This year commemorates Westfest’s 15th year as Ottawa’s most notorious free music and arts festival taking place at Tom Brown Arena June 8 to 10. This year’s festival will be celebrating 15 years of Canadian music and arts in addition to the perseverance and dedication of volunteers that have kept the festival going despite multiple obstacles in past years.
Westfest was founded in 2003 by Elaina Martin on a mandate of inclusivity, accessibility and being 100 per cent Canadian—values that continue to shape the festival today. Martin began the festival after “cutting her teeth” on event producing at Rock City Women’s Festival in Wakefield, Quebec.
In 2015, Westfest took on a new form and reshaped itself, mainly due to the loss of a $150,000 funder—a major financial drain for a free festival completely run by volunteers efforts. This lead to an overhaul of the festival, shrinking it from the massive size it had become over the years and refocusing with a hyper-local lens.
Westfest has evolved and reshaped a lot over the years and has certainly downsized from its original and larger incarnations in Ottawa’s western neighborhoods. With years ranging from a 14-block street party to a five-acre field. Westfest has settled this year at Tom Brown Arena in the Hintonburg/Mechanicsville area, utilizing both the large outside green space and the inside halls of the arena.
“I think the fact that we’re still here, that a free festival has survived for 15 years, that’s how we’ve evolved,” said Martin. “We’ve evolved in the fact that we’ve gone through the humps of moving and losing tons of funders over the years and still found a way to keep this free community arts festival afloat.”
Jeff Leiper serves as the city councilor for Kitchissippi ward, where Westfest happens. He’s been a long time supporter of the festival, at community and city levels.
“Our music scene (in Ottawa) is really diverse, really welcoming and really inclusive and WestFest has come to epitomize all of those values right across all of our music scenes,” Leiper said.
One of the most exciting aspects of this years location is the inclusion of a Westfest Dance After Party on June 8, in the upstairs hall of Tom Brown arena featuring DJ’s Del Pilar, Craig Dominic, and SEIIIZMIKK as well as a Live Music After Party on June 9 featuring River City Junction, Thomas Starwalker Clair, and more!
Headlining the main stage this year will be Cody Coyote, 80s rockers The Pursuit of Happiness, Bear Witness of A Tribe Called Red, and Witch Prophet. Local acts such as King Kimbit, Kimberly Sunstrum, Rita Carter, Julie Corrigan and Lake Urmia will also grave the stage. Truly bringing together the scenes, the festival will also host a panel with artist, activist, and professor Cara Tierney in conversation with Ehren Thomas (aka Bear Witness), Elsa Mirzaei, and Fiona Wright about cross-community collaboration on art.
Westfest seeks to celebrate inclusivity and the beauty of Ottawa’s music and arts scenes and by putting a stronger emphasis on local creators, it opens up more opportunities and exposure for talented young artists.