Westfest Ů a Festival for the Senses

Westboro Village, Ottawa
June 10-11, 2006
Westfest, the music and arts festival held in Ottawa's Westboro Village on June 10 and 11 was definitely a treat for the senses.

There was amazing live music all weekend long and food vendors on every block selling hot dogs, veggie dogs, and Indian food. The smell of delicious curry lingered in the air while the musicians performed on the main stage. In front of Lululemon, the popular yoga retailer, there were free yoga sessions in which many young girls eagerly participated. Everywhere you turned, there was a dog with its owner, sniffing its way to the 'doggy rest stop' in front of Bark and Fitz, a specialty store that sells organic dog treats and other goodies for your beloved hound.

This trendy, growing neighbourhood is home to the hip artsy citizens of Ottawa who live with an environmental conscience. It is the perfect venue for Westfest. With its community feeling and love for all that is grassroots, Elaina Martin, the founder of Westfest, knew right away that Westboro had the potential to host this spectacular festival and make it into something exciting for the whole city to enjoy.

While the festival offered something for everyone with visual, literary, dance, spoken word and performance art, music was certainly the highlight of the weekend. Westfest showcased some of Ottawa's finest talents such as folk-rock singer Jim Bryson (who surprised the crowd on Sunday evening by bringing on stage none other than Kathleen Edwards), jazz singer Kellylee Evans and Ember Swift.

Westfest gave its fans not only a taste of Ottawa talent, but of artists from the rest of Canada as well. Headlining bands from outside of Ottawa included the Skydiggers and the Cash Brothers.

This year, organizers also decided to experiment with some new art, offering the audience a complete segment of spoken word artists on Sunday afternoon. This fresh new offering included DJ Morales, Doretta Charles, Greg Frankson, a.k.a. Ritallin, John Akpata and Mosha Folger. "Our segment went really well" says Frankson. "It was the first year spoken word had its own segment. I think as years go by, it will grow in popularity."

One artist who grooved her way into the audience's hearts was Evans, an urban jazz singer with a smooth haunting voice. Evans, a native of Ottawa, has exploded into the American scene and is even bookstore Barnes and Noble's feature artist of the month for July.

Her music is energetic, rhythmic and addictive, drawing comparisons to Sade, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. Her lyrics are accessible and people can relate to her music, especially in songs like "I Don't Want You to Love Me" and "You Don't Remember My Love" a song about living with somebody with Alzheimer's.

At one point during her performance, Evans ran into the street, dancing among the crowd, urging people to "get up on [their] feet." She eventually had the whole crowd, young and old, doing a line dance, left and right, in the middle of Richmond Road.

That kind of celebration is exactly what Martin had in mind when she created Westfest. It all began in 2003, when Martin was hired by the Westboro Business Improvement Area (WBIA) to create a Westboro Day with local musicians and artists. It was such a huge success she decided to expand on the idea. "She decided to dream big÷she loved the idea of having a large street party" says Suki Lee, communications director for the festival.

The most exciting part about the festival is that the public is able to take in the sights and sounds free of charge. During a time of government cutbacks, especially to arts organizations, it is difficult to launch such a large arts festival, let alone refuse to charge the public a fee. So how do they make it exist? "That's all Elaina!" exclaims Lee. "She has received some seed money from the WBIA÷and with that she is able to leverage sponsorships."

The local businesses are not slow to catch on - sponsoring such a widely-attended event means extra exposure and extra sales. According to the Ottawa Citizen, merchants in the area have already reported strong weekend sales because of the festival.

Writer: Aysha Raad Gil

Photo:Aysha Raad Gil

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