Launching Ottawa Grassroots

A national treasure, Juno award-winner Ian Tamblyn and his band will headline a special Friday evening concert April 26 at Ottawa Grassroots. PHOTO: COURTESY OF I. TAMBLYN

by Miranda Green

Walking by a pub at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, one would expect to find it locked up and quiet. However, that wasn’t the case on March 6 for those outside Irene’s on Bank Street. As you made your way past, you would have heard the warm, inviting sounds of guitars, laughter and enthusiastic clapping.

This was the eighth annual Ottawa Grassroots Festival official launch party. The launch united festival veterans and newcomers, both attendees and performers. The performances included Jill Jeffrey, who serenaded listeners with one of her classic upbeat songs. Alongside Jeffrey was Gareth Auden-Hole, known as Jack Pine, who gave the audience a taste of a new song that he will be singing at the festival. Jack Pine is no stranger to Irene’s, as he is performing every Sunday night in April as part of the restaurant’s Sunday Sessions.

Both of these artists will be on the bill at the festival this year, which will take place from April 25 to the 28 at Southminster United Church in Old Ottawa South. The weekend’s lineup is packed full of vibrant and unique artists who were announced at the launch. On Thursday evening, Grassroots attendees will enjoy a multi-genre performance by francophone artist Davy Poulin, whose songs resonate with emotion and pull on the heartstrings. Opening for Poulin is Francois Lemieux from Blind River, who has performed for English and French audiences all across Canada.

The Toasted Westerns (Ann Downey, Jody Benjamin and Sally Robinson) are reuniting to open Friday evening’s performances, providing listeners with the opportunity to hear them perform for the first time in a decade. Following their show will be Juno-award-winning Ian Tamblyn who has released countless songs over 38 albums, as well as produced for other artists.

Saturday evening performances are headlined by Indigenous duo Digging Roots, who bring their award-winning blend of blues, folk and hip hop to enchant listeners. Opening the evening will be an address by Grassroots favourite Albert Dumont. Dumont is a poet, storyteller and teacher who strives to educate the community on Aboriginal spirituality and healing. Also opening is Doreen T Stevens, whose spirit name is Anamitagize-Odaying or “one who speaks with the heart.” This title will be evident through Stevens’s moving and genuine songs.

Sunday afternoon at Grassroots will be a unique and powerful performance by Siginiup Qilauta, also known as Sunsdrum, who will be showcasing their throat singing and Inuit games. Sunsdrum will be followed by Jessica Pearson and the East Wind, a trio fronted by Pearson that brings melodic folk, roots and bluegrass sounds to tell vivid stories of growing up in Canada.

Along with the many musical performances throughout the festival, Grassroots also features hands-on sessions that range from a kids’ zone, a baby and toddler workshop, a gardening lesson and sing-along circles.

Running a festival as complex and involved as Grassroots requires a lot of help. The festival is entirely volunteer run, relying on helpers to lend a hand in all facets of the festival. Positions include communications, on-site production, accessibility, registration and greeters, box office, merchandise sales, raffle and silent auction, kitchen crew, and finally, set up and tear down.

Bob Nesbitt, festival founder and producer, explains how significant these volunteers are. “Running a festival has taught me a number of things over the years, but probably the most important is how a festival can unite a community. By community, I’m really talking about several communities. There is a community of artists, the local community, the Ottawa community, but most important of all is the community of volunteers.”

Grassroots volunteers do not need any prior festival experience and will enjoy the opportunity to see first-hand how a festival is run, from the intricate behind-the-scenes details to the final public performances. The Grassroots community is welcoming and inclusive, like a family, close-knit and rewarding. There are some loyal volunteers who have been a part of the festival since the beginning, as well as many newcomers who join the team each year.

Those interested in volunteering for Ottawa Grassroots are encouraged to visit the volunteer page on the festival website. We encourage anyone and everyone to come and be a part of this special festival!

Once the festival has come to a close and all the hard work has paid off, Irene’s will be the generous host of another gathering. The festival after-party will take place on Sunday, April 28, and will again feature Jack Pine and a variety of other performers. This party will celebrate another joyous and inclusive weekend of music, art and culture that is known as the Grassroots Festival.

Miranda Green is an Algonquin College student in Event Management and Journalism who is volunteering with the festival this year. She loves cooking, watching live music and exploring new spots around the city.

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