Cranium Festival 2021 was the place to be in Ottawa this past weekend. The festival returned to Ottawa for their third consecutive year for a trio of star-studded nights packed with live entertainment that the city has desperately been waiting for. Amidst a global pandemic, the 27 Club was jammed full of people each night to hear some of the biggest artists coming out of the city as well as Canada.
Last year the festival was completely virtual, which was a common trend of the time, but came back this year with one of the most exciting weekends Ottawa has seen since the pandemic hit. For three days, the 27 Club was bumping with stacked lineups with hometown heroes such as Lindasson, Hueso, Lonely Boy and Jeff Sanon making appearances throughout the weekend. Cranium also made sure to show love to many other big name Canadian artists, featuring performances from some of the hottest artists coming out of Toronto in Haviah Mighty, Charmaine and Nate Husser.
I unfortunately was unable to attend all three nights of what I can only imagine would have been my first, second and third favourite events in Ottawa this past year. Sadly, but not unfortunately, I was only able to make it to the final night of the three-day long party. Now I can’t speak for the Friday and Saturday performances, but if they were anything like they were on Sunday, I am surprised there was a roof to even perform under by the third and final day.
Before I get too far into the recap of Sunday evening’s performances, I want to show some love to the Cranium Festival itself. I am relatively new to the creative scene in the city of Ottawa; however I feel as if I and our team here at DTTW have been welcomed with open arms. And it feels fucking awesome. Upon moving here, I had the stereotypical outlook on Ottawa life. A starchy city filled with joggers and suits, paired with my limited knowledge of the arts scene here, had painted a rather dismal outlook towards the city.
But that has all changed with the help of the many people I have met by immersing myself in the music world and through events such as the Cranium Festival here in the city. The talent in Ottawa is bubbling over the brim at this point in time, but the common consensus is that the city lacks infrastructure to give its plethora of talented individuals a stage to stand on and make their voices heard. But that seems to all be changing.
“Cranium basically is teaching other Canadian festivals to look within. You don’t have to have another person from another country come in and fly in. There’s a lot of talent harboring in Ottawa, there’s a lot of talent harboring in Canada in general and we have to stop looking across the borders to find that.” Said Lonelyboyxxo of the festival.
And this is where Cranium hits the nail right on the mafucking head. Locally sourced talent performing alongside some of the biggest up and comers from the Canadian scene at an intimate venue made for a magical experience for all of those involved.
To kick off Sunday night, in true concert fashion, Jeff Sanon sauntered onto the stage an hour after the alleged eight o’clock start time. The anticipation in the room was at an all-time high, as people looked at their phones eagerly waiting for the show to begin. But the performance curbed any sort of agitation towards a late start. Sanon burst onto the stage in a ball of energy. A Pvstlife balaclava hid his face from the crowd, but it was no mystery as to what the audience was in store for. After the performance of his first song, the room was ringing with excitement. Every moment of the wait proved to be incredibly worthwhile.
Sanon seemed to feed off the energy of the audience from his hometown. As he got deeper into the set, he swelled up to twice his size and gave a larger-than-life performance to get the night rocking. It was dope as fuck. He moved around the stage with grace and rage. Sanon even paused to make a beat and drop a freestyle mid set, making for an extremely raw and emotional ambiance. With the help of DJ Mase, Sanon floated into a completely off the top freestyle which I must say, was one of the most vulnerable moments I’ve ever seen take place on stage. During his cypher, he dropped a bar about improving Ottawa, something he and his team keep very near to their heart. As well, this seems to be the basis of the Cranium Festival’s platform in the city.
“By bringing all these creatives together and really giving the city a show. This is how we make the city believe that there’s a culture out here. As much as they might think that there’s something missing, there’s something here that we just have to showcase like we did tonight.” Sanon said about the impact events like these have towards a slept on city.
Jeff Sanon (left) and City Fidelia (right) performing at Cranium Festival 2021
As if all that wasn’t enough, he brought out his brother and coincidental mayor of Ottawa, the one and only City Fidelia. The blood relatives teamed up for two tracks, filled with bars and an energy that could have shattered the windows out of the bar, if there were any that is. The connection between the two would have had every fan on their toes if they weren’t busy jumping around.
That brings us to the next act, Charmaine. I don’t have many words that can describe what that performance was like for me. But I will stretch them out for the sake of this blog. What I will say, Charmaine made me feel like a bad bitch. Yes folks, even Johnny Blaze had the urge to pat his weave and get buck wild with the queen of the “bad bitch mentality”.
Charmaine’s stage presence is electric. When I spoke to her after her set, she candidly revealed she perhaps shouldn’t have taken that many shots before stepping foot on stage. To that I say she couldn’t be further from the truth. Whatever she ingested before rocking the room only boosted her performance by a million. She commanded the room and demanded every ounce of attention in the small setting.
Charmaine at Cranium Festival
During her set, Charmaine opened up about the last time she was in the city. She told a story from four years ago where she and her family were living in a shelter here in Ottawa. Flash forward to present day and she was performing for the second time ever to a crowd of screaming fans, yelling her lyrics back to her.
“It’s definitely surreal, but it’s an amazing feeling. During the time I was here the first time, I was at a low point in my life and I didn’t really have much hope for anything better. So to come back in a situation where my family is good, I’m good. I’m doing what I love, I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.” Charmaine said when asked about her past and relationship with the city.
To cap the night off, Haviah Mighty shut the place down. And I don’t mean that metaphorically, no one would be able to follow the energy she brought to the stage. I was left wondering how anyone would follow Charmaine’s performance after she left the stage as the energy seemed to linger in the room like a blanket made of lightning. Everyone was hyped and there was no way to bring that down.
But then Haviah Mighty came along. And I’m not going to compare the two performances because apples and oranges weren’t meant to be compared, ever. Mighty is another artist coming out of Toronto who should be on your radar, if she isn’t already. And she fucking brought it to the Cranium Festival stage.
From the start, the electric blanket was plugged back in again. The moment she stepped foot on stage, she had everyone hooked. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone jump so high as she did during the first drop of her set. Haviah packages bars and energy in the most enjoyable way. Despite her high impact set, she never slowed down. From beginning until the end of her set, she did not take her foot off of the gas. Her crowd interaction was unmatched, her cadence unparalleled and her range is incomparable to anyone else in the game. She also brought out her sister for a reggae style track, marking the second sibling duo to take the stage of the evening.
Mighty has had an incredibly busy year after releasing a multitude of singles. However, she promises two more are going to be dropped by the end of the year to complete the rollout, which will then eventually be wrapped up into one beautiful mixtape for us all, slated to drop November 12. But like I said, she doesn’t take her foot off the gas.
“After that, the momentum won’t stop. Who knows where I’ll be, but it will definitely be connecting with the fans, making new music, I’m already starting to write new music because that’s just what I do. And getting some really cool live opportunities, you know, since we’ve been off the grid for so long, I want to definitely stay connected with people. We’re back outside a little bit, and I think that’s what’s going to be a big part of what’s next.” Mighty said.
Haviah Mighty closing out Cranium Festival 2021
All in all, my experience at Cranium Festival on day three was more than I could have asked for. After covering the virtual event last year, witnessing the glow up to live venues and sold out crowds made for one of the most enjoyable features of the night. It was a feeling I had missed, as fans dawned toothy smiles and sweaty faces for the entirety of the night. Each artist brought a vibe that would be insulting to call their “A game”. Expectations were exceeded as no one left the 27 Club disappointed.
Ultimately, it was just nice to see Ottawa winning. Like I said, it is events like these that bring us together and give us a reason to keep creating. Familiar faces lined the walls for a night of vibes and undeniable happiness. I feel as if I speak for everyone when I say that I was elated to be in attendance on night three. Shout out to Cranium Festival for curating a beautiful weekend of entertainment and giving the culture here in Ottawa some much needed love.
(Disclaimer: If this blog is the first time you are hearing of any of these artists, go do some fucking homework because you are not going to want to miss any of these artists the next time they're in the capital city.)
Written by: John Balser