[More from photographer Ross MacDonald and reviewer Dave Lee. – AC]
Before we get to the headliner on day four at Ottawa’s CityFolk we will go back to cover a pair of bands that made a strong impression on the side stage two days earlier.
Montreal alt-folk band Redfox kicked off Thursday night and if anyone was expecting a typical quiet folk band, they were in for a huge awakening. Redfox have a very full and upbeat sound. And just because they have a fiddle and banjo onstage, they are not a copycat of Mumford and Sons; or any other band for that matter.
Redfox are creating their own unique sound that is sure to get everyone on their feet and dancing. The harmonies created by lead singer Daphnée Vandal and guitarist Jono Townsend were intoxicating. If you get a chance, Redfox are a must-see.
Next up was Sweden’s The Tallest Man On Earth (aka Kristian Matsson). And once again he wasn’t playing quiet sit-down folk music; there were no campfire versions of ‘Kumbaya’. If anyone sat down between the bands while the stage was being set up, Matsson got them right back up and dancing again.
Matsson grabbed his mandolin (and later acoustic guitar) and was non-stop bouncing all around the stage. It was great to see such a huge audience at the second stage, but it did become quite congested due to Matsson’s dynamic performance.
If CityFolk continues to book phenomenal artists like Redfox and Tallest Man on Earth, they are going to need a side stage with far greater audience capacity.
Back to Saturday evening: It was another beautiful night in downtown Ottawa as the early evening stirred to life once again for day four of Ottawa CityFolk festival. The night was Icelandic blues/rockers KALEO’s turn to headline the main TD Stage. The band warmed up the stage with the sultry blues intro to ‘Break My Baby’ as lead singer Jökull Júlíusson (aka JJ) slowly made his way onto the stage with a beautiful red Gibson ES335 hollow body guitar slung around his neck.
Júlíusson, now sporting long locks tucked under a tan Stetson, led his four-piece band through a powerful 90-minute set of blues infused rock. Drummer Davíð Antonsson, bassist Daníel Ægir Kristjánsson, lead guitarist Rubin Pollock, and harmonicist Þorleifur Gaukur Davíðsson were energetic and tight.
Júlíusson exhibited his proficient whistling talents on the intro to ‘I Can’t Go On Without You’ and a whistling ‘solo’ on ‘Automobile’. Their song ‘Backbone’ featured a blistering guitar solo from Pollock that drew applause from the audience.
It must be noted that a unique element to the KALEO sound is the incorporation of steel pedal guitars by Davíðsson.
Júlíusson strapped on a beautiful Cherry sunburst Les Paul and grinded out a funky riff to ‘Gringo’ that featured a harmonica solo by Davíðsson. This song was followed up by the punch rocker ‘Alter Ego’ that featured multiple solo spots for the talented members of the band including a drum solo from Antonsson and a bluesy guitar/harmonica solo exchange between Júlíusson and Davíðsson that brought deafening cheers from the Folkfest crowd.
The band followed this up with the only song from their set that is played in their native Icelandic tongue: ‘Vor í Vaglaskógi’. The song ‘Skinny’, from their 2020 Surface Sounds album, made the fans beside me very happy.
Double platinum certified hit ‘Way Down We Go’, from their debut ‘A/B’ album, concluded the set with the crowd wanting more as they walked off the stage.
To nobody’s surprise, the encore started with the catchy bluesy intro guitar lick to their Grammy-nominated megahit ‘No Good’ that had everyone in the crowd dancing and singing along. ‘No Good’ is one of those perfect songs that come around once in a long time that just hits you in all the right places.
Everyone at Folkfest is certainly looking forward to hearing more from KALEO and their unique fusion of blues and rock.