By Chris Lackner
Get an education in culture. From acrobats to buskers, and blues to classical, learn how Ottawa sizzles in July and August. We also talk
to festival architects and artists for an insider’s scoop, and highlight all the must-see performances.
Violinist Marc Djokic performs at Music & Beyond. (Credit: Shayne Gray)
Music & Beyond
July 4 to 17
Quick Study: Beyond is the key word. This classical music and multi-disciplinary arts festival melds music with everything from visual art and drama to poetry, comedy, circus and dance. It entered the summer festival fray in 2010 and quickly distinguished itself.
Grade A: Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman (July 10) is a force of nature. Christopher Plummer presents Shakespeare and Music (July 8 and 9) on the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The actor performs favourite scenes and sonnets backed by the festival orchestra. Music & circus combo: Hebei Acrobatic Troupe.
Measha Brueggergosman performs at Music & Beyond.
Local Lesson: The primary venues are downtown churches and concert halls, so you can escape the summer heat with a sonic and visual treat.
MonkeyJunk perform at Bluesfest.
Quick Study: This multi-genre, multi-stage festival offers the size, scope and star power of Bonnaroo or Coachello, but sets them steps away from downtown amenities like hotels, restaurants and public transportation. With an all-star lineup of Canadian and international acts, B is for breadth.
Grade A: Peter Bjorn and John (July 7) serve as Swedish ambassadors; The Lumineers (July 9) serve up hos and heys; Billy Idol (July 7) brings wisdom; The Decemberists bring whimsy (July 13); MonkeyJunk bring the blues (July 14-17).
Billy Idol performs at Bluesfest.
Local Lesson: The 3-day pass ($119) is ideal for weekend tourists. Best advice? Wander. The best concert experiences are typically found on the smaller, less crowded stages —where you can often land a front-row view. For the adventurous, the refreshing water of Westboro Beach is an 18-minute bike-path away.
Ottawa International Chamberfest
July 21 to Aug. 3
Te Amo, Argentina at Chamberfest.
Quick Study: Intimate, beautiful venues with great acoustics and even better variety. Yes, there will be classical music small ensembles – but also street music, electronic music, children’s shows, jazz, multimedia, and medieval chants.
Grade A: A musical tribute to the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada (July 22). Presented in partnership with the Capital Ukrainian Festival, the concert will be headlined by Toronto’s Gryphon Trio, along with guests Russell Braun (baritone), Monica Whicher (soprano), Graham Oppenheimer (viola), and Ottawa choir the Ewashko Singers. Their performance includes choral works by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. Te Amo, Argentina transports audiences to South America (July 24); Celebrated soprano Marie-Josée Lord stars in Femmes (July 21).
Gryphon Trio performs at Chamberfest.
Local Lesson: The late-night shows of Chamberfringe feature more surprises than Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets.
Ottawa International Buskerfest
July 28 to Aug. 1
Pyromancer performers at Buskerfest.
Quick Study: This free Sparks Street festival attracts street performers – musicians, acrobats, contortionists and more! – from Canada and around the world. True to the busking tradition, patrons are encouraged to “pay what you can” into the Buskers’ hats.
Grade A: Double down on summer heat with Pyromancer (aka “the flaming fart guy”) or the circus acrobatics of Pancho Libre. The fest’s 25th anniversary will be marked by 25 acts!
Checkerboard Guy performs at Buskerfest.
Local Lesson: Sparks Street has its share of eateries, but top-tier pubs and fine dining are a short walk away on Elgin Street, the Byward Market, and Bank Street Promenade.
Arboretum Music Festival
Quick Study: On its fifth anniversary, the late-season sonic showcase plants new roots at Ottawa’s City Hall. The inclusive outdoor and indoor festival offers olive branches to local artists, chefs and craft brewers with special events, vendors and venues.
Noise rockers METZ perform at Arboretum Fest.
Grade A: Jeremy Gara (Arcade Fire’s drummer), California art-house rapper Mykki Blanco, noise rockers METZ, New York rapper Junglepussy and Canadian rock royalty in the form of Sloan. The band pays tribute to the 20th anniversary of their seminal album, One Chord to Another; that’s guaranteed to bring out “the good in everyone.”
Sloan perform at Arboretum Festival.
Local Lesson: City Hall’s outdoor space is intimate and convenient — ideal to host a festival village and multiple stages. This is the fest for new discoveries; showcase venues around the city offer a must-do scavenger hunt of the city’s live music scene.