Entrance to Mill Street Brewpub patio area and restaurant.
Entrance to Mill Street Brewpub patio area and restaurant.

The weekend of Aug. 12-13, 2016 saw the inaugural event of Ottawa’s, “Hopped & Confused”…a pun-like play on words that brought together a love of beer and music culture in an outdoor 2-day festival organized by the joint efforts of Mill Street Brewery and Dine Alone Records. Dine Alone Records was formed in 2005, and is a Toronto-Nashville-Los Angeles based label that boasts quite a roster, including an impressive list of some of our highly successful Canadian talent, eight of which were featured during the Hopped & Confused Festival.


Mill Street Brewery was founded in 2002 by partners, Steve Abrams, Jeff Cooper, and Michael Duggan, and was named after its original location at 55 Mill Street in Toronto. Over time, they opened a series of pubs, including one in Ottawa in 2011, which is in a picturesque location on the banks of the Ottawa River, inside a 140-year old historic building that once served as a grist mill. The beautiful stone building sits on a gigantic piece of property which is in close proximity to downtown Ottawa and Gatineau, and has a large outdoor patio and parking space, making it an ideal area to hold such an event. Because of the fact that the event was held in the venue’s parking area, organizers had made sure to post plenty of info on a multitude of surrounding available Ottawa/Gatineau parking sites, directions via city transit, and discounts on Uber transportation to the location. The following features an excerpt of my conversation about the event with Alex Lanthier of Mill Street Brewery:


ME: “How did the idea of running your own outdoor music/beer festival get started?”


AL: “We’d always thought that our location in Ottawa, at the old building right by the river with that big parking lot in front, would be a great venue for a concert or a festival. We’ve had that pub now for some years and we thought, this is just a great location. We were doing a music series in Toronto, and I met the people from Dine Alone Records, where we started to chat about my idea of a festival…it all came together very quickly. My idea was to have live music and great beers, and Dine Alone really kicked it out of the park with providing some amazing bands.”


ME: “Can you give me a little history about the Mill Street Brewery in terms of its long-time affiliation with music?”


AL: Founding member Steve Abrams was, and still is, playing in all different types of bands, and we were the first to move into the distillery district (Toronto) at that time. The brewery was used as a rehearsal space as well for Steve’s band, so we’ve had a long-time connection to music right there.”


ME: “It seems like the music and the beer have always seemed to go hand-in-hand right from the start. Tell me about some of the other things the brewery has been involved with.”


AL: “Well, personally, music and beer are two of my most favourite things in life! We’ve been lucky at Mill Street from the beginning to partner up with some awesome music festivals, like Ottawa Bluesfest, the Burlington Sound of Music Festival, the Jazz Festivals in Toronto and Vancouver, and Indie Week Canada in Toronto. We’ve always been associated with music.”


ME: “Tell me about the size of the space for Hopped & Confused.”


AL: “We’re licensed to sell 2,000 tickets, which is a decent size, but will allow for a more intimate show.”


ME: “I hear you have a new white IPA beer you’re featuring, as well as a specially designed menu for this event.”


AL: “The white IPA style right now is very popular. Ours is a mix between a wheat beer and an India pale ale. We’ll have 15 beers on tap served up at 2 bars outside. The food is a San Antonio-themed inspired picnic which is really a mix of classic American BBQ and Mexicana-type fare. It’s all in-house prepared by our own chefs in an outdoor kitchen and served in our own food trucks set up on the grounds.”


Friday night’s line-up consisted of Towers (Toronto, ON), Public Animal (Toronto, ON), Winter sleep (Halifax, NS), with headliners, The Sheepdogs (Saskatoon, SK). Saturday night’s line-up brought bands, Brothers of North (Aurora, ON), Poor Young Things (TO), Glorious Sons (Kingston, ON), and headliners, Monster Truck (Hamilton, ON). A 2-night pass went on sale for the unbelievably low price of only $55. The doors opened at 5pm each day and the first bands went on precisely at 6:30pm, with shorter set durations of 45 minutes, which allowed each headliner a full 1-½ hour performance. Things wrapped up nicely at 11:00pm, after which DJ-ing activities carried on inside the brewpub until the wee hours of the night. Despite a somewhat rain-soaked weekend, the turnout for both nights was at sell-out levels, the bands stayed on their tight schedules, and generally speaking, the entire event was pulled off very efficiently and professionally for a first-time run. Here’s a recap of Friday’s experience:


The Sheepdogs
The Sheepdogs

The grounds were larger than I had expected, and stunningly beautiful with an enormous cobble-stoned patio encircling the building. Ahead of all this laid an equally generous parking lot area, on which a raised and covered concert-sized stage, food/beer concessions, and merch trailer were arranged in a semi-circular formation around its perimeter, allowing for plenty of room to move. The scene was like walking onto a huge, well-manicured estate or country club, vivid with luscious greenery and gorgeously landscaped flower beds inside rod-ironed fencing. The majestic red-roofed, 3-storey high stone building houses the brewpub on the main level, and the outdoor lights strung up throughout the patio further added to the area’s picturesque beauty.


I tried a couple of items from one of their food trucks, including their melt-in-your-mouth grilled corn on the cob, and both the beef and chicken soft tortilla tacos…the chicken was especially tender and tasty, but the beef absolutely exploded with flavours of lovely smoke/mesquite. There was also a ribs and brisket truck, which I intend to reserve my next year’s tastings around. Next, I had to try the new Mill Street White IPA, which I found both very floral and fruity, with flavours of pear and citrus. It was lighter-tasting than most typical wheat beers I’ve tried, and less hoppy, with a slightly bitter, yet smooth finish.


On the music scene of things, Towers, a young 4-piece band who call themselves a gritty and pretty rock band from Toronto, kicked off the perfect start to the evening with a very classic-rock inspired set that included great vocals, serious powerhouse drum/bass backbone, and some excellent blues-scaled rock guitar riffing. Next came another Toronto band, a 4-piece collective of guitar, bass, drums, and keys called, Public Animal. They impressed me greatly with their keyboard and rhythm-heavy collection of well-written fiery rock material, laden with Deep Purple flavours, changing tempos, and psychedelic textures. The vocals were equally delivered by guitarist, Ian Blurton, and keyboardist, Caitlin Dacey, who shone individually in their uniqueness. But it was when the two blended their distinctly different timbres in a variety of harmonies and call-and-answers within the style of their music, I was instantly reminded of the hair-raising vocals featured front and center by bands like Uriah Heep.


Juno-award winning artists, Wintersleep, were the next band showcased, and gave us a taste of their vast repertoire from their 15-year history, which included material from their latest album, “The Great Detachment”. I enjoyed their tribal-flavoured and textured rhythms, very flowing and uncomplicated melodies, soft-strong intensities, nice synth embellishments, and accented keyboard work that gave a slight new age sound overtop their organic rock base. Guitarist/lead singer, Paul Murphy’s warm voice rang in higher-pitched smoothness, reminiscent of vocalists such as Dan Peek and Myles Goodwyn, that added to the music’s unique edge.

Paul Murphy, lead vocalist/guitarist of Wintersleep.
Paul Murphy, lead vocalist/guitarist of Wintersleep.

Friday night headliners, multi-Juno award winners, The Sheepdogs, finished off the night with their completely infectious retro rock sound, that pumped up the audience from the first note. This band continues to impress me with their tightness, stage presence, and individual as well as collective musical talent, which seems to increase with every show, especially since their latest addition of guitarist/pedal steel guitarist, Jimmy Bowskill. A wide range of classic rock flavours reminiscent of Three Dog Night, The Stampeders, The Guess Who, The Allman Brothers, and Grand Funk Railroad attibute to the band’s fresh and diverse sound, which ranges from easy gliding to hard rocking. Their songs in this 1-½ hour set were comprised of past and present material, which included tunes from their newest release, “Future Nostalgia” (2015). The show was loaded with thick instrumental work and multiple vocal harmonies, that set the crowd into dance-inducing bliss. Featured highlights included brothers, Ewan and Shamus Currie’s common practice of exchanged instrumental duties, where lead vocalist/guitarist, Ewan assumed the keys, and keyboardist, Shamus donned his trombone. Jimmy Bowskill also showed his multi-instrumental prowess from his amazing lead guitar work, to his pedal steel abilities. At the end, the band came back to encore with a powerhouse version of Neil Young’s, “Down By The River”, which completely tapped into each band member’s talents.


Although I didn’t attend Saturday night, a similar recount was reported, with another successful turnout, and all four bands: Brothers of North, Poor Young Things, Glorious Sons, and Monster Truck, having performed to rave reviews. Again, the sound quality was superb, and a clear view of the stage could be seen from every angle of the grounds. To sum things up, I highly recommend Hopped & Confused’s overall well-rounded experience to every food, beer, and music lover’s summer festival itinerary and anticipate next year’s line-up!

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