3 free mini music festivals to see in Ottawa-area this weekend

Looking for some free live music to see in the Ottawa area this weekend? You've got a lot to choose from.

Kemptville's Dandelion Festival, Ottawa Race Weekend Concert Series, Ravenswing Arts and Music Fair

Kemptville Dandelion Festival @ Clothier and Prescott streets, Friday May 23 to Sunday May 25

Marta Pacek plays the Dandelion Festival in Kemptville, Ont., on Friday, May 23. (Facebook)
If one of your favourite things to do is listen to live music under the sun or stars, it's your lucky weekend. We begin in Melbourne, Australia. No flights needed, you'll be transported there the moment you hear Marta Pacek speak. Of course when you hear her sing you'd be forgiven for thinking she hails from Nashville. She's been playing around the Ottawa area for the past week or so, and Friday night her tour takes her to Kemptville. In case you're new to the Valley that's about a 30-minute drive south of downtown Ottawa. Friday night marks the official start of Kemptville's Dandelion Festival. Although the weed is a fixture of the fest, the entertainment is the real draw. The Poland-born, Australia-raised Marta will be on stage for the Dandelion Dinner Friday night. Eat a five-course, dandelion-inspired meal under the stars while listening to Marta croon. 

As for the rest of the festival lineup, I admit that some of the names weren't familiar at a glance. After doing some research I was impressed by programmer Meredith Luce's scope: gorgeous ambient folk from Twin Voices, Gunner and Smith's roots rock, and the terrific bluegrass of Jan Purcell & Pine Road. I did recognize the name Bruce Enloe, playing the Grenville Mutual Stage Sunday, but it wasn't because of his musical prowess. This man knows his way around a meat smoker. His aptitude for Texas BBQ is clear to anyone whose had the pleasure of chowing down at The Branch Restaurant. Turns out Bruce is a singing chef, and he's really good! If he weren't already taken it would be my smoked-meat-loving husband that's next in line. Bruce's brisket is unlike anything I've had outside of Austin, which is where he honed those skills. Bruce Enloe plays with his big band at Dandelion Festival After Dark and then a quieter set on the main stage Sunday. The Sunday afternoon show is free, as is all the daytime entertainment at the festival site.

The Dandelion After Dark shows cost $15 for a wristband that gets you into any of the three venues all weekend long, starting 9 p.m. There are loads of child-friendly shows and activities through the days of the festival, including Little Sprouts Karaoke! Come out Saturday evening to the main stage for Illusion, Twin Voices and two Amandas for the price of free: Amanda Rheaume and me, the MC. It all goes down at Prescott and Clothier streets in the heart of Old Town Kemptville.

Ottawa Race Weekend Concert Series @ City Hall, Friday May 23 to Sunday May 25

Hawksley Workman plays at City Hall on Saturday during the Ottawa Race Weekend Concert Series. (Handout)
If you require your festival to be along the public transit lines, I can one-up that: skip the bus and run to City Hall like everyone else will this weekend. Ottawa Race Weekend is upon us and for the first time that I can recall there's a live music component. Hawksley Workman is headlining the marathon's version of a festival, taking place at City Hall's Festival Plaza. As if there weren't enough of a crowd drawn to the finish line, perhaps the tunes may draw those who may not be inclined to see the inspiring spectacle of race weekend otherwise. All the shows there are also free.

Jim Bryson and Amos the Transparent play Friday night, and right before Hawksley Workman on Saturday is Furious Gord, from Ottawa. Furious Gord created a rock 'em sock 'em number for CBC's hockey song search last year. The stuff on their new record is solid roots-rock but a little less rock-em-sock-em than "Best Game in Town." That being said, the drummer is no stranger to bruises. Te band recently had to cancel a gig because Mario hurt his ankle dirt biking. Furious Gord is going to warm up the stage for Hawksley and the runners Saturday evening,  6:15 p.m. at City Hall. If you prefer a pint in hand, the band releases its debut CD Concession at Irene's Pub Friday night. That's of course a strictly 18-and-over affair and doesn't begin until well after 9:30 p.m. 

Ravenswing Arts and Music Fair @ Minto Park, Sunday May 25, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Gabrielle Giguere, also known as Her Harbour, plays at Ravenswing Arts and Music Fair in Minto Park on Sunday, May 25. (CBC Music)
I've got one more free festival to encourage you to head outside and take in some local market fare. This one is neither out of town, nor the kind you couldn't push your wheels through, should you be in a chair or stroller. Ravenswing is a festival I just happen to hit every spring and manage to accidentally drop a great deal of cash at. From delectable preserves to handcrafted jewelry to silk-screened shopping bags, I've seen (and purchased) it all.

Gary Franks is a multi-talented-music-man-about-town who dabbles in bands like Roberta Bondar and Silkkenn Laumann. He's branching off with his synth sounds to go solo under the sun at Ravenswing on Sunday. It may sound a little like a dark club in the wee hours, which could put some chutzpah in your honey and hot sauce purchase. Other acts include Her Harbour, Just Jamaal, Fire Antlers and DJ Jas Nasty. All play through the day at Minto Park, which is at Elgin and Gilmour streets.


Arboretum Festival (partial) lineup announced!

While we're on the topic of festivals, Arboretum Festival announced some of its lineup this week and it's so good I booked all my summer vacation around it! The festival is expanding to six days of programming this year and features a reunion of the Constantines, making it just about the best ticket in town for homespun, inclusive yet cool programming. It isn't until August but I am doing my music-columnist duty so folks don't wait until July only to find out there are no passes left to buy! It's small and punches way above its weight for its lineup of food and music. 

On Bandwidth Saturday afternoon, my feature interview is with new mommy Jill Zmud. I have the pleasure of introducing Ottawa's transplanted prairie lily Friday night at the NAC Fourth Stage for her sophomore CD release show. Speaking of punching, it's a punch to the heart, her new record. She dealt with the death of her father while she was unearthing the story of her musician uncle, Eddy Clynton, who passed away touring the highways of Ontario back in the 1960s. 


Thursday, May 22

  • Emmure + Upon A Burning Body + Fall City Fall + Equalizer + Abraxas @ Ritual, 7 p.m., $23 (16+)
  • Canailles @ NAC Fourth Stage, 7:30 p.m., $25+
  • Joe Bonamassa @ NAC Southam Hall, 8 p.m., $82+
  • The Unfortunates + Mitch Silvesters @ Zaphod's, 8 p.m., $5 advance

Friday, May 23

  • Stephen Lewis and The Big Band Of One + Lounge Elements @ Avante Garde Bar, time and price TBD
  • Kalle Mattson + The Strain + The Wind and the Wild @ Blacksheep Inn, 8:30 p.m., $10 advance
  • Marta Pacek @ Dandelion Festival, Kemptville, FREE
  • Mari Rossi (DJ) + Lance Baptise (DJ) @ Mercury Lounge, 10 p.m., $TBD
  • Jill Zmud CD release @ NAC Fourth Stage, 7:30 p.m., $19+
  • Il Divo @ NAC Southam Hall, 8 p.m., $53+
  • You've Changed Records 5th Anniversary w/ Shotgun Jimmie, Weather Station, Baby Eagle, Richard Laviolette, Marine Dreams @ St. Alban's Church, 8 p.m., $12 advance, $15 at the door
  • Rommel Ribeiro + Hey Buster + Cornflower Blue @ Westboro Legion, 7 p.m., $10-$20 

Saturday, May 24

  • Double Double @ Atomic Rooster, 4-8 p.m., FREE
  • Glorious Moonrockets @ Atomic Rooster, 10 p.m., FREE
  • Alex Robshaw + Insufficient Funds + Celery Troff + The Revenge of Johnny Skyline @ Avante Garde Bar, time and price TBD
  • Phil Motion + Blak Denim @ The Blacksheep Inn, 8:30 p.m., $10 advance
  • Ginette Rino @ NAC Southam Hall, 8 p.m., $82+ (2 nights)
  • Our Last Night + Remember The Fire + Obyrne + Daisy @ Ritual, 7 p.m., $15
  • John Carroll @ Westboro Masonic Hall, 8 p.m., $20 

Sunday, May 25

  • Erth Juce @ Atomic Rooster, 6 p.m., FREE
  • Dynamite Motel @ Atomic Rooster, 10 p.m., FREE
  • Charlie A'Court + Kev Corbett @ Blacksheep Inn, 4:20 p.m., $10 advance, $15 at the door
  • Ravenswing Festival: Her Harbour + Gary Franks + StillNative + JustJamaal ThePoet + Fire Antlers @ Minto Park (Elgin & Gilmour) 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Ginette Rino @ NAC Southam Hall, 8 p.m., $82+
  • The Courtneys + The Yips + Dreamphone @ Pressed, 8 p.m., $TBD
  • Originals: New Shoots from Jazz Roots Concert @ Shenkman Arts Centre, 8 p.m., $17.50-$22.50 

Monday, May 26

  • John Otway & The Big Band + The Belleregards @ Zaphod Beeblebrox, 8 p.m., $20

Wednesday, May 28

  • Hollow Earth + From Hell + Sombre + Rad Doom @ Pressed, 8:30 p.m., $10 at the door

About the Author

Amanda Putz

CBC Radio Host

Amanda Putz is the host of Bandwidth, which airs every Saturday at 5 p.m. ET on CBC Radio One, 91.5 FM in Ottawa. (CBC)