Ain’t No Party Like a Westfest Party

Ain’t No Party Like a Westfest Party

All photos by Andre Gagne.

Though the rains came to wash out the final day of Westfest, 2,000 people caused a different kind of flood as they filled Laroche Park Saturday night to party with the Souljazz Orchestra. Over the weekend, the 2016 festival continued to take some knocks and rose above them. As founder/producer Elaina Martin likes to say: “There ain’t no party like a Westfest Party.”

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Thousands would fill Laroche Park for Westfest 2016.

When the theme of Homemade Jam was announced in March, Martin emphatically stated that this year the festival was by locals and for locals. Moving from its street festival beginnings, the environment created in the park was one of a summer picnic. Patrons brought blankets, lawn chairs, their pets and lots of energetic children for two days of entertainment and activities. Mother Nature may have intervened causing the last day to be cancelled but it was all fun in the sun for most of the festival. People could be seen seeking out shade, enjoying family lunches, while others beat the heat inside the nearing water park.

“I like this better,” said Angela Bondswell, who brought her two youngsters with her on Saturday. “We used to go to the street festival too but this year everything is so much closer together. For a parent, that means a lot. The kids just love it here.”

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Friday performances on the Thom Fountain Team stage saw a family picnic-vibe at the festival.

Martin could often been seeing motoring around the park on a golf cart to ensure everything was running smoothly and making sure her volunteers were hydrated. With less funding this year, festival t-shirts weren’t in the budget but loyal volunteers returned wearing shirts from previous years. In a year of changes, it seemed a fitting way to acknowledge the past while looking towards the future.

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Yasir Naqvi, MPP for Ottawa Centre

A daring escape by Rynestone!
A daring escape by Rynestone!

“I’m just getting used to the new venue because we were so used to Westfest being in Westboro on Richmond Road, but I’ve always felt that this park was underutilized and it’s a perfect venue to have events like this in,” said Yasir Naqvi, long time festival goer and MPP for Ottawa Centre. “It’s incredible the scope and the size. It’s great. We’re just enriching just another part this part of the community by having programming like this.”

Night one saw entertainment geared more towards families beginning with the annual Westfest TamTam with Dr. Lee. Friday performances included a Rock the Arts puppet show and magic by Rynestone. These shows would have children cramming themselves up against the security fence in front of the stage, smiles and eyes wide. They would have to move back, however, when the giant junk robot took to the grass along with the Junkyard Symphony. Utilizing the wee ones as volunteers, kids got involved with some juggling and dancing while the recycled instruments kept the beat. The evening in the park ended with some spoken word while, down the street at the Elmdale Tavern, the festival continued with an after party that ran until 2AM.

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Children pressed up against the stage gate watch the show.

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The Junkyard Symphony got the crowd involved.

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Main Stage sponsor Thom Fountain with festival volunteers Peter and Ellie Johnson

Main Stage Title Sponsor, realtor and friend of Westfest, Thom Fountain was overjoyed to see so many families come out to support the event in its transitional year.  Fountain and his team were involved in an All-stars Fundraiser early in the year and Martin called him afterwards with an offer to put his name on the stage.

“I get a lot of enjoyment out of music personally. I want to support the arts,” Fountain told Ottawa Life, taking a break from his booth in the park. “It seemed like a natural fit to do something more purposeful and help out. I think there’s room to grow here because the park is so large and there are opportunities to grow the festival in a whole different way.”

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Angelique Francis

After a free yoga session limbered people up, the Churchill School of Rock kids kicked off the day of music with some songs of change by Bob Dylan and U2, to name a few, utterly nailing the Who’s protest anthem “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Ottawa’s blues/rockers Velvet Revolution kicked off a string of high energy performances during the afternoon. Jessica Bianconi’s wailing could be heard from as far as the water park and jumping castle causing some families to move closer to see what the stage had to offer. They were not disappointed. From African dancing, to the soul of Angelique Francis, the diverse line-up didn’t let up with DJ Dan Valin spinning tracks during stage changes.

Danella Nguway, one of the kids that joined Cape Town storyteller Jacqui Du Toit on stage to dance, says she was shy at first but, when she saw the crowd, she just got lost in the fun. “It was my first time performing in front of people. I love how fun dancing is. I really like playing around here today.”

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Getting a better view.

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Jacqui Du Toit

Rebecca Noelle’s 5PM set continued the party-vibe. The singer grooved all over the Thom Fountain stage showing that her moves are just as awesome as her voice.

“Westfest 2016 was so relaxed and welcoming, reminiscent of a neighbourhood summer street party. I loved seeing the crowds arriving on foot and bicycle. Great new location!” said Noelle before her Saturday show. “I feel a deep connection with the festival because of its celebration of Indigenous Cultures. As a person of Cree decent, this is a community I identify with and care for deeply.”

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Rebecca Noelle and DeeDee Butters continued the energetic afternoon sets.

The inclusion of an Indigenous Pavilion this year continued to honour that tradition. Artisans like Thomas “Starwalker” Clair, Kelly Nahwegahbow Marsolas and others sold traditional crafts and artwork while performers utilized the space as a sort of second stage. Across the park were other businesses, some tasty treats and a fashion trailer where patrons could add to their summer wardrobe.

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Some of the items for sale at the new Indigenous Pavilion.

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The Lionyls

Missing Linx
Missing Linx

If the crowd was tired out by the time Missing Linxtook to the stage, they didn’t show it. The 4-man hip hop crew’s set was a festival highlight with kids and adults alike turning the park lawn into a dance party.

Missing Linx takes to the crowd!
Missing Linx takes to the crowd!

The group was so swept up in the energy that they leapt off the stage and started performing on the ground. The only thing holding them back from joining the crowd was the security gate!

Despite the final day cancelation of performances by Luther Wright and the Wrongs, Bone, Lucky Ron and others, organizers are looking back at the 2016 festival as a huge success.

“It went very well. It was a very happy, diverse audience which matched our programming and families of all kinds all gathered together with smiles. Without exception, everyone loved it! Not one complaint or negative feedback response," Martin told Ottawa Life. "I honestly couldn't be happier. "

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Live mural painting by Kalkidan Assefa

In case anyone was wondering if the Westfest would return in 2017, a morning tweet by the festival was pretty clear:

“Thank you to everyone for coming out and supporting us at our new location in Laroche Park. We can’t wait to see you again next year!”

Check out more photos from the weekend events and performances at Westfest 2016 in our slideshow.

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