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Monday
Sep152014

War On Drugs definitely better "prepared" than Matt "guitar" Murphy at Ottawa Folkfest

Photos: Mike Bouchard

Words: Jay McConnery

Sunday, brought Folk Fest’s deserving fans some blue skies and the warmth of autumn sun, reviving weariness with a lineup spilling over with curiosities, sonic gold and various country flavours. Beginning to slip behind in real world responsibilities, I spent the majority of the day completing school work, but made certain to arrive on site in plenty of good time for Philadelphia band: The War on Drugs. Their latest album ‘Lost in the Dream’ has been getting a lot of play on my stereo, and I was ecstatic to hear the production of the live performance faithfully matched the sonic standard set on the record. Huge! The sound was colossal, with Charlie Hall’s killer Ludwig vistalite kit and deliberate groove playing treating listeners to drum tones immaculate, confidently escorting the psychedelic drone which magically entranced listeners young and old for the brief hour they were on stage.

Offering tracks from their three albums, but focusing mainly on ‘Dream,’ frontman Adam Granduciel channels the desirable elements of Dylan’s vocal within spacey melodic progressions set to punchy driving beats. There are elements of Americana, and Space-rock, and stoner rock, which all sound exactly right in the WOD stew. Sounds pretty perfect to me, really. Often I found their most simple melodies and progressions became the most memorable. I realized part of the depth was derived from some backing tracks- but oddly, I didn’t give a shit. I’m by no means a purest, or consistent in my assertions- are you?  Anyway- to avoid going all Blue Rodeo on them, I’ll admit they aren’t the most diverse act on earth, but they do their thing really really well. 

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Sunday
Sep142014

Elephant Revival, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Blue Rodeo at Ottawa Folkfest

Photos: Mike Bouchard

Words: Jay McConnery

Cold as Folk Fest continued Saturday with another diverse line-up of exceptional talent and somewhat uncomfortable muddy, toe-freezing weather. The craft beer tent kept things toasty, as well as it's patron's insides tingly with tasty sample-beers and east coast revelry, but elsewhere on the site, crowds were left to huddle en masse and stay warm by jostling as much as possible. After a day of cold torrential rain, navigation on Saturday was a mucky challenge, but enthusiastic audiences kept the mood jovial and tolerable. As I entered, Seasick Steve entertained the main-stage area with a series of unique, hand-altered instruments set to thunderous bluesy back beat. After some wandering, I settled in to check out Elephant Revival on the Hill Stage. They are an eclectic folk grass group from Colorado with a phenomenally unique sound, marked by soaring harmonies, an electric guit-banjo and subtle washboard percussion. This was clearly a special opportunity to see this group on such a small, intimate stage- and the faces of the musicians suggested it was one they were enjoying as much as the audience. Lead female vocalist Bonnie Paine sounds like a cross between Edie Brickell and Sarah Harmer – charming my long johns partially off with her toothsome timbre, and Bridget Law entranced with her quick fiddle work and toothy grin. From here, I jockeyed for position at the Ravenlaw stage for Neutral Milk Hotel, along with a swath of dedicated fans and curious onlookers. In advance, spoken word poet Mustafa presented some interactive pieces both creative and thought provoking. Perhaps not a popular choice for those with four or more drinks in their system, but I felt his brief slam drew the audience into a reflective mode and propelled the NMH performance even further. 

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Saturday
Sep132014

The National headlined the Ottawa Folk Festival friday night

Photos: Mike Bouchard

Words: Jay McConnery

The Folk festival's oddest main stage programming unfolded this frigid evening, as soul, and hip hop were sandwiched between kid-pop Gods, the Wiggles and Indie-rock demi-gods, the National. Earlier on though, it was a treat to catch a few numbers from Lee Fields and his deft band the Expressions, as they wowed with old school funk and soul that represents the contemporary pinnacle of that genre (to say - the quickly dwindling genre of hotshot soul bands fronted by authentic/ still living soul legends).

J. Cole followed with an intense hip-hop set, backed by a live drummer, two dancers and an arsenal of expletives, which captivated an enthusiastic audience and sent myself, and several unimpressed Grannies running for the hills. Cole's audience participation and lyrical delivery were on point- but I felt like the aggressive sexual tone didn't really suit the post-Wiggles scene. However, It worked out- as I got to take in a couple of local bands, who I haven't yet had the opportunity to check out. Pony Girl was an impressive 7 piece band with wispy folk tendencies and some smooth Rhodes- driven grooves, which kept me interested. The inclusion of clarinet bolstered the boy-girl harmonies, and the enthusiastic group collectively delivered in a heart-felt manner- I'll definitely check them out again.

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Thursday
Sep112014

Ottawa Folkfest is two Festivals in One.

Ten degrees C is pretty much the precursor to the feeling of winter.  Cold, shivery times that aren't really great for standing around outside.  Luckily, a music festival promotes motion to stave off the chills and "Ice Cold Beer" sounds great to the ears but ungloved hands prove that a hot chocolate with a bit of bailey's would be more satisfying (hmmm... hot chocolate and bailey's food truck...someone should write this down for next year)

The Ottawa Folkfest, located at Vincent Massy Park, is clearly bigger than it ever was and the organizers seem to have found a great groove in the fourth year that the Ottawa Bluesfest entity has been running the shows.  While the festival initially appears to be twice as large as it used to be, it actually feels like two self contained festivals that share common ground and two-tiers of service.  Many people are surprised to discover that they could actually come without paying for a ticket and enjoy great craft beers, plenty of distinctive food trucks, vendors and charity driven craft tents and see live music in a dedicated music tent with great sound, lighting and tons of space.  The side effect is pleasantly having the ability to listen to acts in the paid live music grounds from the free side of the bike path on the lawn.

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Thursday
Sep112014

Opening Night at Ottawa Folkfest with Blues Traveler and Foster the People

Photos: Mike Bouchard

Words: Jay McConnery

Opening night at Hog’s Back packed in an impressive horde of smiling music-lovers, and presented an unintentionally perfect microcosmic encapsulation of the Ottawa Folk Fest through music, weather and spirit. The night began warm, with wisps of humidity retreating from the chilly breeze, as a late summer storm slowly rolled in, eventually soaking revellers who seemed not to care in the least. It was fun becoming re-acquainted with the digs, watching patrons explore the comfortable family-friendly site, which boasts a fantastic ‘free-zone’ including vendors, concessions, live stages, as well as an awesome craft beer area. Guests without passes can visit, explore and enjoy complimentary music, accessing some great artisans and informative booths- providing reminiscence of the previous site at Britannia, and the festival’s social community origins. The ‘ticket’ side is fenced in (with a fairly small check point) and includes several stages on the comfortable grass-y pitch extending between Heron and Hog’s Back, dotted with vendors, concessions and beards. I managed to catch the last few songs of M. Ward’s set- and didn’t get an opportunity to find a desirable spot. However, tonight I was able to catch aesthetically polar opposites (which both somehow fit tidily in the new direction of Folk Fest), beginning with the comfortably paunchy jam legends Blues Traveler, and later the slick manicured and somewhat vacuous pop of Foster the People.

John Popper, love him or hate him, is an icon- a truly original voice, one which is immediately recognizable through either his unique vocals or ri

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Saturday
Aug162014

Ryan Adams - Wrecking Ball

Thursday
Aug142014

When will Lake Street Dive come back to Ottawa?

After Lake Street Dive performed at Ottawa's Jazz Festival this summer, they seem to be popping up all over Youtube and Kevin Nealon's Twitter feed.   Someone needs to book them in Ottawa again before they're too expensive!
Monday
Jul142014

Here's an Entire Weekend at Ottawa Bluesfest


Childish Gambino - Photo: Mike Bouchard

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By: Jay McConnery

Photos: Mike Bouchard 

 

As the sun set on the final weekend of the 20th Anniversary Bluesfest blowout, and I considered the uncomfortable implications of Collective Soul’s suggestive anthem “Spit me Out,” endless mutating reflections and highlights bounced around my head like dried maize spinning in a hot kettle; a tired, disgusting old kettle, with growing cracks and tell-tale signs of irreversible scorching. Although, in principle, still functional. Thankfully, some of these aforementioned kernels were able to reach the required temperature to explode into realized ideas and mature into the seasoned, salty sweet nuggets we are able to enjoy together here. Others, of course, remain in undeveloped stasis, slipping forgotten between cracks of the fold out floor, into the flattened Bluesfest turf, where they will wait to be devoured by next spring’s flock of Canadian Geese. I think a few nuggets may also be only partially popped. To say, pulling together a final festival weekend wrap-up is a daunting, difficult task- especially sitting at my desk on Monday morning, considering the sheer number of artists and experiences that must be recalled - but even more so,  synthesizing the successes and challenges of the festival brand into a delicious stick-worthy bag of throat clogging kettle corn delight. Anyway, I volunteered for this, so let’s get down to it.

 

 

Friday began with a sun-soaked throwback, as an ocean of black shirts sang through Guns’n’Roses classics as led by the dextrous fret-work of the iconic Slash and his band, the Conspirators. Tending towards Quebecois, tattooed, and heavily bronzed, the audience suspended (some) reality to be all at once transported to a simpler time- 1990. Visions of hedonistic hairspray danced across the mind’s eye as security hosed down the overheating pit crowd in a scene reminiscent of rock videos from times gone by. Myles Kennedy did a great job as a different kind of mild-mannered Axl, and it was pretty hard to deny the fun atmosphere during their short set, which got double check marks as a cover band, and nostalgia act. Overall, I would say Slash’s volume could’ve been boosted a little during the raging solo portion of ‘Paradise City,’ but it’s silly to complain now.

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Friday
Jul112014

Blondie, John Mayall, Young the Giant, Procol Harum at Ottawa Bluesfest

Blondie - Photo: Mike Bouchard - at Ottawa Bluesfest

By: Jay McConnery

Perfect weather and sunny vibes greeted my arrival Thursday afternoon to Bluesfest. The sun roasting my pink crown as I happily sashayed through security with an unwieldy can-shaped bulge in my pants.  My clandestine refreshment kept axels cool as I motored between stages, mechanically harvesting as much musical fruit as possible before Blondie was scheduled to perform an hour later. First up, I enjoyed the unique voice of Gary Brooker and his band Procol Harum, accompanied by the NAC orchestra on the Bell Stage: an elaborate production of thoughtful scoring and spectacular execution.  

The proceedings were masterfully guided by conductor David Firman, in close proximity and communication with Harum drummer Geoff Dunn. The pair navigated the prodigious collective like a bloated hover craft meandering carefully over hot lava, while Brooker’s trademark voice acted as rudder, in this oddly imagined vessel metaphor. In quieter sections, the music’s affect fell victim to the festival’s oft-cited sound bleed from the River Stage, yet generally the orchestra powerfully bolstered the compositions, much to the delight of Brooker and his band-mates, who grinned to each other throughout the performance. Highlights included the closing pair of tunes ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and ‘Conquistador’ – which are admittedly, the only tunes I was really sure I recognized.

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Thursday
Jul102014

A Horny Night at Bluesfest with Trombone Shorty, Phantogram, Cypress Hill

 

B-Real, Cypress Hill. Photo: Mike Bouchard

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By: Jay McConnery

Perfect, unusually temperate July weather greeted the teeming masses for Bluesfest’s annual hump-day spectacular, as the well-oiled festival continued crushing expectations and like so many over-priced hintonburgers. Far busier than I expected, the site filled steadily as Cypress Hill’s chronic disciples amassed at the Claridge Stage, and I took the opportunity to check out some new music over at the River Stage. The No BS! Brass Band was a surprisingly entertaining and accomplished 10 piece from Virginia- which dropped some funky originals, and contemporary interpretations of New Orleans Brass band music. An odd-looking rag-tag of trained musicians, the group worked through some funky arrangements with fast changes and super funky breaks from punk-styled drummer, and apparent band-leader, Lance Koehler. The band took turns passing the lead, and each member individually impressed, but again I felt Koeler’s tasty kit-work stole the show. It was a damn near perfect experience in the bright evening sun, until a slightly hesitant and bookish vocalist with an awkward hairline strode out for a tune with painfully repetitive lyric, initializing what my colleague referred to as ‘the Houseman effect’- wherein subpar, unwelcome, or slightly annoying vocals undermine the overall vibe or consistency of an otherwise instrumental/funk band’s performance (for a portion of the show). This wouldn’t be the only time this phenomenon played out over the course of the evening either, as fans of Trombone Shorty might agree. After a few minutes of grinning and bearing, it was back to the funk- and we were soon headed over to catch the opening of Hip-Hop- Heady Crop heroes, Cypress Hill.

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