Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Ottawa’s festival circuit is quite a workout

Sweatin' it


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Ah, festival season.

It’s arguably the best reason to get outdoors, despite the blistering heat, swarms of mosquitoes, and $4 bottled water.

Ottawa’s multi-million dollar festival industry thrives on summer, and whether you’re into art, music, theatre, food, or all of the above, there is always something going on throughout the four months of summer to suit your cultural needs.

The season starts off in the Westboro area, with the aptly titled Westfest (Jun 11-15), celebrating its fifth year.

Elaina Martin, the founder and producer of the festival is a self-proclaimed “big dyke,” and says that it is part of her mandate to hire diverse artists, and to promote them as that.

“I have made it known city-wide that everyone is welcome to Westfest,” says Martin. “I don’t think that anyone has quite the same open-door policy as we do.”

If you’re thinking you’ll need a break from the humidity of the outdoors (or from your allergy symptoms) then the Ottawa Fringe Festival (Jun 19-29) comes at the perfect time.

The artist-oriented theatre festival gives 100 percent of ticket revenue to the performers and musicians, and does not try to censor the material presented in any way, regardless of content, form or style.

If the idea of being cooped up in an auditorium while the sun is blazing outside sounds like the perfect way to waste a gorgeous summer day, then the lakeside Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival (Jun 20-22) at Mooney’s Bay might be more your thing.

John Brooman, director of the colourful Dragon Boat Festival, says its laid-back atmosphere is the perfect way to spend an afternoon or evening.

“It is free, friendly and really fun for everyone,” says Brooman.

“Dress however you want, come with whomever you want, and have a good time.”

The free event includes live entertainment and international cuisine as well as the dragon boat races themselves, where teams compete to raise money for local charities.

And after spending the afternoon in the hot sun with a bunch of screaming kids, it might be a good change of pace to chill out and head over to the Ottawa Jazz Festival, (Jun 20- Jul 1) at Confederation Park and the National Arts Centre.

Tired yet? That’s just June.

Probably Ottawa’s most anticipated summer music festival (other than Pride, of course) is Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest (Jul 3-13.)

“There’s nothing that quite compares to being outdoors and enjoying music — especially in the evening,” said AJ Sauve, the director of communications for the festival.

“There is a lot of romance involved in sitting under the stars, and listening to your favourite band play.”

Artists with large gay followings such as Ladytron, Donna Summer (pre-fundementalism), Feist, and local lesbian songwriter Amanda Rheaume play this year’s Bluesfest.

Sauve also notes that for the second year in a row, Bluesfest is making it a priority to ‘go green’ at the festival grounds, using a comprehensive recycling program, compostable beer cups made out of corn, and encouraging people to bike to the festival by providing a large area of secured bike parking outside the LeBreton Flats venue.

The festival generators will also be powered by biodiesel.

If these measures still don’t seem like enough to you to in reducing the carbon footprint, well then, why not try a festival powered by lanterns instead?

The Lumière Festival (Aug 9) in New Edinburgh Park is an evening of costumes, performances, music, light installments, and 2000 different lanterns.

The festival is even running a workshop this year called the Lumière Studio, starting Jul 12, where you can create your own cool and colourful lantern to bring to the festival.

Joanne Hughes, the festival producer, says that the event offers something for all members of the queer community.

“Flamboyance is appreciated, and costuming is encouraged during the festival,” says Hughes.

“Think fairies, cirque, glitter, masks, culture, ballgowns, wings, wigs, and wands.”

And with all the lights and excitement going on in a central location, no one would ever notice you slip off into the woods with another masked festival go-er for a little rendezvous on one of the not-so-brightly lit paths.

If you’ve managed to gain your appetite back from June’s Italian Festival, then you might want to stop by the Ottawa Greekfest (Aug 14-24.) Again, a 10-day festival surrounded by delicious food and Mediterranean men. Enough said.

After filling yourself up with souvlaki — or possibly a Greek man — you can head over west to Britannia Park, where the Ottawa Folk Festival (Aug 14-17.)

Towards the end of the summer is our pride and joy, so to speak, Capital Pride 2008 (Aug 18-24), which comes this year with a grant increase from the City of Ottawa, as well as a new tagline: Ottawa’s most colourful festival. Indeed. The annual Pride Parade happens on the last day of the fest.

Finally, we can grudgingly wave goodbye to summer with the Hot Air Balloon Festival (Aug 29 – Sep 1) in Gatineau.

It includes music, fireworks, laser shows, and a circus arena — as well as the token Mr Peanut balloon.

So, while it may be tempting to spend the summer cooped up in your house with the A/C, or pressed up against your two-speed fan in your apartment, let yourself get caught up in festival season and enjoy the warm weather while we have it.

If you say you spent the summer outside, when you spent it under an umbrella on the patio at Starbucks — well, no one will buy it.