Sun Times staff
Otherfolk began recently with melodious psychedelic guitar riffs drifting downtown from the bandshell across the river.
Then there were short films at the library, classical music at the art gallery, jazz at The Roxy, and eventually folk or country-ish, electronic, dub, DJ, metal, blues, improv and other music at pubs, coffee shops, restaurants and bookstores all over downtown. Oh, and writers were reading poetry and talking about their novels. And there was photography and sculpture.
With his second and much expanded Otherfolk event, Josh Richardson has managed to both unite the downtown merchant community and showcase the city’s musical, visual, film and literary arts communities, some venue owners and performers said Thursday night.
It was too soon at deadline to know how exactly how audiences responded this year. Early venues — the art gallery and a few stores and coffee shops — weren’t full in the late afternoon, but there was a growing buzz of activity.
By 9:30 p.m., smaller downtown venues were at capacity, with people waiting outside. Both Kati Gleiser, at The Ginger Press, and Dave Matthews, at Norma Jean’s, were playing to full houses. The back patio at Jazzmyn’s was filling up for Pete Devlin, and Woe had a healthy crowd at The Chaise Lounge.
Shows at larger licensed venues, with most of Otherfolk’s better-known local performers, were just getting underway and were expected to run into the early morning hours.
The early talk Thursday among performers and merchants — some who have watched the city’s music and arts scene for years — was about how appropriate the event is for downtown and how much potential they see.
“I think we’re seeing the beginning of something that can just continue to grow,” said Virginia Eichhorn, director/curator at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery.
Sensing Richardson was onto something after his similar mid-winter cultural festival, Lupercalia, last February, she got in touch and offered the gallery as a venue, as well as her help and support.
“It’s a great grassroots way for the gallery to be able support this local scene,” she said.
The event’s somewhat counter cultural nature should attract some, Eichhorn said. It rose out of Richardson’s criticism of Summerfolk, which starts today and runs until Sunday at Kelso Beach, and should appeal for people who don’t normally support institutionalized cultural events and facilities, she said.
“Because it’s outside the regular institutions, it gives people that opportunity to experience arts they might not have otherwise.”
Maryann Thomas, who has operated the Ginger Press book shop downtown since 1984, said with Otherfolk Richardson has forged unusual new links in the community.
“He’s managed to achieve alliances that we didn’t even know were missing,” Thomas said. “I have huge respect for what Josh has done. I think it’s amazing and I’m just so pleased and proud to be able to be part of this.
“What he’s done is identify this wonderful, vibrant cultural community that we have and provide the linkages that no one else has done in my history of the downtown. It’s never happened.”
Richardson has said his goal with the festival is to promote young, local artists while creating an event through which the local arts scene can reach and exceed its potential.
Jazzmyn’s owner Pam McLay offers mostly local performers four nights a week at her bar and restaurant. She said she was proud to see musicians who have grown and developed over the years at Jazzmyn’s now part of a larger cultural event that highlights the music community.
“I think it’s fabulous. It’s amazing the talent that we have in this town,” McLay said. “Josh has done a really good job of uniting the community and I’m a music girl, so anything that brings the community and the music together I’m for.”
While Owen Sound has long been known for its arts community and several years ago was listed as a cultural capital of Canada — which qualified it for several government cultural grant programs — Thomas said Otherfolk provides ground-level evidence of what’s out there.
“I think what this is doing is cementing the reality that this is a cultural capital. That came down from on high before, but now it’s coming from the grassroots.”
Toronto-based singer, pianist and songwriter Lauren Best, raised in Owen Sound, said Otherfolk is an ideal complement to Summerfolk that offers artists who don’t fit into that festival’s roots-music identity. Best’s solo show of her own songs, from her January CD release Sticker Collection, kicked things off at The Ginger Press.
“I think this event puts Owen Sound on the map in terms of a certain kind of do-it-yourself independent music, and that culture has existed in Owen Sound for a long time,” best said.
“I feel like this really showcases Owen Sound’s talent but also Owen Sound as a community that support the arts.”
Otherfolk featured classical music this year, including Georgian Bay Youth Symphony conductor Richard Mascall leading more than a dozen musicians in a performance of minimalist composer Terry Riley’s 1968 piece In C. Just as Otherfolk rallied the arts community, this performance brought together members of the Owen Sound City Band, the Georgian Bay Symphony, the youth orchestra and others.
A piece that can last 20 minutes or several hours, the work was originally performed at all-night art gallery sessions, Mascall said, making it an ideal piece to bridge the gap between classical music and some of the other genres at Otherfolk.