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.
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.
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.
By: Jay McConnery
After the perfect weather of opening weekend, warm summer rain greeted Bluesfest patrons Tuesday evening, and surprisingly didn’t damper attendance or enthusiasm. At times torrential, the downpour delayed show-times and soaked thousands of rockers with often hilarious and/or unfortunate results. A different kind of wet t-shirt contest, you might say. I arrived over-prepared with rain gear, umbrella and gumboots enabling fast convenient positioning in the muddiest sections of the concert bowl, as well as glances of disdain from wet longhairs attempting to spark their damp smokes. Unfortunately missing Jenny Lewis and Brody Dalle, my evening shift began with STYX and their immaculate spectalica of fromage-a nostalgica, forcefully delivered without a sniff of irony, no matter what the liberal use of hairspray or masculine-purposed spandex attire might normally suggest.
Unapologetically, they are STYX. STYX, featuring Gowan, (so ya know!), prove their credibility by delivering their numbers fast and hard, just like STYX likes it.
By: Todd Snelgrove
Today the Citizens for Safe Cycling parked their 50,000th bicycle at Ottawa'sRBC Bluesfest, presenting a commemorative certificate and a prize package to lucky rider Allie Thompson. RBC Bluesfest executive director Mark Monahan joined CfSC president Hans Moor in congratulating Thompson with cake and balloons as nearly a dozen photographers and reporters descended on the surprised winner.
“It's pretty exciting,” exclaimed Thompson, who turns 23 next week. Ironically the Minnesota native who moved to Ottawa last year was riding a bike for the first time in years, deciding on a whim to cycle in from her home in Westboro for that evening's Lady Antebellum concert rather than take the bus.
By: Jay McConnery
Summer breeze cooled the trademark dusty summer haze of Lebreton Flats, as Bluesfest wrapped its opening weekend with a musically overwhelming afternoon of typically incongruous scheduling relentlessly entertaining throngs of contented, weary Sunday revelers. Mayo soaked Tornado fries were savoured and the sugary grease of Beaver Tail sleeves licked, as gangs of celebratory seagulls dotted the dramatic sky scape of pink, idly-threatening clouds, as some phenomenally diverse music entertained the increasingly mixed social demographic of Ottawa’s biggest festival: The Festival of the Blues.
Afternoon sets from Langhorne Slim and Caitlin Rose were discussed enthusiastically as crowds began to gather in earnest over the dinner hour for the musical meat of the day, one which I felt contradicts this year’s tendency to focus succinctly on the interests of a mass, culturally conservative audience. I settled in at the Claridge stage to check out the Drive By Truckers, enjoying a hot contraband banana from my pocket, sneering widely at the huge concession lines. The Truckers rolled out the loose southern rock as only they can, trading solos at the foot of the stage, and inviting the Texas horns out for a good portion of the set. They keep things informal and playful, and have built a dedicated following who expect this. I noticed the sound to be a little uneven, and was confused by the grinning two-step of the androgynous bass player.
Considering this arrangement that Jeff Tweedy put together that includes his son on drums is relatively new news, not many people knew what was in store for tonight at the Ottawa Bluesfest. The Chicago frontman and primary songwriter for Wilco made a rare stop in Ottawa to play the Blacksheep stage. This is THE most intimate outdoor stage of the Ottawa bluesfest.
Revisiting the sound bleeding challenge, Tweedy was scheduled on Blacksheep Stage at the opposite side of the museum from Macbook-led band, Zedd. A few minutes before Tweedy's setup was ready, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" was crawling over the museum so what was going to happen when Zedd turns his Macbook volume up during one of Tweedy's solo acoustic moments?
This was another example of excellent planning. The museum is a great barrier to low end, because physics. It's made of concrete after all. Z barely made a dent in Tweedy's show, but Tweedy couldn't help but comment on the beats, or even try to play along. Aside from the light-hearted poking, it wasn't distracting at all.
The official launch day of the 20th anniversary edition of the Ottawa Bluesfest was met with, perfect weather and a large crowd the likely had the origanizers smiling with success. The broad range of musical genres extended the welcome wagon even furthur across the spectrum which was evident on this opening night. The majority of the crowd were clearly dressed in support of Blake Shelton who would be closing the Bell stage while that much larger sound system was hopefully not going to affect the music playing only 20's of feet away at the River Stage. This is where Gary Clark Jr. was scheduled for the same time playing a certain style of music...wait for it...that many people still seek out...Blues!
This 30 year old young master of the guitar managed to completely feel and sound like the only music that was actually being played at that moment as his powerful trio jammed through each tune. The minor silence between some songs were enough to bleed some super cheesy new country pop ballads across the short road to the River stage audience's ears. That never lasted long and the main stage music would be covered up again and again.