Westfest has fast become an energetic and unique music festival — a double bass in a rock and roll world. Elaina Martin, founder and producer, has taken Westfest from a one-day, three-block festival to a three-day arts and music fest that dominates the west end.
Westfest is the only music festival of its kind in the city that’s free to attendees. For the cost of sunscreen, Ottawans can wander the streets and take in performances, buskers and spoken-word artists at every corner of the 14-block street party.
In the evening, with the kids in bed and the Converse sneakers on, music lovers can kick back, swig a beer (anywhere on festival grounds, thanks to the new venue and Ontario’s new liquor laws) and watch local and national musicians rock it out onstage.
To add to the festival’s growing appeal, this year’s opening night will showcase Inuit artists, with Lucie Idlout as the headliner.
Idlout is a well-known musician from Iqaluit, Nunavut. She released her first album in 2004 and opened for the White Stripes three years later. Idlout has recently moved back to Iqaluit from Toronto.
“As far as my spirit goes, I am a lot happier here,” says Idlout.
Idlout is currently writing a new album but says that being back in Iqaluit doesn’t necessarily influence her songwriting. Melodies, she says, rumble around her head like sound waves coming from a radio station.
“The radio station in my head in constantly playing, and when I hear something that I like I have to sit down and focus on it, no matter where I am,” she says. “I’ll hear a melody or a tune will pop into my head, and it pretty much dictates the mood and the subject of the song. It’s pretty hard to write a sad song to a happy melody.”
Idlout will be playing at Westfest on Friday night. It’s her second appearance at the festival; in 2008 she opened for Buffy Sainte-Marie and the experience made her keen to return.
She says the festival is “one of the best-organized festivals in this country.”
Idlout usually sounds out her new pieces before festival audiences, but this time, she says, she is keeping the songs secret — fans will have to wait until her new album is released.
For Idlout, the highlight will be just getting up onstage in front of an audience.
“There is the writing process, the recording process, but it is bringing it to the people that makes it all that much more worthwhile,” says Idlout.