Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ottawa Folk Festival

Here we are in Ottawa once again, this time for the 15th annual Ottawa Folk Festival. There are some big names on the mainstage this year (Broken Social Scene, Sarah Harmer, Rufus Wainwright), but I expect that, as always, it's the bands you discover over the course of the weekend workshops that really make the festival special.

My man and the Francophone drove out ahead of us on Wednesday evening in order to make a couple of public presentations at the Museum of Civilization on Thursday and Friday, so the Photographer and I flew out together Friday evening - on Porter Airlines! My first flight from the island airport - I was so excited to be able to walk there from work. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to see protesters just outside the terminal building - but the airport is so much a part of my everyday life that I forget there are folks who still object to it. I can see it from our office window, and I don't find the noise of the jet engines any more or less noticeable than the streetcars that rattle along Queens Quay day all day long. And the planes are so beautiful - elegant and sleek, their flight fascinates me in the same way it did when I was small - there is something so splendid about seeing them that close, whooshing across your line of vision.

Sadly, my first Porter flight was not as smooth as it could have been. Bad weather wherever our plane flew in from, combined with bad weather here in Toronto, meant our 7pm flight didn't leave until 8pm. And once we'd boarded, there was a further half an hour delay with a checked bag missing a passenger. But at last we were up in the air! A glass of wine and a boxed snack later, we were in Ottawa. Fantastic!

Euan from the Festival office was on hand to pick us up, and we grabbed our bags and hit the road - it's a half our drive to the hotel. Five minutes down the highway, Euan's cell phone rang to ask if we could go back to the airport and pick up one more passenger - so back we went. Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the car with our addition - Dallas Good of the Sadies, fresh from the Havelock County Jamboree.

We arrived at the festival hotel, the Brookstreet, in Kanata, by 11pm, and found my Man and the Francophone drinking wine in our room. We shared couple of glasses and a Caesar salad from room service, and then off to bed.

Saturday morning we met at 8am for breakfast in the hotel's restaurant before heading over to the festival site at Britannia Park. The boys all had the enormous but delicious-looking breakfast buffet - but I had the Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon - and I'm glad I did! They were perfect, and there was no way I could have done justice to the buffet.

Arriving at the site, we discovered the organizers had put us in the Dance Tent - a huge big-top style tent with a full stage and elaborate lighting rig, in front of which was laid an enormous sprung plywood dance floor. As you'd guess, the music programmed in this tent was chosen with dancing in mind - everything from Cajun to bluegrass to samba, rock and country. Some of these choices were less successful than others, but it was a brilliant idea, and the audience seemed to love it - especially the children.

Because we had the Francophone with us, my help wasn't required to run the photo booth (it's a three man job), so I was free to watch the bands performing in the tent, and to wander the site and catch some of the music being made elsewhere. Musical highlights of the weekend - for me - were Donna the Buffalo, and a fantastic workshop with members of D-Rangers, Wil and Lonesome Paul. Lyn Miles was also wonderful - as usual.

Knowing we had a long day ahead of us on Sunday, we opted to eat in the hotel that evening. My man had been raving about a wonderful appetizer he'd had the night they arrived, and so we checked out the restaurant menu before heading upstairs to shower and change. The most intriguing option was the prix fixe menu, comprised of four courses for $50 - except between 8pm and 9pm, when you could choose three of the four courses for only $30. Sign us up! We convened in the lobby at 8:30pm and were sipping aperitifs by 8:45pm.

We all started with a cocktail: Pernod for my Man and the Photographer, a dry gin martini with extra olives for the Francophone and I.

All of us ended up choosing exactly the same options from the menu: a tartlet of pulled pork and chanterelle mushrooms to start, followed by "foie gras3"

foie gras sorbet, foie gras foamed and layered in a shot glass, and foie gras in rounds over toast.

Wild boar was the main.

Aside from the boar, which was ever so slightly overdone and didn't really taste "boar-y", the foood was some of the most entertaining, creative and delicious I've had in ages. I should also mention the wine list, which was extensive and exciting - and clearly visible, in the form of five enormous, softly-lit and climate-controlled glass displays forming a pillar - and focal point - in the centre of the restaurant. The service was attentive and professional, and the wait staff were very knowledgeable and eager to talk about the food and drink they were serving. All in all, a very successful evening! And how nice not to have to drive home, but to simply be able to roll oneself gently in the direction of the elevator and bed.

Happy and replete!

Sunday was a scorcher. The tent was stuffy and close by midday, but outside the breeze blew cool from the river, and enormous willows provided welcome shade. Close friends who live in Ottawa came by to visit with their adorable offspring, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon lying in the shade and catching up.

I haven't yet mentioned the festival hospitality because frankly it was not a highlight. Some festivals put a lot of thought and effort into providing varied and healthy backstage hospitality and green room space (Calgary springs to mind immediately), but Ottawa seemed to struggle a bit with its food and drink (I'd imagine it's often a budget issue), and provided mainly variations on the theme of burgers, fries and corn over the two days. All prepared and served by their incredibly pleasant and friendly volunteers, of course!

By the end of the day we were all spent, and only had energy enough for a light meal in the hotel bar. The Photographer and I had the fish and chips (disappointing chips but absolutely exquisite fish), the Francophone had a spinach and goat cheese pizza, and my Man (who felt a cold coming on) had the Thai soup. All accompanied by more of the hotel's delicious wine.

My Man and I had a dish of their beautiful sorbet "to go" and took it back up to our room to enjoy in bed.

Monday we headed home - with the obligatory stop at Pan Chancho in Kingston for pate de campagne, Quebec cheese, take-out sandwiches, and something new - a frozen Tunisian lamb pie. It is still in our freezer, waiting to be consumed…