“Every year we were just trying to transform the venues. Transform the outdoor spaces that we were in. Trying to make them immersive”

By Evan McKay

Ottawa’s Arboretum Festival will be celebrating its fifth year of existence August 18 and 19. Taking place at Rideau Pines farm, about 20 minutes outside the city, Arboretum hopes to create a small intimate event. The festival will be brought to life by not only it’s beautiful location but as well with local and international artists and a handful of local foods such as Two Six Ate, Beyond The Pale, and Buchipop . Ottawa Beat caught up with festival founders Rolf Klausener and Stefanie Powers to talk about the history of Arboretum, the new location and how they hope to make this year’s festival manageable. Conversation has been edited for clarity.

WHY AND HOW DID YOU ORIGINALLY START ARBORETUM FESTIVAL?

Rolf Klausener: Ottawa was really going through a rebirth in 2010/2011 and it was super palpable. It was impossible if you lived in Ottawa to not feel this sort of weird energy in the air . . . New bands were coming out of the woodwork and more and more bands were starting to tour and there was just something really electric in the air. The festival was really just a celebration of all of it. We had 12 restaurants that rst year. Something like 27 bands. It was really crazy and ambitious but it was really just a celebration of a rebirth of the city that was happening.

HOW HAS YOUR VISION FOR THE FESTIVAL CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

RK: So this year, with all the stu happening for Canada 150, we were kind of overwhelmed. We were definitely overwhelmed after last year’s festival. We kind of realized, we don’t want to be racing around like maniacs in August, which is such a chill time of year anyway. It kind of felt counter intuitive. When everyone is just kind of vibing on the dog days of the summer . . . we just thought, wow, wouldn’t it be nice to get a break from Canada 150 and get out of the city? And that was sort of the direction we wanted to go this year. We wanted to simplify too.

Stéfanie Powers: And this year actually brings us closer to what the initial vision for the festival was. Because initially it was envisioned as a camping festival. It was kind of inspired by a lot of festivals that happen in the UK which people really are transported to a location.

RK: It’s true, we really are getting to the original vision. Every year we were just trying to transform the venues. Transform the outdoor spaces that we were in. Trying to make them immersive. Essentially just trying to bring the country tot he city or try to create these magical spaces in the city. And it’s pretty funny because when you get to the farm it’s like, you don’t have to do anything! It’s already completely surreal and magical when you get there. Now there’s less transforming to do and more just, embellishing.

SP: It also felt like, the longer we stayed downtown, the more we had to accommodate to the downtown rules. And going out to the country really felt like we could throw a lot of those rules, maybe not out the window, but we could put them in the glove compartment.

ARBORETUM HAS BEEN PLAGUED BY SOME FINANCIAL AND VENUE INSTABILITY—HOW HAS THIS SHAPED THE FESTIVAL?

SP: There are some challenges and the hope was always to nd a bit more of a permanent home for ourselves. So we’ll see if we can kind of grow into this site this year.

RK: “The idea just kind of came up to go to the farm. But it was really clinched when we met with Matt Vandenberg, the farmer. After about 20 minutes of talking, he just says, “You know, I’ve been actually waiting for this conversation for the last three years.” It was so exciting we all started laughing and got goosebumps. I think that’s what we were looking for. We were looking for someone who really really wanted to work with us and who shared a vision. So I think we found a real kinship with Rideau Pine Farms!

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ARTISTS YOU’RE MOST EXCITED FOR?

SP: Deerhoof is a band that we’ve loved for years and having them here is really exciting!

RK: We discovered L1ef maybe three or four years ago and I think when we saw his rst couple videos, considering the size of the festival back then, there was no way that it was even a consideration to book someone like that. So to bring someone like L1ef, and especially someone who’s natural setting is like, crazy nightclubs in New York, and bring them to a forest stage . . . That’s such a juxtaposition and it’ll be really cool!

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE NEW LOCATION?

RK: I think what’s really exciting to me is this idea that you’re not just coming to the stage, watching the show and walking away. The main stage is actually part of the beer garden, part of the dining grove as well. It’s really immersive. So you can be eating some food, grabbing a beer at the bar and then watching the show all at the same time. This space is kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure novel a little bit. Go get lost in the forest with a friend and go explore. So it’s kind of nice, we’re not telling people where to go and what to do!

HOW ELSE WAS ARBORETUM “SIMPLIFIED” THIS YEAR?

SP: We made a conscious decision this year to book way fewer bands. Especially since this is an experiment year. We wanted to test things out rst and not go overboard. So what’s nice is that there isn’t a whole lot of overlap with the bands. You can pretty much see every band!

RK: We’ve learned that we’re not really programing a festival for everyone. But ideally it is for everyone, we want people to discover bands they haven’t seen before. But we’re not bringing in LCD Soundsystem or Flume. We’re really like a discovery festival. We’re an emerging music festival. But the idea that the vibe is so welcoming and people who’ve never heard of any of the bands would nd the environment and the community so good, that it would bring them back and open them up to discover. Which is really what we’ve always really enjoyed. So for us, we want people to discover what we like and we like to do it in an environment that’s welcoming to all sorts of people!

Check past and future events from Arboredum Festival

This interview was part of our August 2017 Issue 15