did not disappoint! My CityFolk experience began with by far my favourite set of the year, Big Thief. Touring as a trio and lead by AdriAnne Lenker, this Brooklyn outfit had such a simple and honest stage presence. Lenker began with a few acoustic tunes from their new album Capacity, before picking up her electric guitar and joining the band under a sheet of calculated feedback. Lenker’s lyrics are sincere yet piercing stories of seemingly biographical events; there’s no nonsense. Big Thief was in the middle of a 6 month tour when they stopped in Ottawa and Lenker said she really wanted to be able to connect with the crowd. Unfortunately, she had sound troubles and found it difficult to hear herself over the music coming from the outside main stage, so Big Thief finished out their set moving back into a few acoustic tunes highlighted by Lenker’s classic folk vocals.

Scott Helman | Photo: Mark Horton

Saturday was a scorcher for a mid-September day and it brought the fans out in droves to see Fred Penner, The Philosopher Kings and Common Deer to name a few. The main stage was closed out with an Ottawa first-timer, Father John Misty. Opening his set with a string of songs from his new album Pure Comedy, the eccentric performer wowed the crowd with his unbelievable vocals. Songs of social and political commentary like “Ballad of The Dying Man” without a doubt struck a chord with those in the crowd. Josh Tillman (the man behind the moniker) left it all on the stage, dancing his way through the set, and occasionally falling to his knees. Tillman said little in the way of banter other than being notably in awe of the set before him, referring to Corb Lund and Ian Tyson. An acoustic encore of I Went To The Store One Day was a touching way to end the set before the crowd moved into Aberdeen Pavilion to rock out their night with Matt Mays.

Rose Cousins|Photo by Mark Horton

Lastly, CityFolk closed out the weekend with another heatwave and a slew of amazing bands on Sunday. This day had more of what I’d consider to be in the folk vein of things with Rose Cousins bringing out local musician and producer Jim Bryson, and a jaunty set from the always crowd-pleasing Bahamas. The final act of the festival packed the Ravenlaw Stage with everyone wanting to preserve that last bit of summer and as Scott Helman and his band took the stage, you knew he wouldn’t disappoint. Helman’s come quite a long way from playing a mid-day slot at Ottawa Bluesfest two years ago, with his then hit of the summer, Bungalow. Fresh off the release of his new album Hotel de Ville, Helman played a mix of new and old tunes sprinkled with solos from guitarist Callum Maudsley. There was no shortage of die-hard fans with the whole venue singing along to tunes like Tikka and Machine, and listening intently while Helman spoke about how processing a difficult situation led him to one of his heavier songs, Ripple Effect.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to think that this year at CityFolk was really one for the books. It was quite an improvement in terms of sound and line-up compared to the past two years and we can only hope that means this evolving not-so-folk festival will continue to up the ante. Here’s to the end of a great summer of music in Ottawa!