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With a second stage of programming, brisk advance ticket sales and an “uptick” in volunteers signing up, this year’s edition of CityFolk, which starts Wednesday and runs through the weekend at Lansdowne Park, signals a return to something close to normal for Ottawa’s COVID-battered festival industry.
The festival kicks off with a rare Ottawa appearance by Iggy Pop, the 76-year-old Godfather of Punk, who’s due to hit the TD Stage at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Other headliners include Can-rock chart-toppers Arkells, returning Thursday after selling out TD Place last fall, English rockers Bush on Friday, Icelandic blues-rockers Kaleo on Saturday and Hozier, the Irish superstar who fell in love with Ottawa when he played CityFolk in 2018. He returns Sunday.
“During the COVID years, we shied away from expanding or doing some of the things we might have traditionally done,” said festival director Mark Monahan, who’s also in charge of RBC Bluesfest and the Festival of Small Halls. Marvest, the free concert series featuring local artists in unexpected venues along Bank Street, was one thing that dropped off the program during the pandemic.
CityFolk ran a virtual edition in 2020, followed by two years with a pared-down program on one big stage, attracting about 5,000 people each night. But Monahan said feedback from festival-goers last year made him realize that people like having another on-site option, and like seeing local acts in a festival setting.
To accommodate, there’s a new, secondary stage, dubbed the Courtside stage, which will be housed in a large tent (the same one used as Bluesfest’s SiriusXM stage), set up on the plaza near the basketball courts at Lansdowne Park.
Courtside is where you’ll find artists who lean to the folkier end of the spectrum, including singer-songwriter-activist Allison Russell, Swedish troubadour The Tallest Man on Earth, Cape Breton folk-rockers Villages, and the harmonious Newfoundland and Labrador duo Fortunate Ones.
Ottawa-area artists are also in the Courtside spotlight, including a salute to Ray Charles by soulful singer Jeff Rogers with a 12-piece band and an appearance by singer-songwriter Kristine St. Pierre.
As for the main stage, sponsored by TD, it’s back on the Great Lawn, and sightlines have been improved for spectators who want to sit on the grassy hill. Collapsible lawn chairs are allowed in a designated section of the main field. You can bring a blanket and soft-sided cooler, too, although all bags will be searched at the gate. Don’t forget it’s a cashless event.
Organizers are expecting about 10,000 people a night this year, which is still not quite back to pre-pandemic attendance of 15,000 a night, but it’s on the right track, Monahan said. “Our ticket sales are up slightly over last year,” he said. “So it’s been encouraging.”
There’s also been an “uptick” in volunteers signing up, Monahan noted, attributing the increase to people feeling more comfortable about going out. This year’s volunteer team numbers close to 700 people.
“There were a lot of people who had not been participating in the things they would normally do and were hesitant to go back to those things,” Monahan said. “A year later, although we still have COVID, it doesn’t seem to be as severe and people are coming back.”
For tickets and complete schedule information, go to cityfolkfestival.com.
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