A new larger concert venue may be on the way for Ottawa. Folkrum is previewing a new venue this month with a weekend of live music, including a Sunday evening of jazz.
The Ottawa non-profit group has been searching for a permanent location for a community music hub for almost two years, and has found a possibility in Vanier, just east of the Cummings Bridge. On November 27 to 29, they'll showcase local musicians in that space in three evenings of music, as well as in free daytime shows. The music will cover many genres, including soul/R&B, singer-songwriter, rock, indie, and jazz.
The jazz evening on Sunday, November 29, will feature three 45-minute sets by well-known Ottawa jazz musicians: the duo of double-bassist John Geggie and guitarist Roddy Ellias, followed by saxophonist René Lavoie with Afro-Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas, and finally The Four Heavies.
Tickets for each evening are $20. Daytime events, until 7 p.m., are free, and will include music and instrument-making workshops, dancing, and concerts by musicians and groups including the Capital Strings Collective, Erin Saoirse Adair, and Acacia Lyra.
“It's a bit of a test drive for us,” said Folkrum Director Kim Lymburner. “What it will do is it will give us a good idea of how well received we would likely be by the neighbourhood, an opportunity to give the community a first-hand look at what some of the activities might look like that take place at Folkrum, and give ourselves a little bit of a boost in terms of awareness and excitement.”
Lymburner announced the Folkrum initiative in January, 2014. Its aim is to create a hub for Ottawa-Gatineau's music community, to develop musicians and encourage audiences for all genres of music, including jazz. Lymburner's background is in arts administration: he spent 20 years at the Canada Council, and has also worked with CHUO-FM and SAW Video.
The space they're trying out is in the Eastview Mall, at the corner of Montreal and North River Roads, at the west end of Vanier near the Rideau River. It's behind other shops in the mall, and is accessed by a small glass door just to the left of the beer store, Lymburner said, and from Selkirk Street behind the mall. It's “a bit hidden”, he admits. [Google Streetview]
But the actual room is large: 5200 square feet, about 115 feet long by 45 feet wide. It also has no interior pillars, giving it excellent sightlines, he said.
“The room is wildly reflective [acoustically], unfortunately, but, on the good side, it does have high ceilings. What we're doing with it right now is doing a quick and dirty clean-up on it, decorating a bit and making it acceptable. Of course, if we were to take full possession of the space, we'd go through a lengthy fit-up process where we completely treated the walls and the surfaces to improve the acoustic qualities and design the interior to suit the needs of the facility.”
The space could ultimately host concerts of up to 400 people, he said, although they're limiting tickets for this month's event to 100 per night. It's close to four all-day bus routes: the 9, 12, and 18 from downtown, and the cross-town route 14, as well as on-road and off-road cycling routes.
Osgoode Properties has donated the use of the space for the weekend, he said, so that Folkrum can determine its suitability as a music venue. He said Folkrum aims to break even on the event, and emphasized that all the musicians would be paid. Other expenses will include insurance, signage, and obtaining chairs and tables and sound equipment.
The Osgoode offer was only open until Christmas, Lymburner said. “About four weeks ago we decided on the timing and we've running like heck ever since trying to get this organized for the end of the month.”
All the artists performing over the weekend are local, which he said was deliberate: “Folkrum is very much about the development of the local arts scene and local artists. Of course the best way to do that is to show the community what great artists they have, right here at home!”
They picked musicians “that we thought were of interest to the community and that represented the creativity that Ottawa has and the excellence that Ottawa has quite well. Many of us are out and about doing things in the community and going to shows constantly. I'm out most nights of the week, involved in taking in entertainment and checking out artists.”
The Sunday jazz night begins with John Geggie and Roddy Ellias. “I don't know of anybody in Ottawa who's got any interest in music at all who doesn't know who John Geggie is,” Lymburner said. “He's certainly the ubiquitous bass player, arranger, and programmer. He's got some great stuff and he's been around for a long time and knows everybody and has worked with just about everybody. He'll be performing with guitarist Roddy Ellias who is an absolute wizard and just a stalwart of the jazz community here in Ottawa.”
Geggie told OttawaJazzScene.ca that “Roddy and I have know each other and played together in so many different contexts over more than 25 years. Our repertoire includes jazz standards, original compositions as well as rarely heard gems from the jazz repertoire. It will be fun to play as a duo again.”
Next up will be Afro-Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas, who's developed a notable following in Ottawa with his quartet and large-scale concerts. He'll be playing in a duo with René Lavoie on saxophone and flute. Lavoie, who has a long-time love of Cuban music and studied at the University of Miami for two years, is well-known for playing in Ottawa groups like the Latin big band Los Gringos and the Cosmos Saxophone Quartet. He and de Armas performed together in a GigSpace concert in 2012.
And closing the night will be The Four Heavies, with guitarist Alex Moxon, saxophonist Vince Rimbach, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and drummer Michel Delage. The group has been performing jazz interpretations of Steve Wonder songs for several years. Lymburner said the group would be playing “upbeat funk and soul, and I couldn't imagine anything better really to cap off the night.”
Lymburner said they were aiming to attract jazz fans of all ages, and to create an ambiance “somewhere between big folk café or coffeehouse and grungy urban commercial space. It's a mash-up.”
Folkrum has previously run one large-scale concert, with Lynn Hanson, Lynn Miles, and Keith Glass in May, 2014, as well as sponsoring smaller-scale, most folk-oriented, shows at local pubs, restaurants, and galleries. Lymburner said this month's event would be its largest yet.
He said the group, which includes a CKCU radio host and local folk and classical musicians, has been “working primarily behind the scenes to build support and to improve connections and relations with the community, and to lay the groundwork for launching a space. A lot of our effort has been in looking at space and building relationships with people so that we could find the ideal location. So now it's time for us to do something that gives an example to the community of the kind of things we would want to do.”
Vanier – or, in fact, Ottawa east of the Rideau River – is not known as a location for live jazz. After Groovy retired to the Caribbean and closed his Roti Hut a few years ago, OttawaJazzScene.ca has listed nothing in Vanier and only occasional shows further east. But Lymburner said that the Vanier Merchants Association and local city Councillor Mathieu Fleury are both “very interested in this project”, as part of a local push to reanimate the area.
And after this month? Lymburner said Folkrum intended the November 27-29 event “to be a driver to really give us a boost and really sound the alarm that something exciting is happening here. It's not just the same old, same old. So we hope that what will happen after this is it will lead to better connections with funders, better connections with sponsors and supporters in the community, better opportunities to develop audiences in the future.”
Folkrum's vision for a permanent location includes a large café with an acoustic stage at one end of the room, and at the other end, a big stage with some fixed and some movable seating to accommodate larger concerts, he said.
“The idea is to have a space that is both large enough to support high-end professional entertainment while it allows for community group activities, participatory activities, and blend in the feel of a comfortable folk café. So that you've got the sense that, well, I'm not walking into a big institution. I'm walking into something that's comfortable. I can hang out. I can just enjoy my time and listen to artists on the small stage. And at night I can come back and there'll be a great concert going on.”
– Alayne McGregor
Folkrum's showcase will be held Friday, November 27 to Sunday, November 29, with the Sunday show featuring jazz. All shows will be held at 21 Selkirk Street, accessed from the Eastview Plaza at the corner of Montreal Road and North River Road. Tickets are $20 per evening. Daytime activities until 7 p.m. are free. The full schedule and advance ticket purchase is at folkrum.ca.
November 18: Updated to include more information about The Four Heavies.
Read related OttawaJazzScene.ca content:
- FOLKRUM dreams big for a new Ottawa-Gatineau concert venue 
- Ottawa Jazz Clubs and Venues (our always- up-to-date listing of all jazz-presenting venues in Ottawa-Gatineau)
- OttawaJazzScene.ca Jazz Favourites Poll: Concert Venues 
- Jazz fans head west for their favourite bars, cafés, and restaurants