The Nutcracker and Alberta Ballet Kick Off the Holidays at the NAC

December 2, 2016 12:07 pm

Images courtesy of the National Arts Centre.

Since 1892, The Nutcracker has been charming audiences with its music and dance.

It’s a ballet company’s voice to have a unique version of The Nutcracker, and I as I have seen dozens of various interpretations, I was eagerly looking forward to this one.

The Alberta Ballet presents a truly beautiful rendition of The Nutcracker. Choreographed by resident choreographer Edmund Stripe, and wonderfully executed by Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maitre. It’s more true to the history of Tchaikovsky’s roots, than any others that I have seen. Unlike other versions this one begins in the misty streets St. Petersburg (not Germany as other Nutcrackers are set in). Guests arrive in the living room of Tchaikovsky’s home, and later the ballet takes us to the frosty forests of Siberia.

The names are slightly different. Our heroine Klara (played beautifully by Alexandra Gibson) is spelled with a K rather than a C, and her brother (also brilliantly played by John Canfield) is named Nikolai, rather than Franz.


This is a magical ballet!

The opening bars of icy violins suggest that something very special is going to occur and we must be quiet to listen. We have heard these notes played throughout commercials with overdubbed voices promoting and selling this and that, however with the orchestra in white tie, and the excitement of the few thousands in the audience I can literally hear the gasps and joy of the concert goers as they enter into not just a 3 hour experience of beauty and joy, but the prelude of the next few weeks of Christmas spirit.

No other piece clearly and universally defines holidays as much as The Nutcracker, and it is often the only ballet that is populated with young children always dressed in their top Sunday best attire. Little girls in velvet embossed dresses with ribbons in their hair. Often these girls look as if they themselves were performing on stage. Thank God for The Nutcracker. It is a benchmark to how the holidays should be celebrated.


The opening scene begins with light snow being swept away as anxious guests file through the doorway with large gifts. The stage then transforms into the grand hall of Tchaikovsky’s home. The room is large and tasteful but not overly opulent. There is an attention to color beautifully and unexpectedly designated by

Zack Brown whose taste and attention to even the smallest prop detail made this ballet exceptional.  Great care was taken in the choices of clothing and color that suggests the culture of Russian high society. There is an aspirational quality of French couture and lifestyle that permeated all through Europe during that time, and clearly we see this on stage. My favorite was Klara’s mystical coat given by Snow Tsarina with her youthful pink chiffon dress peeking out of the Swarovski incrusted white damask cloak.

yukichihattori-as-the-nutcracker-photographerdarrenmakoivichuk-jpgAll of the great Nutcracker scenes are included in this version. There is a wonderful and suspenseful battle between the brightly uniformed toy soldiers and the mice.

Klara is surprised that the Nutcracker transforms into a handsome man and her heart is captured and transformed for the first time.

The dreamy travels accompanied are by Klara’s godfather Drosselmeyer (played by Eli Barnes) include Spain, Arabia, China and Russia and we are mesmerized during the flowers grand waltz. The Sugar Plum Fairy (danced by Hayna Gutierrez) was as delicate and exquisite as the music suggests.

It’s an enchanting story for children that never fails to delight in its presentation of holiday parties and dancing, but it is also a story of a young girl coming of age, and the music’s last triumphant bass drums suggest that Klara has grown up, always leaves me slightly teary eyed.

I feel this every year when I see the Nutcracker I never fail to be completely consumed with the upcoming holiday spirit dawning on me. I have always thought that I would outgrow this childish fascination, and grow bored of the music (as normal pop music often does), but as I look east and west to all the other concert goers sitting in my row, I suspect that people old and young from various cultures and places unite in the excitement that this wonderful ballet presents.


Warm your heart and Soul This Weekend with Empire of the Son

December 1, 2016 1:14 pm

Empire of the Son, the latest production at the NAC, keeps up with the stellar theatrical offerings of artistic director Jillian Keily.  The show is real, a theatrical biography of the family of Tetsuro Shigematsu (former host of CBC Radio One’s The Roundup) who wrote and stars in the show.  As part of his doctoral program, he interviewed his dad, whose health was deteriorating, to get his stories and to capture his experiences as a child in WWII Japan, as a broadcaster in the UK and in Canada at the CBC.  However, he also set out to capture his father as a person, a man, husband and father.  We get glimpses of other members of his family, from his mother to his sisters and children.

Tetsuro is electrifying on stage.  His presence is magnetic and moving and his telling of his dad’s story as his dad’s health slowly disintegrated is touching, supremely intimate and many times hilarious through self-deprecating humour that is both very moving and funny.  He tells his stories with incredible humility, respect for his family, love and respect for his culture and with honesty.  He is absolutely captivating.

empireoftheson_raymond_shum-12While the focus is most definitely on the narrative, he backs up his story with interesting use of light, cameras, and magnifying small objects for visual effect.  Videos, audio and pictures also support his story and bring his family to life.  It all works flawlessly.

It is a one-man show and he does it all.   When it is finished, you are left wanting more.  It is a short play — not even 90 minutes.

Be sure to give yourself some extra time to get to the theatre because the entrances are all messed up because of the construction.

Empire of the Son runs until Saturday.  Don’t miss it because it is outstanding.

Split Shift Becomes Split Personality for Area Resident

November 29, 2016 10:46 am

What do you do you do when you have a long break between your split shift? Well, if you’re Doug Hempstead, you develop a split personality!

CBC traffic reporter by day, musician by whenever he has the time for it, Hempstead isn’t at a loss for ways to occupy his time and the “road life” suits him just fine no matter which career he’s pursuing at the moment. Most of the time it’s both!

You may recognize Doug’s voice if you get your traffic updates on the CBC while listening to Ottawa Morning or All In A Day. He gets up to percolate some coffee before sunrise and gets into work usually before most of us are even awake. He’s tweeting while you’re taking your morning shower and filing his first traffic report for the morning drivers shortly before 6 AM. He keeps them updated every 15 minutes until about 8:35.


Photo by by Chris Hofley.

His next report comes nearly 7 hours later so Doug heads back to his Bells Corners home. There he has time to clean the place, walk the dog and create an alter-ego called Area Resident who plays multiple instruments and records a full length rock album in his basement. Did I mention he’s also married and helps raise two teen daughters?

That’s Doug Hempstead’s All In A Day!

“I’m constantly telling colleagues about my new songs, releases and gigs,” Hempstead tells Ottawa Life on how it’s not always easy to keep both lives separate. “My co-workers are incredibly supportive and interested in my music.”

Growing up, he was a fan of Elton John. Still is. He calls John’s Greatest Hits album a bit of a guilty pleasure. He didn’t start learning music himself until high school where took up the bass. He continued dabbling, playing in a few bands off and on, before entering into a successful career in journalism. Music didn’t pay the bills but journalism did. Over his award-winning career he has been a photojournalist, newspaper editor, designer, TV videographer and worked with the Ottawa Sun for 6 years before landing the gig with the CBC.

Music was always on the brain, however, and it shows in the traffic reporters first release. He wrote a song (“Concrete Caravan”) about the Rideau Street sinkhole! Other songs found inspiration in his hometown of Pembroke (“About Six Years”) and about watching yourself age in the social media age (“Falling Collapsing Looking Back”). There’s even a tune about how he bought stock in a medicinal marijuana company with some of his pension money from the Sun.


While song ideas are seemingly found everywhere, it did take a little encouragement from another local musician, however, who provided the jumper cables needed to really get Hempstead motivated.

“I reached out to Jim Bryson and went to his Fixed Hinge home studio for a visit. I wanted to show him my music to see if it was worthwhile pursuing and he was very encouraging. Here’s a guy who is my age — daughters, married, modest house in the west end… and the guy makes the most incredible music. I was inspired, driven. I went home and the very next day, recorded the first song for what ended up being an album.”

fullsizerender-1Settling on the name Area Resident because of its ties to his journalism career, the album came together over the next few months with Hempstead playing nearly all the instruments and tweeking tracks in his home studio whenever he found some free time. Pick any track on the album and you wouldn’t think the musician playing is self-taught but Doug only took lessons on the bass. Everything else was just trial and error, something that factors into his writing process as well.

“I don’t write songs before I record them. They’re written as they’re recorded… like a pottery wheel.”

The result gives the album a more organic feel, kind of like a live album without the audience. Though there are other players on the release, Hempstead says he opted to go most of it alone due mainly to the simplicity of being able to move at his own pace.

“If there’s such a thing as a hap hazard, lazy perfectionist… it’s me.”

Perhaps the comedic irony of Hempstead’s unique recording process for this album is how the songs translate live. Well, if they translate live!

“The odd thing — these songs have been recorded, but have never been performed. I have to learn them. I don’t know how to play them.”

At the moment, morning commuters have nothing to worry about. Doug Hampstead isn’t quitting his day job but with the DIY-style first release in the tank one has to wonder how long it’s going to be before his reporting of life on the road becomes a life on the road for himself!

More Than Genius Honored as Philip Glass Accepts Glenn Gould Prize

November 27, 2016 12:19 pm

All photos by Andre Gagne.

What is a genius?

That question itched me throughout the The 11th Glenn Gould Prize Awards concert “The Genius of Philip Glass” at the National Arts Centre on November 26.

I know that the good folk who put this tribute together wanted to recognize the originality and brilliance of Glass’s musical and creative output of the American Minimalist composer who has written some of the most popular contemporary classical music, film scores, operas and chamber music, over the last 50 years. Many have tried to imitate Glass’s musical idiom, few have succeeded.

I’m just not that comfortable with that word “genius”. It smacks too much of elitism and a kind of intellectual caste system. With few exceptions, genius art has been art I didn’t understand. I only got five pages into Stephen Hawking’s “The History of Time” before trading it for a David Baldacci thriller. In my life-long journey from naiveté to wisdom, I’ve found art and music of other contemporary geniuses such as Jackson Pollock and Pierre Boulez so impenetrable, it as if the art didn’t care whether I liked it or not. To hell with the audience. Think your three-year-old can paint her own “Wall of Fire”? Good luck with that.


The exception to that is Philip Glass. At it’s best, Glass’ revolutionary classical music based upon pulsing patterns of ascending and descending arpeggios that give Glass’s music so much physical momentum is neither ‘difficult’ nor ‘indulgent’ but accessibly harmonic, and even emotional.

It’s a technique that often works brilliantly in smaller pieces for solo piano, when his voice is as plaintive and as haunting as a spiritual chant and when paired with film, including his scores for “Koyaanisqatsi”, “Powaqqatsi” and “The Hours”; film scores so full of visual adrenaline they’re capable of inducing vertigo.

However, what works on a smaller scale can flounder badly on a grand scale, making it challenging to sit through Glass’s operas and symphonies.


So it was with mixed feelings when I heard that conductor Dennis Russell Davies and the National Arts Centre Orchestra and guests would be honouring Glass with a concert of his music.

glass-3-of-6wHosted by pop siren Petula Clark (who sang lark sang Glass’ “Streets of Berlin”) and with Glass attending in the front opera box, the concert opened with pianist Simone Dinnerstein playing the Glass’ “Etude No. 2”, a piece of simple, Baroque concentric musical circles that built up to dramatic fusion of chords before Glass appeared on stage to accept the Glenn Gould prize and relay a charming personal anecdote about the Canadian pianist. Davies then led the NACO through Glass’ spirited “Symphony No. 8” which during the first two movements, appeared to contain plenty of musical ideas and brilliant colour but missing connection. Happily, the 40-minute symphony found the consummation it had been looking for in the rapturous third movement. I’ve never seen the NAC Orchestra play a piece this difficult as energetically and with this much confidence.

The tribute concert’s second half opened again with Dinnerstein playing Glass’ “Etude No. 6” for solo piano. The most charming performance of the evening came with cellist Matt Haimovitz’s playing of Glass’ “Overture for Solo Cello” which led into a passionate play of Bach’s “Prelude for cello Suite No. 1”, made all the more poignant with host Petula Clark sitting by his side, clearly lost in the beauty of the music.


The closing music was a blast of Glass’s rousing “Movement 5” from his “10th Symphony”. With the brass and percussion in the lead, it turned out to be the fireworks the concert needed to get the sold-out house up on their feet.

In the end, I wouldn’t have changed very much. Cut a speech here and include a film and dance excerpt instead. After all, Glass has written music for all the performing arts, and the night’s program focussed too much on the sameness of Glass’ compositional format. However, listen closely to his music long enough, and you find yourself drifting off into imagination and fantastic landscapes where anything is possible.

Now that’s genius.


Experience a New Reality at Colony VR

November 26, 2016 10:04 am

Ever wanted to explore coral reefs, paint in 3D, and protect your castle from invaders- all in the span of an hour? Recently OLM had the opportunity to check out Ottawa’s newest and coolest hangout in Little Italy, and try out a bunch of VR games and experiences on the HTC Vive. If you haven’t yet had the chance to check out Colony VR, we highly recommend you book yourself an hour or two there and check them out!

Virtual Reality has seen a rise in popularity over the past few years, with more companies releasing their own headsets, like the Vive by HTC and Valve, or the new PlayStation VR. However, while there are more options in the market for VR headsets, actually owning a decent set can still put a large hole in your wallet. Facebook’s Occulus Rift costs $849.99 on Amazon, while the Vive and its controllers will set you back well over a grand, and these prices don’t include the PC power you’ll need to run them. Now, Ottawa folks can try VR without the massive price tag, and experience amazing things like walking around Mars. 

Similar to a karaoke joint and based on the idea of a bee hive colony, the Colony VR space is divided up into six hexagonal green-screened spaces which you can rent by the hour to play with high-end VR tech either by yourself, or with a group of friends. Each space is large enough for you to actually walk around in virtual worlds using the HTC Vive. This availability of free movement helps their guests overcome the usual motion sickness which often accompanies VR headsets where users remain seated. It also brings the VR experience to a whole new level of awesome when you can physically dodge an alien attack or turn and light a flaming arrow on a torch next to you. My personal favourite was exploring underwater in a virtual reef where I could walk up to a sea anemone and watch as it reacts to a gentle poke, or wave my hands to chase away a school of curious fish when they got too close.

Currently, they have about fifteen games and experiences from Fruit Ninja to Long Bow Tower Defence. You can even rent out the entire space with an entire group to play virtual paintball against each other! Each game is thoroughly tested by Colony VR staff before they’re added to the lineup to avoid anything that might be overly glitchy or cause any motion sickness amongst guests. Virtual Reality, however, goes well beyond slicing fruit and shooting arrows. VR technology has been applied to bringing otherwise inaccessible places right to you. Like the coral reef adventure previously mentioned, we also had the opportunity to walk around an old English church in Derbyshire, England, and experience a beautiful story of Colosse that was being told all around us. You can even explore Mars, or take a walk around some (non-hostile) Portal turrets as they play you a fun tune. We also got to try our hands at art and paint in 3D which an incredible palette of colours and special effects.

Colony VR hopes to connect with local schools to help enhance children’s learning experiences by allowing them to unleash their creativity beyond pen and paper, or by bringing to life new places to explore. They also hope to work with local dev groups to build a space where Ottawa developers can test and share their creations with the community. You can check them out on Facebook and Twitter, or get a glimpse of our experience on Instagram below! 

Shaw Rocket Prize Awarded by Kids for Kids

November 25, 2016 10:29 pm

All photos by Andre Gagne.

On Wednesday night the Shaw Rocket Fund held its annual evening of kid friendly revelry at the Shaw Centre to announce the winners for the Shaw Rocket Prize.

A champion for children and youth, the not-for-profit Shaw Rocket Fund, invests in quality Canadian children’s programming and production year-round.

However, these decisions aren’t all made around a boardroom table. Kids play a very important role at the Fund and the Shaw Rocket Prize is where Canadian children take the reins and act as jurors to select their favourite Canadian programming.

“The Shaw Rocket Prize is about giving kids a say,” said Agnes Augustin, President & CEO of the Shaw Rocket Fund. “Recognizing that they have opinions and letting them tell us what programs speak to them, what motivates them, what intrigues them.”


Based on the Kid Jury’s votes the Shaw Rocket Prize awards three prizes of $25,000 each to the best Canadian preschool program, the best children’s (6-12) program and the best youth/family program. This isn’t just about watching a show either; kids vote on the overall experience that includes all platforms and the show’s online presence.

“This year, we grow again to accommodate the changing media landscape,” said Augustin. “Our Kids Jury is tasked with viewing the finalist programs as well as playing the associated games and viewing the social media content.”

All this hard work from the Kid Jury made Wednesday’s award ceremony and celebration all the better.


The Shaw Centre’s Trillium Ballroom was full of kids and adults mingling and having fun while wearing light up jelly rings, playing games at a computer/tablet station, and enjoying a host of local fare that included food stations featuring Ottawa Valley Poutine and local beef striploin, as well as donut hole skewers, rack of lamb and both kid-friendly and adult-only mac & cheeses. Oh and no one will forget the epic candy bar.


The official ceremonies were anything but stuffy. The evening kicked off with an upbeat performance by the Next Step Dancers followed by introductions by the adorable MC Soma Bhatia, who plays Goldi Nahir on Degrassi: Next Class.

Prime Minister and Minister of Youth, Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau also made an appearance via video message.

rocket-prize-3-of-13w“Quality programming exposes children to diversity and teaches them valuable lessons from learning the alphabet to the meaning of integrity. Today’s finalists reflect everything we look for in quality children’s programming and best of all, they’re made right here in Canada,” Trudeau said. “Thank you Shaw Rocket Fund for supporting the Canadian children’s media industry and for showcasing the calibre of kids shows made in this country and proudly exported around the world.”

After a cameo from the Rocket Prize Video Vote winners Lorenzo and Veronica, speeches from members of the Fund and videos from jurors, it was time for the results as presented by Minister of Heritage, Melanie Joly.rocket-prize-9-of-13wrocket-prize-5-of-13w

Preschool: Kate and Min Min, produced by DHX Media

Children: Slugterra, produced by DHX Media

Youth & Family: L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, produced by Breakthrough Entertainment

Luckily for guests, the evening didn’t end there. The party continued with live music and performances, including Alex and Levi from Canadian drama series Lost & Found Music Studios.


Weekend What’s Up November 25 – 27

12:39 pm

Here at Ottawa Life, we are always on the lookout for great events to do over the weekend for every type of fun-seeker. This weekend, you can enjoy some holiday cheer, lots of shopping, and of course, music. See you there!

gol-01Gift of Lights, Wesley Clover Parks Campground, November 25 – January 1
Starting this Friday, Ottawa families can now experience the Gift of Lights taking place at Wesley Clover Parks Campground until January 1st. The Gift of Lights is a 2 km drive-thru holiday light display featuring a 100+ foot light tunnel at the exit, and over 30 full light static & animated displays along the route. Only being held in 10 cities across North America, Ottawa is one of the lucky host cities! The display is open from 5pm – 10pm 7 days a week. Cars are $20 each, so bring the whole family for a magical drive.

maxresdefaultSanta Parade of Lights, Orleans, November 26
This Saturday the Santa Parade of Lights returns to St. Joseph Blvd in Orleans to light up the night in the spirit of the season! The Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association hosts this brilliant display of lights and last year more than 100 thousand spectators enjoyed the event. Donations of new toys and cash will be collected along the route by firefighters.

Parade of Lights, Stittsville, November 26
If you are in the west end of the city and looking to see Santa, the Stittsville Parade of Lights if for you! Stittsville’s parade is a community favourite that draws thousands of spectators. In addition to the parade, merry makers are invited to stay for the lighting of the Village Square Park and share in hot chocolate and cookies.

15056376_1693664537613388_5123017723189704990_nThe Maple Leaf Brass Band: A Year in Brass,
Gloucester Presbyterian Church, November 26
If you are feeling music this weekend, make time for the latest concert organized by Music in Greenboro, the Maple Leaf Brass Band at the Gloucester Presbyterian Church (91 Pike Street) this Saturday at 2pm. This exceptional group of brass players will offer an exciting afternoon of music, with a playlist that includes the intro to Game of Thrones, Teddy Bear’s Picnic and the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, to name a few. Of course, they will be brining Christmas joy as well. Admission is free but donations are encouraged.


pop-goes-the-choirPop Goes the Choir,
Centre Town United Church, November 26
Local LGTBQ choir Tone Cluster – Quite a Queer Choir, known for their sonic versatility, is presenting a pop-themed pre-Christmas season concert on Saturday at the Centre Town United Church (507 Bank Street) at 7:30pm. This concert is their first local concert since returning from their performance at the 9th Gala Choruses Queer Festival in Denver, Colorado. Their smash hit performance to the thousands of members in attendance at the festival was also broadcast live via the Gala Choruses website.


Ottawa Comiccon’s Holiday Edition
, EY Centre, November 26 – 27
If Ottawa Comiccon is your Christmas, then your mind is about to be blown! This Saturday and Sunday at the EY Centre, come out and explore the Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition to get your hands on the latest comic books, collectibles, original art, toys, and statues for every fan on your list. Admission is free, so even if you don’t have deep pockets, you can still get into the spirit of the season by exploring vendors and partaking in some epic cosplay. Oh you might as well pick up for 2017 Ottawa Comiccon tickets for a 15% discount while you’re at it.

craftpopupThe Craft Pop Up,
432 ½ Preston Street, November 26 – December 24
The Preston Street BIA is playing host to over 60+ local makers in a pop up shop located at 432 ½ Preston Street starting this Saturday through to Christmas Eve. Get the jump on your holiday shopping with these local handmade goods that include home goods, jewelry, accessories, natural apothecary, beauty, foodie products, clothing for men, women and children, toys, art and cards.


Catmas Craft Fair, Lion Dick Brule Community Center, November 27
Shopping for a fabulous feline friend in your life? Then make time for the 1st Annual Catmas Craft Fair being held at the Lion Dick Brule Community Centre (170 Castlefrank Rd.) from 10am – 4:30pm this Sunday. There will be vendors selling everything cat as well as raffles, food and fun prizes! Admission is only $2 and if you bring a cat food donation, you will be entered into a special draw. Sounds purr-fect to us!

Light Up Your Ottawa Life Contest coming December 1st

8:32 am

Light Up Your Ottawa Life this holiday season!

Christmas is coming early, #Ottawa. We’ve been teasing it all week but can now announce our huge festive contest.

Get your cameras and decorations ready Ottawa/Gatineau residents. Readers will be asked to send in a single photo of their holiday decor (Christmas light displays, decorated trees/homes) for a chance to win one of three prize packs.

What’s inside our bag of presents?

Well, how about a 2-night stay at the beautiful Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa in Lake Placid or tickets to see Natalie Mcmaster perform her Christmas concert at the National Arts Centre or a new hairdo from the expert stylists at DeLuca Hair …for starters?

Our contest elves have also added appliances, tickets to local fests like Ottawa Jazz Festival and Ottawa Chamberfest , a slew of CDs by local musicians including Moonfruits , Monday I Retire and The PepTides , an appliance or two, hundreds of dollars worth of beauty / hair care products, brew from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. , wine from the Savvy Company , Ottawa Senators merch, pierogi dinners from House of TARG , movie tickets and MORE!

Full contest details and prize packs will be announced on Day 1 of our Ottawa Life Christmas Calander on December 1st so check out then.

In the meantime, Ottawa/Gatineau residents can begin to email their displays to (note, winning displays will be verified in person so be honest Santas, not Google Grinches and this contest is only open to Ottawa/Gatineau residents. We’ll leave the global delivery to the man in the big red suit! Don’t forget to give us your FULL NAME in your email.)

How will YOU Light Up Your Ottawa Life?


Tone Cluster Presents Pop Goes the Choir

November 23, 2016 1:12 pm
Ottawa Life's Myka Burke chats with Tone Cluster’s Artistic Director Kurt Ala-Kantti.

Local LGTBQ choir Tone Cluster – Quite a Queer Choir, known for their sonic versatility, is presenting a pop-themed pre-Christmas season concert on Saturday November 26, 2016 at the Centre Town United Church (507 Bank Street) at 7:30pm. This concert is their first local concert since returning from their performance at the 9th Gala Choruses Queer Festival in Denver, Colorado. Their smash hit performance to the thousands of members in attendance at the festival was also broadcast live via the Gala Choruses website.

For this upbeat and fun undertaking in their 23rd season, Tone Cluster’s Pop Goes the Choir concert will be including pop tunes from several decades and will feature Ottawa’s talented Funk, R&B, Pop and Soul singer Iyona Ede, led by Tone Cluster’s Artistic Director Kurt Ala-Kantti with pianist Vincent Mar on piano. Mike Essoudry will be on drums, Kathy Armstrong (from the Baobab Drum Dancing Community) will be on African drums, Gregory Weeks will be on cello and Kevin James on violin.


Tone Cluster’s Artistic Director Kurt Ala-Kantti

With a coy wink to their signature diversity, the programme includes some entertaining compositions like “Baba Yetu”, the first-ever Grammy-winning computer game theme song from Civilisation IV by Christopher Tin, Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and other popular tunes by Pentatonix, Imagine Dragons, Rankin Family, American Authors, Carly Simon, and Michael Rivard. The highlight will likely be the late Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” where the audience will be asked to join in.

The community-minded choir will host a reception afterwards featuring home-made food and there will be a raffle draw for delicious baskets of wine and chocolate. A safety pin in support of diversity in Canada and the US will also be available for purchase. The idea for the safety pin started in the UK after Brexit. People started wearing safety pins to signal their support for refugees and immigrants. The idea being that the safety pin was a non-verbal way to signal that vulnerable groups have a safe place and a friend in the safety pin-wearing person. The idea has caught on in North America and it speaks to the support being offered to and within marginalized groups since the US election. People are posting a photo of their #SafetyPin and declaring themselves safe places.

What: Pop Goes The Choir Concert by Tone Cluster – Quite a Queer Choir
Where: 507 Bank Street, Ottawa
When: Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Canada’s Stage to Shine Brighter Than Ever in 2017!

12:50 pm

This morning inside the National Arts Centre the message rang out as loud as a 1st of July firework: in 2017, the NAC will be Canada’s stage.

Though the NAC has always celebrated the diversity of Canadian arts since opening its doors back in 1969, next year’s big 150th birthday will have an even greater emphasis on the country’s music, theatre and dance.

Canada’s last big birthday bash, our centennial, included the NAC in its plans but delays in constructions pushed the actual opening of the Centre to 1969. They don’t intend to miss the boat this time. Crews are barrelling forward to meet the July 1st grand opening deadline with work continuing on the much needed face-lift even during today’s big announcement.

img_6249“The glass has arrived,” a crowd gathered inside today for the 2017 announcement was informed in reference to the huge, glass atrium which will stand as the new centrepiece to the centre. Jubilant applause immediately followed.

An already packed season has expanded to include tours that will see the NAC go Canada-wide, as well as renowned Canadian performers taking the new Southam Hall and other NAC stages.

“In 2017, the NAC will perform for Canadians in their communities and then bring back their stories and artists to our national stage here in the Nation’s Capital,” said Peter Herrndorf, President and CEO of the National Arts Centre.

img_6240Theatre patrons, NAC staff and the curious were treated to a small taste of what would be in store when Juno Award-winning pianist Robi Botos sat behind the grand piano and performed a glorious rendition of Oscar Peterson’s “Blues for Smedley”. The celebrated jazz musician’s music will see tribute next July when Botos joins Oliver Jones and Jon Kimura Parker, three phenomenal pianists, to honor the work of their mentor. Even with all the construction, Oscar’s statue on the corner outside the building smiles on!

op_bw_for_web__largeThe NAC English theatre will be hitting the road in late 2017 for performances of the Molière classic Tartuffe. The company, including the always brilliant Andy Jones (getting ready to take the stage as Scrooge in next month’s A Christmas Carol), will be visiting Newfoundland and Labrador. The program will also include educational activities linking youth and artists.

Not to be outdone, the NAC Orchestra will embark on their first tour under Music Director Alexander Shelley that will showcase the orchestra’s talents in the Atlantic provinces come the spring. The tour will feature Canadian violist James Ehnes.

img_6255“Touring allows our orchestra to come face to face with Canadians in their own communities,” NAC Orchestra Managing Director Christopher Deacon said. “We take time to share, to collaborate and to make lasting connections.”

When approached to lead a cross-Canada tour, Shelley had the criteria that he wished to tell the story of the country’s indigenous people and a land of settlers from overseas. Some performances will close with the orchestra’s own Life Reflected, a multi-media presentation set to the poem I Lost My Talk by Mi’kmaw elder and poet Rita Joe. With a lush score composed by John Estacio, the piece touches upon the pain and suffering Joe experienced in a Nova Scotia Residential school while also offering hope and inspiration for the future. It is a journey of strength and healing sure to be moving for all who see it.

louisriel_map_flat_hr_4c__largeBack in the city, Ottawa will get another ambitious year of the Canada Scene festival. More than 1,000 artists will be featured over a six-week period in June and July as a culmination of the NAC’s biennial showcase of dance, music, theatre, culinary and visual arts. Highlights will include Harry Somers’ classic opera Louis Riel and Montreal’s circus troupe Les 7 doigts de la main. Foodies will love the group’s Cuisine & Confessions which blends cooking, circus and storytelling together in a tasty theatrical broth.

ENCOUNT3RS, an NAC commissioned piece, will unite three of the best Canadian choreographers and three outstanding composers for a three new one-act ballets. Also new will be Gabriel Dumont’s Wild West Show, a play that centres around the events of the North-West Resistance of 1885 as told through the lens of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

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The legendary Buffy Satine-Marie will perform on July 3 and Rufus Wainwright will join the NAC Orchestra on July 12, two not to be missed shows.

In the middle of it all will be the grand opening of the new NAC. The Canada Day spectacular will include artists and dignitaries. When the ribbon is cut the public will be able to tour the space for the first time and take in performances by the orchestra and others. This house-warming party will last all weekend!

Truly, the NAC stage is now set to shine brighter than ever before in 2017!

Tommy Chong’s High on Life

November 21, 2016 6:33 pm
Listen to our interview with Tommy Chong above.

You know, for a guy who’s probably smoked a couple of acres of marijuana in his day (or maybe just yesterday), Tommy Chong’s memory is pretty damn good.

He can take you all the way back to the first time he smoked weed at the age of 17 (“As soon as I found it I never left that universe.”), he recalls the first meeting in a Vancouver club back in the ’60s that would lead to such an iconic comedy duo and he sure as hell remembers being jailed for selling autographed bongs back in 2003.

The immediate present, though, is perhaps a bit more of problematic purple haze…at least depending on what time of the day you catch him at.

“Hello is this Andre?” asks the recognizable voice of Chong heard on so many turntables in the early ‘70s. “Have I talked to you yet?”

Now, that’s the perfect way to begin an interview with the actor, comedian and cannabis activist. (I resisted the urge to reply with “Dave’s not here”, I promise.)

img_9134newIt’s been over a decade now since his nine months behind bars but the time away only gave Chong a stronger voice and deeper resolve to speak up for a culture he feels continues to be misunderstood. His advocacy is just another addition to a long list of jobs the man known for his offbeat humor has held over the years.

It started with music.

Chong’s a pretty accomplished guitar player and he joined the Calgary soul group The Shades in the late 50’s, playing gigs around town before the band was tossed out of  the city by the mayor and an irate chief of police for causing too much of a ruckus. They hightailed to Vancouvern  needing no better excuse to vacate Calgary, changed their name to Little Daddy  & the Bachelors, recorded a single and were off. Along with band member Bobby Taylor, Chong opened the first in a string of nightclubs. In 1965 they were signed by Motown Records, released album number one and a single that hit 29 on the charts. They would open for the Jackson 5 that year but Chong was later fired from the label for missing a meeting. He was trying to get a Green card so he could legally be in the States.

“I decided I didn’t want to work for anybody who would fire me for trying to do things right,” Chong tells Ottawa Life about his rationale for not pleading his case to Motown and pursuing that career. “I quite Motown and decided I’d just become a song writer, live on the beach and work out. That’s what I did. I moved my family to California.”

When his Canadian clubs started to go under, he headed back North and converted one into an improvisational comedy club. Ever the opportunist for something new, Chong started performing on stage and found he had a knack for making people laugh. One night he met another young comedian named Cheech Marin and a man who had lived a few careers already would embark on the one that would soar higher than the others.

Much higher!

Soon came the albums that launched a thousand stoner ships, multiple comedy tours and the adoration of the hippie counter-culture still clinging to whatever remnants they could of the ‘60s. Popular art was changing and comedy was no different. Cheech & Chong would surf the tip of that wave all the way to Hollywood. Their first film Up In Smoke would become one of the highest-grossing of the year and it kept the duo gainfully employed well into the ‘80s before they went their separate ways.

“The parting was very tough on me for sure,” recalls Chong.  “Cheech was tired of being the little Chicano. He wanted to show the people that he had more. I understood totally but I wasn’t tired of being my character.”

In 2008, with the help of a well-timed email by Chong’s son, the duo would reunite for a series of successful reunion shows that kicked off in Ottawa. They still perform together from time to time. Despite a few dips in the road –including a battle with prostate cancer which he cured

Despite a few dips in the road –including a battle with prostate cancer which he cured himself of with hemp oil–  the 78-year-old Chong looks back on his life as a series of gifts and he’s not ready to stop now.

“There’s no reason to die. I have no reason to retire because I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do. It’s fun. I love my life.”


The Grammy-winning comedian will perform at the Algonquin Commons Theatre on November 24. We had a chance to chat with Tommy about his various careers, his relationship with Cheech and his views on the differences between Canadian and American cannabis culture.

Ottawa Life: You’re one of these dude’s I think many people look at and say: “Oh yeah, he’s Canadian!”  You budded in Edmonton but soon moved to Calgary to an area you called the Dog Patch. We were inching towards the end of World War II. As a dual citizen, what are your views on Canada these days?

Tommy Chong: Well Canadians, they tend to believe what they see and what they hear. We’re like hockey players. For instance, we don’t have a gang problem in Canada because we form them on hockey teams. We sort of supervise the savages to be violent with a stick and have skates on a and little puck you can shoot around. If you’re going to have a fit you need to do it on ice. The Canadian thing is, well, we’re very close to nature. It gets too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and everything is bigger than anything else anywhere. We survive everything.

You want to talk about a land of immigrants! I was just watching Donald Trump worried about people coming into the country. Now, when I was growing up the Hungarian revolution hit and we just automatically took in the refugees. All of my early memories of Calgary come from talking with people from other countries either there from the second World War or when the communists took over. Canada is a very basic, tough place to be from.

img_9277I read that a jazz club, Lenny Bruce and the age of 17 all factor into the first time you smoked pot. Obviously, that would become a big facet of your existence. Do you remember that moment?

Oh, like it was yesterday. I can remember everything about that moment. Raymond Ma was a Chinese base player and he gave me a joint and a Lenny Bruce record. I put the joint in my pocket and the record by my guitar. Raymond went on to light his. We then smoked up and heard a record by Ornette Coleman called Lonely Woman. It was my first time listening to jazz and being transported into another universe. As soon as I found it I never left that universe.

I think that turned out pretty well for you.

At the time weed wasn’t a problem in Calgary because nobody knew what it was. Alcohol was the big problem so you could smoke anywhere. We would be at concerts and light up. They had a you-could-smoke-anywhere-rule, basically. They had sections in street cars! One car where everybody smoked. Not like now where you can’t smoke anywhere.

Certainly different times! Now for you, you’ve had a few different paths set out for you that you could have walked: you managed night clubs, played guitar in Little Daddy & The Bachelors, these are a few things that come to mind. Why did you decide to pursue comedy and why do you think it stuck?

What happened was I got fired from Motown because I went to get my Green card and the road manager didn’t know what one was and he didn’t want to know what one was. I told him I had to miss a gig and they would have to do without me and he told me if I left don’t bother coming back. I told him I had to go because Berry Gordy was paying for my green card. I couldn’t argue with the guy so I went to get my card, came back, and was literally fired.

Then I had to go up to the clubs, they weren’t doing well, and I changed the the strip club that we started into an improvisational night club. I thought I’d just be doing this until we got a band back together but I found out that I loved doing comedy and improvisational theatre.

You and Cheech actually first met during you 60’s Vancouver days. Do you remember anything about that first meeting that would go on to become such a legendary comedy team?

I remember everything. First of all, when I put the improv group together you needed a straight man. I had another partner named David Graham. He had long hair and a beard and I had long hair and what I called a beard and we had another straight man, Rick. Rick was a legitimate actor. When we started the club we attracted a lot of actors and theatre types.

Nick’s wife found out what he was doing and made him quit so that’s when I met Cheech. I asked him if he wanted to join the group and he said he had to look at it first. Ah, good ol’ Cheech. I don’t think I asked him if he had any acting experiencing and he volunteered that he did. He was lying like a dog as he didn’t have any but he learned by watching and was an understudy for a few months.

When the group broke up Cheech and I ended up doing all of it. When we got fired from the improv club Cheech was the only one who wanted to keep doing it. Well, we formed a band first but we never played a note. We became comedians! We became Cheech and Chong.

When I saw the effect we had on all these rock and roll people I knew we were going to be bigger than we could have ever dreamed.

Your albums certainly were part of that rise. They have become legendary. With so many classic bits to choose from, how did you two approach writing the material that would eventually be part of your stand up and records?

We improv’ed. Everything was improv’ed. When we did the movies I was one of the first in the industry with video assist. Now they shoot a lot of movies on video. The way we worked we never really rehersed. We would improv a scene. Sometimes the rehersal is what we really wanted. I made sure we shot everything and that’s how we did our records.

We never had anything written down. I mean, every once in awhile I would write down a basic idea but when Cheech and I would get into the recording studio we just started creating. It was just so much fun. I knew our audience from experience and that people like to laugh at silliness and disgusting things. Cheech and I just had a ball. I would give him a little hint at something and he’d just carry it. We just had that magic that came with it. When we started doing movies that kind of got in our way because you couldn’t have two directors. That had to be me. Even though I wasn’t a good bandleader I was a good improvisational theatre director and I knew from my music experience what would resonate with people.

The same thing kind of happened to Monty Python. You were all part of this different form of comedy going into the ’70s.

Oh yeah! You gotta remember they had to do television and they were all trained professionls. They were educated up the ying yang. Cheech and I were the opposite. I never made it through highschool.


Would you say the counterculture of the time factored into your success? Right place, right time.

Totally! The hippie movement, the anti war movement was at it’s peak and they found a home in the Committee and the Second City. I was in San Fransico when the war was right at it’s hight, right when Cheech and I were doing our records. We did our Vietnam bit and were barred! Robin Williams went over to perform for the troops but we were bared because of our drug humor.

We just represented that outlaw. I looked like a biker and Cheech had a Chicano gang look. It looked like a hells angels and a gang member got together and did comedy.

It all just seemed to lead to the movies. Did you find the transition into film was a bit difficult?

It was so simple. It was so ordained. Everything we did on the records was visual. You could see it in your mind. If you saw it in person you’d die laughing. Cheech’s experessions and the way we played the chacaters, I mean. We still do it. That’s what we do when we play live. We just pull out our comedy chops that we’ve hoaned over the years. The movies were just a piece of cake. We were meant to do Cheech and Chong movies.

It shows. You two really amped up the output in the early 80s: 8 films, 3 albums all before 1987!

You know the reaon we got into film was that our live act was so popular that we could play America and then spend American summer’s playing Australia which was their winter. For three years, maybe four, we never saw summer in either country. We were always in the winter. I wasn’t comfortable doing that because there were no Mexicans there and it was hard to come up with bits people could relate to. That was half our act! In the states if we played a Mexican crowd I could really relax.

So, instead of going back, I wrote a movie. It was called Cheech and Chong in Jack and the Weed Stock. We never got around to doing the movie. Then I wrote a song called “Up In Smoke”. Then Cheech said that would be the name of the movie. Then we did the top grossing comedy of the year.

Yeah, and that was the year that saw the release of Grease, Animal House and Superman so that’s not too shabby!

Not too shabby, yeah. It was the longest running comedy. We had people running movie theatres come up and thank us for their house and cars that they bought with the proceeds from our Up in Smoke movie.

It was around that peak you two decided to split. Looking back, how would you say your relationship with Cheech has evolved?

It was tough on me, for sure. I found out when we started doing live shows, where I started doing a little bit of standup that I liked it. I loved it. I would not have learned to be a standup comedian if we hadn’t have broken up. I now had another career. Then I got lonely on the road so I convinced my wife to come on the road and taught her to be a comedian herself. Now she opens the show. She’s such a natural. So, (Cheech and I) breaking up allowed us to open doors into the other talents we had.

But when it was time to get back together we just couldn’t agree on anything. Cheech didn’t want me to director anymore and I certainly didn’t want to deal with anybody else. After our first meeting it looked like we weren’t going to get back together. It just wasn’t going to happen. I hadn’t seem Cheech for years and it was really nice seeing him. I wrote him an email telling him how even though we were not going to work together it was nice to see him, how much I missed (him) until I saw (him). Then my son found the email and stopped it. He wrote another email saying why don’t we get back together again. Next I know Cheech agreed and we were back together on tour.

I think that was certainly the best choice for the fans not to mention the new one’s you’d develop this time out. Now, you did mention persuing those other avenues. Do you think it was kind of inevitable that you’d become a marijuana activist?

Oh yeah, especially when I went to jail. That’s when I realized I really was an activist. That’s why they put me in jail. It wasn’t because I broke any laws. I was the kind of type, you know, who would protest the war. Bush was getting ready to invade Iraq and he needed a diversion so he picked the bong industry. Next thing I know I had Feds at my door and I ended up in jail for nine months. That’s when I really became an activist. I had no choice. That’s where I am today.

Would you say there have been some advancements made in marijuana culture since you started out?

Oh yeah, tonnes. Are you kidding me? The advancement is the fact that it has medical use that just boggles the mind. It has been proven now to help with the curing of cancers, epilepsy, and it just goes on and on. It just blew apart the pharmaceutical companies. I did nine months in jail for selling a water pipe. Can you imagine.

Being a dual citizen, how would you compare Canada’s pot views to the current one’s in the United States?

Again, Canada is very naive. You have to retrain the watchdogs, the cops and the lawyers. The cops are benefiting off of it being illegal. They are having a hard time getting used to that. Like pot shops. Look at the way they handled liquour. Canada has this democracy but it also has this dictatorship kind of attitude in all the provinces. Like in Alberta, for instance, for a while they had this bible thumper on Sundays who closed the bars down at 11:30 because they wanted everybody in church. As far as weed goes, they have this same kind of weird attitude.

What the weed does is it affects the brain in the youth and suddenly they’re being reasonable. You can’t get away with a lie. I was in Canada when they busted the singing group the Four Tops for a roach. A maid reported it and the cops broke down the door and arrested everybody. They went to jail in Vancouver. That was for a roach! One time I coming through Canada and I had one seed in my passport and it was like stop the presses! The cell phone has educated everybody and if you don’t know about weed now all you have to do is ask a kid. But the Canadians themselves, the old style cops, it’s hard to change that attitude.

I like the justice system there anyway because at least the judges say it’s against the constitution. Case dismissed. That’s happening now. I feel Canada will fall in line and pretty soon in the whole world it will be legal.

You credit, at least in some way, cannabis for helping you get cancer free. What have been the other benefits of your continued usage?

I’m married to one of the most beautiful women in the world and I owe that all to pot. Had I done alcohol I wouldn’t be alive now. I’m young enough looking, I have to stay young, and it got me into bodybuilding. It didn’t interfere with that. In fact, it enhanced it. Nothing like a good workout when you have a little buzz going. It’s helped me with my health, with my kids. I tell them I don’t mind them smoking pot, I don’t want them smoking cigarettes or get an alcohol jones. I live in a beautiful home in the Palisades and have my taxes paid up. Now I am getting on the verge of getting in the marijuana business so that if I want to retire from touring I can without any problems. That’s why I am trying to stay healthy. I don’t want to leave all this and stay around as long as I can. I want to enjoy the benefits of it all.

You’re still out there even now when most people would have retired. What keeps you going?

It’s just fun. I just love doing it. That’s my whole thing in life: if it’s not fun, don’t do it. It’s not about money. I read a study that one thing that potheads lack is a concern for money. For me that is so important. Money to me is a way to keep track of things but you want to share. That’s what potheads do. We’re all connected with this miraculous plant and that’s what I learned.

As a Matter of Fact We WOULD Like Some Wine With Our Cheese

12:01 pm

All photos by Andre Gagne.

Ever wondered how to pick the perfect brie, or when it’s best eaten? Did you know that cheese is best stored in a special cheese paper? Ottawa is becoming a little cheesier this month at the Canadian Food and Agriculture Museum. For the entire month of November, they’ve partnered with Savvy Company for Cheesy Tuesdays, a series which brings Canada’s love for cheese to a whole new level. You can learn about cheese in workshops with local experts and meet local cheese makers and sample some of the finest cheese around!

cxhvoi3w8aarn5h-1Last week Ottawa Life Magazine had the chance to attend a very unique evening called Wine and Cheese with a TWIST! and were blown away by how little we knew about cheese, and just how much it had to offer. From the second we entered the building we were greeted by the delicious fragrance of homemade mulled wine to get us even more excited for the event upstairs. Local wineries, cheese makers, and even a cider brewery packed the Learning Centre with enticing smells and lots to sample! The evening was filled with lots of fun stories about wine (if you ever get the chance, ask Diprofio Wines about the names on their bottles), an artisan cheese-tasting seminar with cheese sommelier Vanessa Simmons, and even a chance to witness cheese making in action (and taste the delicious result)!

There are two more Cheesy Tuesday events coming up if you missed last week’s event! Tomorrow night (November 22) hosts the Cheese Holiday Boutique, which features a wide range of delicious artisan cheese, locally made gourmet wares and a cash bar featuring local ciders, wines, and beer. Next week (November 29) they are having a Raclette and Fondue Farm Rave (ie. the BEST kind of rave) with several raclette machines, great music, and awesome cheesy seminars! We recommend that you don’t miss these awesome events! You can learn more about these events and grab tickets on their website.


We had the chance to get some questions answered by Kerry-Leigh Burchill, DG of the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum about these awesome events.

Q: The Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum is such a fun and educational spot for Ottawa families during the day, but your new “For the Love of Cheese” evening series is a decidedly grown-up twist on the Museum’s offerings. How did this idea come about?

The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum team has committed to a 5 year food literacy programming plan which includes daytime, school and family friendly activities in addition to adult foodie events that encourage visitors to experience new flavours and Canadian products. For the Love of Cheese is an opportunity for adults of every age to meet with local cheesemakers, “date” some fantastic food and beverage options from Ontario and Quebec and learn a few new food skills in time for holiday parties. The idea behind the adult food programs is to have visitors see that the Museum is more than farm animals and kid friendly demos, it is also a great place for adults to spend quality time with their partners, friends and neighbours.

Q: Tuesday’s Wine and Cheese with a TWIST has a lot of grown up activities to participate in. What are you most looking forward to?

There are so many fun elements packed into Tuesday’s Wine and Cheese with a TWIST that is hard to pick one thing as my favourite…I definitely am looking forward to learning more about the innovative practices and flavours behind some of our amazing, local artisinal cheeses and I know that one of the TWISTS involves all five senses which makes for a unique experience — and having a bottle of Ontario wine and a piece of Quebec cheese to take home after the event is amazing value for the ticket price!

Q: In total there are three Cheesy Tuesday events in November, including the Holiday Boutique and the Raclette and Fondue Farm Rave, and they all have very different themes. What is the goal you are hoping to achieve in creating such diversity in your showcase?

The Museum team paired up with a great partner, Savvy Company, to come up with three events that would appeal to a broad audience — to lure new visitors to the Museum and to please returning visitors that have enjoyed some of our other cooking, canning and tasting workshops. Personally, I am really excited about the final event where we will have a DJ mixing some great tunes in with the delicious flavours and smells of melting cheese…what could be better as a pre-holiday gathering with friends?

Q: Finally, what would say if your recommended wine or beer and cheese pairing?

We are really excited to have some stellar pairing options no matter what your taste is…mild to bold cheese with local craft beer, regional cider and some fabulous Ontario wine. November has never tasted so good!


November 19, 2016 3:14 pm


All photos by Andre Gagne.

The first holiday party of the season rolled through downtown Ottawa today with thousands lining up to see that jolly old man in the big, red suit. The help Santa Toy Parade, now in it’s 47th year,has been the annual kickstart to the holidays ever since it was launched in 1969 by the Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters’ Association.  Since then, local firefighters have walked the parade route collecting toys and other donations for those less fortunate in the city.

Kids sipped hot chocolate in little red wagons smiling chocolaty smiles and parents decked themselves out in elf hats and reindeer antlers all sharing in that early Christmas fun as the bands and floats passed by. Santa, of course, brought the widest eyes to the wee ones who waved and cheered.

Ottawa Life Magazine was on hand to capture some of the holiday cheer!


Marianas Trench Ignites TD Place With Power Pop Punk Explosion!

1:40 am


Photos by Andre Gagne.

The lights go off, a microsecond of darkness, and then the rumble roar rises. This is your audience. They will make your show or they will break your show and without their energy you’re just a couple of people on a stage pumping your songs into a smattering of scattered appreciative applause or, worse, deadening silence. For the length of a set you’re working for them and, if you’re lucky, they’ll cheer, they’ll clap and a few of ‘em will leave with a t-shirt. If you’re awesome they’ll adore you, hang on every word you say, sing your songs back to you with enthusiasm and leave with two t-shirts.

mt-6-of-16wIf you’re Marianas Trench you’re all of the above with the added bonus of having a crowd made up of, judging from the octave range, crazed young women or exceptionally talented male countertenors. The former would gladly sire enough of your offspring to populate a small country ensuring your lineage continued well into the next millennia. They not only know every word to your songs but every syllable in perfect sync with the performance. Conjoined, their voices will be louder than yours and they don’t have amps the size of the 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith. Calling them rabid would do a disservice to an angry, diseased Rottweiler. These fans are like an over-caffeinated pack of wildebeests with a sugar high about two seconds after being spooked by a pack of famished hyenas. They were ready for this show three months before you got into town, they already have a t-shirt and they’re leaving with three more!


10 years ago Marianas Trench walked onto the stage of a place lead singer Josh Ramsay can’t pronounce anymore. You can’t really blight the man. I mean, Zaphod Beeblebrox is a bit of a tongue twister even for a dude with his vocal abilities. Back then they played for about six people and, if anything, made them believers with the power of their musicianship. They gave those six a glimpse down the rabbit hole of what was to come.


Cut to a decade later. Tonight, when the lights went off in TD Place, what happened next wasn’t so much a sound of elation as it was a force to be reckoned with. 5,000 forces to be reckoned with if you want to get numerical. It was going to be one of those nights when the stadium could have saved a few bucks and just nixed the seats. They wouldn’t need them. These butts attached to these people attached to these cacophonous vocal chords did not come to sit. Oh hell no. The sold-out crowd didn’t just go electric. They went nuclear!


Ramsay probably could have come on stage and started reading passages from The Anatomy of Melancholy and they’d still be going nuts in the aisles. Thankfully, though, the boys came to pop punk rock the house on what they are calling their Last Crusade tour. Now, before you young girls start crying buckets into your bedspreads, the band isn’t going anywhere. They probably just needed a good tagline to write their name in the Indiana Jones font and the Temple of Doom tour doesn’t have as good a ring to it.

mt-15-of-16wNow, ludicrously loyal and insane fan base notwithstanding, could the ante maybe have been up’ed by, say, having a gigantic papier-mâché boulder bust through the stage while Ramsay swung in on a whip from the top of the arena rafters? Naw, probably not. I guess the fedora would have clashed with the black and white rock star hoodie, tight pants and glow in the dark guitar.

The band knew they had a charged crowd and they weren’t holding back anything. Ramsay may have had to up his usual nitro-fuelled pace to compete. He didn’t remain on stage long, taking to the audience to be met by a shrill scream heard by at least one stray mutt over in Hull. The fans were not deterred by his security entourage. Wherever Ramsay went they followed and a few of them got close enough for a good, long feel below the singers black and silver belt. Bet ya’ that whip would have come in handy then, Josh!


The band tore through a set that included hits like “Cross My Heart” and “Fallout” along with tracks from their new album Astoria. If you just happened to walk in, however, you’d think every tune was a #1 smash. The audience was just that into it and you couldn’t help but get wrapped up in their uber-fandom.

mt-14-of-16wIt was the kind of show that made you a fan even if you were just there initially to photograph having been granted credentials at the last minute forcing you to rush across town to snag your camera and just make it into the arena before the lights dimmed not really familiar with the band and hoping for at least something tolerable.  (Err…you know, not naming any names or anything.)

What you got was 90 minutes of current channeled into your now adrenaline pumped body. What you got was infectious fun punctuated by power chords and falsetto wails.  What you got was a dedicated band working in maximum overdrive for an equally amped up, dedicated audience. You got their sweat. You got the full on, full speed, take no prisoners, all out Marianas Trench petrol pop punk paroxysm.

Oh yeah, and you got the t-shirt!


  1. Astoria
  2. Yesterday
  3. Celebrity Status
  4. Burning Up
  5. All To Myself
  6. Shut Up
  7. One Love
  8. This Means War
  9. Desperate Measures
  10. Fallout
  11. Stutter
  12. Pop 101
  13. Who Do You Love?
  14. Cross My Heart


  1. Good to You
  2. Haven’t Had Enough
  3. End of an Era

Moonfruits Hoping to Draw in the Crowd for Next Release

November 18, 2016 12:29 pm

Images supplied by Moonfruits.

He was nine when his parents asked him if he wanted to start playing the guitar. He took that guitar, practiced his scales and for the next 12 years led about a dozen different bands. He wore morph suits. He had an alias.

She was a singer in the Oakville Children’s Choir. She moved to Ottawa at the age of seventeen, a student buried under the demands of education soon to realize the something was missing: music. She took a few classical voice lessons but had to give it up when the money ran out.

“While I was a university student, I once had a delicious dream on a train about being in a touring band with my boyfriend at the time and a whole gaggle of kids. I had no idea that that wild possibility would ever be as real as it is today,” she remembers.

He graduated with a Master’s in classical guitar and saw the world waiting. Europe was his first stop. He calls what came next his “big ol’ busking tour”. It was life changing.

“The generosity that people extended towards me as a total stranger – not just the folks that put a little something in my case but the people that took me into their homes – was more heart-warming than I could describe,” he recalls fondly.

She answered an ad on the side of a pizza place. Somebody was looking for choir members. There she met a vocal coach who helped her discover her own voice. Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye would inspire her. Her coach would guide her. It was life changing.


They are Alex Millaire and Kaitlin Milroy and though they were moving in different directions, as though guided by an unseen hand, their life choices were all just bringing them closer together. When the final piece was laid and they stood together for the first time it was…stalled. The duo were quick to put on the breaks before the car even got rolling.

Both knew their feelings for one another were stronger than that of their simple admiration for how well they meshed musically. They jammed together, discovered a mutual affinity for each other’s talents and, slowly, something more.  Melding musicianship and relationship was a slippery slope, a hard line to walk. They knew their folk blend worked, the banjos, the glockenspiel, the vocals and the guitar. They harmonized there perfectly. If they crossed that line, they wondered, would something be lost?

“We felt out the friendship slowly enough at first. Both of us had feelings for one another and neither of us wanted to admit it” Alex remembers.


It would take a summer night singing to one another on a park bench and a surprise date organized by a friend to finally have the two admitting they were only fooling themselves. They were a couple. The car was off and rolling.

“I’ve loved Alex since I met him,” adds Katilin, adding that their strong bond as friends remains today. “I think it’s why we can work together. In terms of falling for someone, I fell for his earnestness, his kindess, his honesty, his silliness, his work ethic, his smile, his voice.”

With their romance budding, the duo, now called Moonfruits, would quickly move forward in recording their first album fittingly titled Début. While seeing if the relationship was the right fit, they only strengthened their resolve that music was the right fit and many late nights were spent working on songs.

“We were practicing at all hours of the night in an effort to musically get our feet underneath us,” Kaitlin tells Ottawa Life.

The motivation to work at such a pace stemmed from a desire to travel together, busk like Alex had in Europe. To do that they wanted to have their own material, something they could sell from the guitar case. They completed the album, waved goodbye to their loved ones and the Moonfruits were leaving on a jet plane.

“Busking is a neat experience because you wind up taking on the role of both a visitor and a worker in a place. In that way, you start to see familiar faces, understand how people live their lives, what’s important to them, and, in my view, gain a deeper understanding of what life is like there, “ Alex says.

“It’s also very demanding physically and mentally, especially once you break the six hour mark, which is often the case if you’re looking to really make ends meet playing in the street.”

It wouldn’t be the last time they would busk together. One proposal later, a quick wedding and the two were off again on a busking honeymoon. It was clear that after that slow start, once begun, the couple had a need for speed fueled by respect, music and love.


Earlier this year the two won the Prix Chanson from SOCAN. Their music has been called a revitalized take on folk. That’s what they were going for. To Alex, their songs evoke the old and the new, both walking hand in hand.

“I found folk music to be the perfect medium because it both made me feel part of a long tradition of music-making and allowed for the inclusion of all kinds of influences, whether they be rock, classical, blues, bluegrass or, say, Primus.  I love music history and it’s always a trip for me when we get to run all our nerdy little influences through our songs. Sometimes you get a little bit of Palestrina’s choir music, or a glimpse into the middle ages, or a little Dixieland, but it always stays folk, somehow.”

For their second album they have  opted to try an entirely different process. Instead of putting together a group of random songs, they have opted to go with a concept album, something usually reserved for, say, ‘70s prog-rock then folk music. The release will tell the story of a fictional village with each song acting as the voice of one of the villagers. The album will touch upon themes of inequality, worsening material realities, hope and faith. It will also be entirely in French and you can be a part of it.

Like many musicians these days, the two have turned to crowdfunding to put this release together. Using the popular GoFundMe site, the two are looking to raise $5,000. At only 12 days in, they are less than $2,000 away. Incentives –outside of helping to fund what is sure to be an amazing release– includes getting your own copy of the album, attendance at a release party and you could even have Alex and Kaitlin over for your own house concert!

“I feel many musicians go this route nowadays because we are generally much poorer as a people than we were even just a generation ago. Wages have stagnated since the late ’70s while the cost of living, education and care has risen dramatically. Money from granting bodies does help tremendously, but it is also distributed in a highly unequal way,” Alex says.

“Folks working in the culture industry now are making a living very much like it was made in the early 20th century, through live performance, with recordings mostly serving to get artists’ names out there. We feel that there is a thirst these days for music that breathes and that’s the kind of music that we want to make. If things go according to plan, the record will sound like it was recorded over a week by a bunch of people in a room out in the farmlands of Eastern Ontario”.

Learn more about their campaign at You can hear those beautiful harmonies in person next at the Gray Whale on November 20.

Weekend What’s Up November 18 – 20

12:00 pm

Here at Ottawa Life, we are always on the lookout for great events to do over the weekend for every type of fun-seeker. Here is what Ottawa has in store for this edition of the Weekend What’s Up – See you there!

santaclausparadeHelp Santa Toy Parade,
Downtown Ottawa, November 19
This Saturday Santa Claus will be making his annual trip through downtown Ottawa to meet everyone on the nice list! Every year since 1969, the Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters’ Association has been organizing the parade and collecting new toys and donations for Ottawa’s less fortunate Ottawa, along the route. Starting at 11am the Help Santa Toy Parade heads east on Wellington then south on Bank and east on Laurier. So bundle up, bring along a toy, and join in the fun!

petadoptionnightOttawa Senators Pet Adoption Night,
Canadian Tire Centre, November 19
This Saturday as the Ottawa Senators take on the Florida Panthers at the Canadian Tire Centre, you can enjoy the game while also knowing you are helping Ottawa area animals. When you purchase a ticket, part of the proceeds will go to support the local animal rescue of your choice, including:  the Ottawa Humane Society, Ottawa Therapy Dogs, Ottawa Stray Cat Society, and the Sit With Me Dog Rescue. Oh and you get a free Sens pet bandana! Win-win-win!

woundedsoldiers748Wounded Soldiers,
Arts Court, November 17 – 19
Following Remembrance Week, the travelling production of the hugely popular play, Wounded Soldiers, will be in Ottawa. Set against the backdrop of WWI, Wounded Soldiers follows three young people in southern England in 1916 as they forge the bonds of a friendship that will not be defined by mental health, physical disability or race. Tickets are $22 and performances run at 7pm as well as a 1pm matinee on the Friday and Saturday. 

MEC Ottawa, November 19
If you are actually looking forward to winter hitting the city, then you should probably head down to the annual MEC Snowfest. Featuring free clinics, covering topics such as winter cycling, alpine ski tuning, winter trekking and Nordic ski waxing, you can spend the whole day brushing up on your winter-fun know-how. You can also expect prizes and exhibitors ranging from your favourite outdoor brands to ski hills. The event and clinics are free, but make sure you visit their website to guarantee a space in a clinic.

sirwilfridlaurierSir Wilfrid Laurier 175th Birthday Celebration,
Laurier House, November 19 & 20
This weekend you and your family can take a step back in time to celebrate Canada’s first francophone Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s 175th birthday at Laurier House, located at 335 Laurier Avenue East. On Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 5:00pm you can enjoy family friendly activities and games as well as tours and interactive theater. Best of all, this is a free event! 

credit-glebe-craft-and-artisan-fairGlebe Craft and Artisan Fair,
Glebe Community Centre,
November 18 – 20
If holiday shopping is on your weekend to-do list make your way to the Glebe Community Centre to meet and shop local makers and crafters. The Glebe Craft and Artisan Fair features jewelry, art, accessories, food and clothing, so there is something for everyone! This is a free event and browsing is encouraged!

Plans of His Own – The Gordon Lightfoot Interview – Part 2

November 17, 2016 8:04 pm

Listen to part two of our interview with Gordon Lightfoot above.
Part one can be found here.

Gordon Lightfoot walks in on a young Bob Dylan hunkered over a typewriter, the poetry of his renowned lyricism passing through his fingers and onto the keys to be imprinted in ink on paper. They will either be used or jettisoned. We’ll never know. It was a pretty prolific time for both of them.

You could picture Dylan there, disheveled, a wisp of smoke rising from the collection of crushed out cigs in the ashtray beside him, hammering out his lines while Lightfoot stood dumbfounded by the man’s ability to type.

Bob, perhaps without missing a keystroke, turns and, through the smoke, speaks in a voice that can only belong to him: “What, Gord, you never learned how to type in high school?”

Lightfoot retorts with the first thing that comes to mind: “Well, Bob, I took Latin lessons.”

Bob may have grinned, he may have grunted, but he most certainly kept on typing. As I said, it was a pretty prolific time.

The year is somewhere around 1964 and Bob’s about to blow the roof off the folk revival by going electric. Lightfoot may have very well been bearing witness to the genesis of lines that would form Dylan’s lyrical rock revolution.

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone  

How did it feel, I wonder?

This is the mid-60s. This was Woodstock, New York, a couple of years before half a million strong would descend upon Yasgur’s farm forever transforming the little town into a moment that would define an era. For now, though, Woodstock wasn’t a festival. It was a colony of creativity where one could have painted one of those music icon assembly posters and it’d have actually been a reality. Along with Gordon and Bob, people like Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, Hendrix, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and the Band would all pass through at some point.

Bob and Gordon would carry a mutual respect for one another all their lives and when asked Lightfoot wouldn’t hesitate in saying Dylan was his favourite musican but it all  started there. Lightfoot was writing songs that would become hits for others at the time while working on his first album. It would be released after his buddy Bob hammered a few nails into the coffin of his time revitalizing the folk scene. Those days were gone and soon so would go Woodstock. There would be a motorcycle crash, those world-shattering new recordings and a man who was already a star would move out of his shimmering corner of the universe into the galaxy of legend.

Gordon had a few years to go but he’d get there. 16 Juno Awards, 4 ASCAP song writing awards, five Grammy nominations, Canadian recording artist of the decade. He was inducted onto Canada’s Walk of Fame in 1998, made a celebrity captain of the Leafs, given the Order of Ontario to go along with the Order of Canada. Heck, they even sculpted him out of bronze in his hometown of Orilla. It was only fitting when, in 1986, Bob got to induct Gordon into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Still, with all the accolades and trophies and plaques, Gordon shy’s away from acknowledging what his music has meant to his country. He doesn’t really consider himself a legend, Canadian or otherwise, just a guy with a guitar and a few words to sing. When asked what his most cherished award is he mentions certificates he won singing for the Kiwanis club. This was before meeting Bob, before Woodstock, before even writing his first songs.

Gordon was only 13.

Now in his twilight years, he looks to his youth and, like Charles Foster Kane in the famed Welles film, he holds tightly to the memories of growing up. Lightfoot’s Rosebud would be Massey Hall.

“There I was 13 years old and singing a solo,” says Lightfoot still sounding astonished by this moment, as though it were only last week and not over five decades ago.

Though illness has threatened to take him out a few pieces at a time, thankfully, the memory remains. He’d later play there dozens of times but, as a kid, it was where he first got a taste of what could be.

There was no other way to go. A few deviations, yes, but he would be a musician, and, whether he likes to admit it or not, that once 13-year-old kid on the Massey Hall stage would become a legend.

Unlike at least one of his contemporaries, however, he’d become a legend with Latin lessons.


In the second part of my chat with Lightfoot we’ll touch upon his illness and how he overcame it only to come full circle, returning once again to his youthful memories where he’s still a kid singing Christmas tunes on his relative’s kitchen table.

Ottawa Life: Many don’t expect such a drastic curve to be tossed their way so late in their career but, in 2002, you were standing at the start of what would become a bump filled road ahead of you for a few years. A few newspapers, if I recall correctly, even proclaimed you hadn’t survived. How did that affect you? I read you were having visions of your own death for a while?

Gordon Lightfoot: That thing lasted for 19 months altogether, from start to finish, but for the first six weeks I don’t remember anything. They played music for me to make me wake up and the very first tune I heard was one of my audience’s favorite tunes, “Minstrel of the Dawn”. It was the first thing that I finally heard coming through that headset. So for the next several months I recovered from the multitude of operations that I had and started working on some demo recordings. I got the guys into the studio and we made another album.

I wondered if I would ever be able to perform again. I tell you for awhile there I wasn’t sure. Then I started to get the feeling that I would be able to the second or third time around going back into the hospital for more rounds of operations. I mean, this thing was something else!

I practiced all the time, when I was home and healing, just practicing the guitar. I think I learned things about the guitar that I didn’t know. We wound up getting a pretty good album out of it. By the time it was all over with it took fourteen months to work on that album while I was going through this whole process and I never thought of my condition at all. I thought how fortuitous it was that we had some raw material that we could work on.

You sid you learned new things about the guitar. As somebody who playing must have seemed like second nature by that point, losing feeling in your fingers must have had you having to approach the instrument differently. What were some of the things you did to keep in form?

What happened next, well, we lost our lead guitar player. He died. Terry Clements, one of my very best friends and it almost brings tears to my eyes. He worked with us for 40 years. I brought him into the band with (Laurice) “Red” Shea when he had to leave the road. Terry was a wonderful guitar player. He got into some health issues and he died at an early age of 63 years old. During that time we brought in a replacement and this guy brought in a tuning system, an idea for me to get better tones out of my instruments because my tuning has never been 100 per cent. Now I had a guy who comes along who had perfect pitch and he shows me what to do. We take the guitars to a technician to get work done that I’d never think of doing and suddenly these guitars are getting easier to tune. By doing this we were achieving about 30% more volumn and the sound is a lot cleaner also. We’re getting into some of these places and the people just love it.

gordon20155131024705Certainly nobody would have blighted you had you decided to retire. I’ve seen you perform twice in recent years. For a guy who’s taken the toll you have your energy still comes out powerfully in the performance. What continues that drive in you to perform?

This is the truth: I exercise every day. I’ve been doing that since 1982. It’s impossible to keep up and yet I’ve been doing it. The older I get the more I do it. That is what is giving me my stamina, my strength, whatever it is. I feel that way when I am up there. I feel strong. I don’t get tired but I have to do that workout every day. I don’t do it in my basement or living room, either. I have to go to a gym. I’ve been going there ever since I gave up alcohol back in ’82. I tried working out about three years before I quit but trying to go in with a hangover wasn’t a great thing. When I gave up alcohol I got into a pretty serious regiment.

That’s a pretty good trade off, alcohol for exercise.

Absolutely! I could never do it with the amount of strength that I do without the exercise. It’s a routine.

You’ve been pretty modest when asked about how you feel your music has shaped this country. We know what your music has meant to Canada but what, do you feel, has Canada meant to you and your music?

Well I got a lot of good ideas about Canada when I was up canoeing in the North. A lot of wonderful landscapes come to mind up above the boreal forest. Landscapes often come into it as backup to a song when I am using my imagination. It’s kind of odd, like background music in a movie. I would get ideas while watching sporting events and practicing my guitar. When you’re under contract, which I was for 33 years, you’re thinking about song titles. For example, the song “Early Morning Rain” was “Early Morning Train” and then I thought there were too many songs about trains on that record.

Another musician that has meant a lot to Canada is Gord Downie. What were your reactions to his announcement this year and him and the Tragically Hip pursuing one final tour?

I know one thing for sure is that he had already had one operation about 11 months ago. I did a show with Gordon for the CBC and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. When they were doing their last tour I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see them at all as they were on the road and we were doing our trip. As fate would have it we were playing in a Casino down in Moncton and just as we got off stage we knew their show on CBC was just coming on. So we raced up to the hotel room and watched the whole show from Kingston. It was an experience, watching how that show was done.

Looking to your coming show here at the NAC, can you share a memory about times performing there?

Well, it was 1967 and the place had just opened and all I had was my trio. I had “Red” Shea and John Stockfish and we walked out and played in that place and I was amazed. It was the first night or first week but it was brand new. It was Canada’s 100th birthday. At that time I was not even a confident performer. I still got nervous and felt I was inadequate musically. I got that cured later on.

It’s got to be interesting coming back now for Canada’s 150th. The place has had a bit of a makeover. 

Well, I’ll be able to see it from point A from point Z. They’ve told me about this and it only makes me curious.

Over your career you have amassed many awards and accolades but, looking back, what have you personally found the most rewarding aspect?

I don’t know, I think maybe it could be the certificates that I won at the Kiwanis Festivals when I was 13. That was the first time I played in Massey Hall, singing the solo there because I won my class in the second year.

It’s kind of like your Rosebud.

Yeah, I mean, it was a long time before I played there again but there I was 13 years old and singing a solo. My parents loved Bing Crosby and I’d ask my mother if he makes a living doing this. I wanted to make a career out of it even then. I wanted to be a professional!

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