Starting my evening in the Barney Danson Theatre to see Brandon Allan and his band was a good call. Outside, the sun was beating hard and the crowd was already growing thick, so the mellow coolness of the dark hall was welcomed gladly. This set was a very different vibe from anything else I’d seen at Bluesfest so far—Allan himself even commented that it felt “more like a band practice with people here, than a show…which is awesome. I’m saying it’s better. Always better at practice.” The northern lights-ish stage set up paired nicely with the waves of pedal steel guitar and sincere, understated vocals of this “alternative country folk rock whatever” (says the bandcamp) act from right here in Ottawa. Precise and soothing. Well done.
The Beaches performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday, July 18, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
Next up, The Beaches on the Canadian Stage. Very cool all-woman rock band from Toronto (hence “The Beaches”). Heard some laughs and derisive comments when they appeared on stage (can this stop? It’s 2015.) but these were quickly dismissed by absolute shredding and incredibly commanding stage presence from lead vocalist Jordan Miller. For fans of The Kills, Screaming Females, Arctic Monkeys. Bonus: their outfits and personal style were very similar to a lot of young women attending the festival. Pretty cool to see yourself represented on stage like that.
Interpol performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday, July 18, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
Caught an old favourite of mine, Interpol, on the Claridge Homes Stage next… and was mildly disappointed. It was rad to hear some of my fave nostalgic tunes live from the source, but the band seemed bored, their performance formulaic; they nailed it, but it lacked heart. To be fair, the guys were wearing mostly all black (one in a full suit), staring straight into the hot sun, and they’ve probably performed this set on festival circuits a hundred times… but still, kind of a bummer. The visual accompaniment was also pretty cheesy: a giant black and white photo of hands backing the stage and dark stock video of stormy seas broken by static on the two display screens to the left and right. I see what you were going for, Interpol, but it felt contrived. Oh well.
Milky Chance performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday, July 18, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Danyca MacDonald
My last and most enjoyed set of the night was Milky Chance back on the Canadian Stage for an hour and a half of straight-up fun. The act’s minimalist dance pop with subtle guitar picking was exactly what the crowd wanted—we all danced, we all grooved, we all enjoyed the summer vibes. Surprisingly complimentary: harmonica and bass drops. The lighting set up was probably the best I’ve seen at the fest so far: a design of three abstracted moons above a city skyline illuminated with alternating colours. The set list order was also perfect, newer stuff at the beginning and sing-along hits “Down by the River” (played down by our river!), “Running,” and “Stolen Dance” in the last 20 minutes. Nothing I would change about this show.
And with that, my coverage of Bluesfest 2015 has come to an end. Final thoughts: porta-potty maintenance was top notch. They barely smelled. Also, thanks for the bean bag chill zone, RBC. Catch ya later.
The last day of a festival is always a mixed bag. I usually want to get around see as much as possible, but but I’m pretty lazy, and will attempt to disguise that by saying I also just wanted to enjoy good company and good music without being in a rush. But really, the heat changed my mind on the whole run-around approach, because I got there at 3 p.m. and was already sweating my baguettes off. So I made for the shade.
I found some at the top of the hill at the back end the war museum, looking down to the Monster Stage, where the Be In The Band Showcase was running for a good chunk of the afternoon. For those who aren’t familiar with Be In The Band, it’s a program run by the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG) for teenagers and youngsters who want to start bands. The program operates out of the Glebe Community Centre and is sponsored by the Ottawa Folklore Centre. It’s a great opportunity for kids who want to find people to play with, or start something with their friends, because not only do they have the space, the time, and the equipment to do so, they get to play Ottawa Bluesfest at the end of the program. Watching the kids’ bands play was a timewarp back to me starting my first band at 14 with a couple of high school buddies, and it just got me so excited for any kids getting into music this young.
After seeing that the kids are alright, I went into the museum for a much-needed AC moment. The cool air drew me in like an undertow and I was walking nice and slow the whole way through.
Temperance Movement performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 19, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Danyca MacDonald
Coming out the other side, I heard the introduction of a band that had just come off of opening a Rolling Stones tour, so naturally I headed over to see this UK rock ‘n’ roll outfit The Temperance Movement. Total classic rock, bluesey guitars, a wily frontman prancing and swinging his lanky arms… Sound familiar? They sounded great as a band, but the singer’s voice got a little Creedy at some points, if you know what I mean.
The 24th Street Wailers performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 19, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
I wandered down to the Canadian Stage to see what was going on, and walked into the field to this powerful voice hollering over a swinging horn section, and a haywire keyboard solo broke out. This was Toronto’s The 24th Street Wailers. I’d never seen the band or heard the name before, but I was hooked instantly. Blaring horns, trading solos with keyboard and guitar, this ensemble was cranking out some serious swing/jazz/rockabilly jams. Great new discovery!
I heard something getting started at the Bell Stage so headed into the slice of shade way up front and enjoyed another new discovery for me, The Bros. Landreth. Hailing from Winnipeg, these guys rock a smooth blend soulful country rock ‘n’ roll. Some real smooth harmonies and tight guitar work between singer Joey Landreth and lead guitarist Ariel Posen.
Weird Al performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 19, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Mark Horton
Pretty soon, it was time to get weird. Needless to say I was pretty pumped. And he did not disappoint. From the costume changes on almost every song, to the clips of videos and interviews in between, Weird Al brought a non-stop eye-catching, gut-busting good time with him. Classics like “Amish Paradise“, “Smells Like Nirvana“, and “Gump” were peppered with newer parodies like “White & Nerdy“, “Aluminum Foil” and “Word Crimes“. From Madonna to DEVO, whether it was full-costumed-band or just a brief clip on the screen, the show touched on all his material that I know of and then some. Great show. Stay weird, Al.
Randy Bachman performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 19, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Mark Horton
Randy Bachman was taking the Bell Stage so I moved with the masses to watch the Canadian rock veteran, and beloved CBC radio host, take care of some business. Plowing through selections from his decorated past with The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, his fingers proved ever-nimble and his voice ever-clear as he recounted stories of old and hyped the crowd for the hits they knew were coming. The audience was a great mix of all ages, and I always love seeing the appreciation of an artist’s work spanning generations and demographics. It’s one of those things I often get lost thinking about at festivals, and Mr. Bachman made me feel right at home in there.
After a long day in the sun, I was beat and admittedly called it a night somewhat early. I definitely regret missing MonkeyJunk, as they’re one of Ottawa’s finest blues acts and just a great time live, but hey, they’re from here. They’ll be around.
I’m not always one for big mushy goodbyes, so I’ll just rip this band-aid off. Thanks Bluesfest and thank you if you read any of this stuff. Cheers!
As soon as I got on the bus to make my way to the Flats for day 8 of the Fest, I knew. Cowboy boots…cowboy hats…a sea of flannel…tonight was a Country Night. Witnessing how intense this city gets about country music is an experience for sure, but I decided to stick to the Canadian stage for some local favourites and BC alt-rockers Mother Mother later on.
Fet.Nat is seen here performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 16, 2015. ~RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO/Scott Penner
First up: fet.nat, one of my favourite live experimental acts. They opened up to a small crowd with a frenetic saxophone solo leading into slam-style francophone vocals and jarring rhythms. Lead vocalist JF No brought the usual antics: hips gyrating wildly, holding up a wire cutter and pretending to chop the giant electrical cords on stage, attempting to make eye contact with the stoic security guards on either end of the stage and imitating their stance, and watering giant fake flowers with a very real giant watering can that he later threw off the stage (“Hey! You wanna help me out? Here, grab ahold of this!”) I think my favourite JF moment was when he addressed a young man looking bored near the front of the crowd (arms crossed and unmoving) and asked, “are you happy?” and when this failed to produce a response turned to the rest of us and said “this guy is blocking my way to his heart.” Awww. I’ve seen this band many times before but I’m so used to being right beside the saxophone in a sweaty, dingy bar that it was refreshing to be able to hear their complete sound so clearly. The set was fantastic. Bonus: on my way back to the stage later to see Hilotrons, I overheard someone in the crowd ask a friend “is it that crazy band still?” Nailed it, fet.nat.
Hilotrons is seen here performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 16, 2015. ~RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO/Scott Penner
Hilotrons on the same stage later in the night delivered a stellar hour-long set of layered rhythms and intensely delivered lyrics from lead singer (and poet) Mike Dubue, who has the best forehead in Ottawa alternative music. Foot-tapping weird pop. Good stuff, great show.
Mother Mother is seen here performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 16, 2015. ~RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO/Scott Penner
Mother Mother rounded out the night for me with a polished, fun, energetic glam alt pop set that included a mix of newer, more dance-y tracks and older favourites like “O My Heart.” Brother-sister vocal duo Ryan and Molly Guldemond have an unmistakable and deeply satisfying harmony to their voices that really sets them apart from other Canadian indie pop bands. What’s even more impressive is it’s just as wonderful live as recorded. The lighting set up was fun, the performance was seamless, the crowd was stoked—they delivered.
A good night overall—and on my way out I passed two different couples slow-dancing to Keith Urban in the distance. Pretty cute. Good vibes. Thanks, Ottawa.
The closer I got to RBC Bluesfest, with every step I took, the cloud looked angrier and angrier. And by the time I got in line to get in it was raining pretty steady. This rain never really seemed to stop, it slowed at times, but it also picked up to the point it felt like someone was standing above me dropping full buckets of water on me. But for the love of music, you power through.
John Carroll & The Epic Proportions performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 17, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
I was running late and unfortunately missed my good friends and awesome band, The Yips. So getting things started for me was John Carroll & the Epic Proportions. It was really cool to see him on the big Bell Stage, nice when they showcase local talent like that. John and his band played a great set, turns out it was even more impressive than I thought as he was pushing through even though he is suffering from E. coli. I love his tremendous voice and storytelling lyrics coupled with the great musicians he surrounds himself with. Always a treat.
Dropkick Murphys performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 17, 2015. ~RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo, Mark Horton
From mellow to rowdy it was time for Dropkick Murphys to take the stage. I couldn’t get over how many people were there in the torrential downpour for the boys from Boston. It was one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen for them. They played a lot of new stuff for most of the set and then finished really strong. Set it all up with some covers including “Irish Rover”, and a medley of “Taking Care of Business”, “We’re an American Band” and “Blitzkrieg Bop”. Finishing with crowd favourite “Shipping Off to Boston”. And to show some love back to the crowd, bass player Ken Casey said, “We’ve never played a bad show in 20 years because we play for people like you. Thank you.”
The Tragically Hip performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 17, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
The Tragically Hip, Canadian legends, kept the night rolling. I have seen the Hip several times, but they always impress. With that in mind we decided to take in half an hour of the set before making our way to see Bahamas. In those 30 minutes they crammed in a bunch of hits, “I come from downtown”, “Ahead by a Century”, “New Orleans is Sinking” and my childhood favourite “Courage”. It was a pretty awesome way to start. I am sure the rest of the set was much more of the same great classics and high energy.
Bahamas performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday,July 17, 2015.~RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Danyca MacDonald
From Canadian legends to another Canadian great, I was so excited to see Bahamas. The rain still coming down did little to hinder the performance or the atmosphere… nice try, Mother Nature. I believe there was no better performance at Bluesfest by someone wearing a cowboy hat than Bahamas. The songs were great, the between-song stories and banter were fun, and the band was very tight. They played all of my favourite tracks, including “I Got You Babe” and “Caught Me Thinking”. Then even through in a D’Angelo cover, “One Mo’ Gin“, which they performed perfectly. To top it all off he gave shout outs to what he called “great local venues” Babylon Nightclub and Zaphod Beeblebrox.
My shoes are just now finally dry, more than 24 hours after the show, but I have no complaints. The bands were all great, the vibe was positive despite the downpour and seeing music outside is such a treat sometimes you have to pay the price.
First things first: Heartstreets — two talented Montreal women rapping, crooning, and just generally grooving supported by a DJ and a full live band – were first on the docket for me on day 7. A newly (as in: while I watched their set) discovered gem. I was really glad I hit the Flats early to catch them live. “Do any of you know us?” asked the one wearing pink heart-shaped sunglasses. “It’s ok, you will, you will. Heartstreets.” She was right. They clearly had fun and so did I.
De La Soul was disappointingly unable to perform because of a flight delay, prompting one perturbed audience member to yell “suck a dick!” several times in the general direction of the Bluesfest employee who was tasked with giving us the bad news. Bummer, for us and for them. To fill that time slot on the stage was an impromptu second set of the festival from local hip hop act G. Grand, no stranger to Ottawa Showbox bills having performed at Hip Hop Nite at Mugshots (RIP) earlier this year. His performance was energetic and tight as usual, and kudos to him for stepping up to a crowd that had been expecting such a classic of the genre.
Took a breather before Chvrches to hang out on a giant bean bag in the #rbczone with Walter Trout on the Monster stage in one ear and DJ @ the Fort in the other. Felt like my bank was hugging me. Surprisingly relaxing. Chvrches then delivered as expected: an aesthetically pleasing stage, and impeccable sound balancing deliberate pulsing synths and Lauren Mayberry’s lovely crystalline voice. Not exactly my thing, but no doubt a gift for all the Chvrches fans in the vicinity.
Lauren Mayberry of the band CHVRCHES performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. ~ RBC BluesfestPress Images, Photo: Mark Horton
From there I made my way back over to the Monster stage to stake out a good spot for Run the Jewels, and caught almost all of Ottawa hip hop act Flight Distance. I’m really glad I did. These guys rule. Their beats are super grooves and their rapid-fire flow is incredible — I’d be tempted to say “effortless” if I couldn’t see them going red in the face from rapping. They work hard and it pays off. You know those rare moments when you’re totally content where you are? Not thinking about the past, not planning for the future or waiting for something else to happen, just feeling the vibe and enjoying yourself? That happened for like a whole half hour with Flight Distance. Perfect opener for what was to come.
Flight Distance performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Danyca MacDonald
Finally, the Bluesfest act I was most excited for — Killer Mike and El-P a.k.a. Run the Jewels. (RTJ! RTJ!) This performance was everything I’d hoped for. Starting out with “Run the Jewels”, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”, and “Blockbuster Night Part 1” (one of my faves) they had the crowd (me included) freaking out. Halfway through the set, Killer Mike paused and told us all if we had glasses on or phones out, to put them away because our shit was about get fucked up. I complied. We all closed our eyes (and counted to fuck). A hip hop mosh pit happened. Mike gave a shout out to “white Jesus crowdsurfing over here.” ACAB anthem “Early” was dedicated to Mike Brown and Eric Garner, black lives lost to police brutality. Run the Jewels are deeply political, and often angry (for good reason), but also operate with a lot of joy and humour and genuine love for their fans: what they do is wild and incredibly special and I’m so glad I got to see it in person.
Killer Mike of Run The Jewels performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. RBC BluesfestPress Images, Photo: Mark Horton
There was a storm brewing above day 6 of RBC Bluesfest but no one was quite sure when it would hit. Literally. Oh, and metaphorically with Lynyrd Skynyrd and the current climate around the Confederate Flag just begging someone to bring one out and test how security would respond. But let’s stick to the music, as there were some gems on this day.
Devojka of Operators performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 ~RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
It seems that Dan Boeckner can do no wrong. Whether it was with Wolf Parade or Handsome Furs, he has a skill for making catchy indie rock/indie pop songs that capture something special. It’s with his new band, Operators, that he was able to rock RBC Bluesfest this year and while the set was short, it was sweet. The enthusiastic set won the crowd over with some songs that they had never played before (such as “Enemy”) and the charisma of keyboardist Devojka was impossible to ignore.
Future Islands performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 ~RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Mark Horton
The irony of the clouds opening up above Future Islands as they sang a song about how “seasons change” was not lost on me. The hypnotic, sometimes-comical, sometimes-psychotic movements of their lead singer Samuel T. Herring almost seemed to beckon the storm from above like a tight-pantsed Neptune. When all was said and done, Baltimore’s Future Islands delivered the set of the festival. Jumping up and down in the rain to songs like “Spirit” and “Seasons” was a magical moment.
My first and only real “blues” act of the festival, Melbourne’s Hamish Anderson rocked the Barney Danson Theatre for folks looking to dry off from the rain. The strength of his backing band and the solos that seemed to perfectly augment every song, proves that he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. ~RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
Edward Sharpe and his band of misfits came out to a warm reception despite the surprisingly cold summer winds whipping past the Canadian Stage. While there have been many soundalike bands in the folk revival, and while nothing they’ve released tops their stunning debut Up From Below, seeing Alex Ebert in his element is a sight to behold. Whether he’s hopping through the crowd or belting out the lyrics to classics like “Home” or “40 Day Dream”, he’s a magnetic performer. Unfortunately, the yin to his yang, Jade, is no longer in the band and hearing the refrain “Home is wherever I’m with you” is oddly hollow. No one in the crowd seemed to mind though, the crowd was engaged both figuratively and literally as someone proposed to his girlfriend during the song.
A sweltering Saturday afternoon, with crowds that were much more manageable than on Friday, made for a great day 4 of RBC Bluesfest. Save for a bewildering set from Allie X, everything I caught on the day was pretty captivating.
Shakey Graves performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday, July 11, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
Shakey Graves beamed with charisma and perfectly captured an Austin, Texas, vibe during his set in the early evening at the Canadian Stage. Indie-folk rock in the vein of Tallest Man on Earth with some blues sprinkled in, he even controlled some of the driving percussion with his own feet and a suitcase drum. He engaged the crowd and spoke of songwriting as a teenager, when everyone feels like they already know it all. For those in the audience who didn’t already know Shakey Graves, he surely left a lasting impression.
Nas performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday, July 11, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
Hip hop legend Nas showed that he still has it when he rocked the Claridge Homes Stage performing hits from his career that spans more than a decade. Shouting out cassette tapes and former peers like A Tribe Called Quest and Boogie Down Productions, it was refreshing to see someone still commanding the stage so many years later. Opening with the energy of “The Don”, his set lost absolutely no momentum moving forward. Gems like “Halftime” and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” had intro medleys that made them sound fresh and new. Though a veteran, Nas shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Alvvays performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday, July 11, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Mark Horton
Toronto’s Alvvays have gone from playing venues like Ottawa’s Zaphod Beeblebrox to the largest music festival in the world, Glastonbury, in only the span of a year. This meteoric rise is likely based on the strength of their eponymous debut, and their infectious single “Archie Marry Me”. Their dreamy brand of indie pop, and the floating voice of lead singer Molly Rankin perfectly gelled with the fading day in Ottawa. “Adult Diversion” and “Ones Who Love You” join aforementioned “Archie” as highlights of the set.
Iggy Azalea performs at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday, July 11th, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images
The interesting thing about having Iggy Azalea headline the day after Kanye West is that they’re both pretty polarizing figures. While Kanye West alienates some with his persona, no one can question his music. Iggy Azalea on the other hand poses some interesting questions when it comes to her place in hip hop and popular music overall. Having a hip hop icon like Nas basically open for her only serves to further that scrutiny. Despite all this, if you view Iggy Azalea as a pop artist (like how one would view Vanilla Ice in the early ’90s), then there’s not much that you can fault her for. She is dynamic, attractive, and knows how to work a crowd. She was engaging with choreography and her hits like “Fancy” and “Work” had everyone bouncing. Though her set clocked in at less than an hour, she worked hard on that stage. If you can get past her almost-offensive Southern US affectations, then you might even say that she’s a star. Looking around at the smiles in the crowd of mostly young females, I’m sure they’d say as much.
The sun was beating down as I made my way around all the construction at Lebreton Flats. I broke a sweat trying to get there in time to catch the opening acts, but that’s not saying much for a guy who sweats tying his shoes. With country singers Jason Aldean and Kira Isabella on the bill this evening, I was navigating a sea of cowboy hats and plaid shirts tied around waists before I even got into the festival grounds. Guess I missed the memo on tonight’s dress code.
Since the openers all started at the same time, I knew I’d be rocking the ol’ festival split – which usually means going halfsies on two sets in the same time slot, leaving one stage early to catch the other act. But with Thrifty Kids, Saint Clare and River City Junction all starting at 6, I was going three ways and had to make it quick.
Thrifty Kids got me off to a lovely start, in the Barney Danson Theatre, which was a great atmosphere for their style of mellow surf pop. I really like this band, and this was my first time seeing them, so I would’ve loved to see the full set but I was soon on to the next one.
Caroline Addison of River City Junction performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 9, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Danyca MacDonald
On the quieter and shadier side of the museum, River City Junction was trucking through their set on Monster Energy stage, formerly the Blacksheep Stage. This Montreal three-piece play a smooth blend of Delta blues, and funky country rock ‘n’ roll, and lead singer/drummer Caroline Addison is an absolute pleasure to watch.
In true Bluesfest fashion, there were baby-boomers in lawn chairs everywhere, and I thought to myself, “Oh, here you all are!” because the crowds on the other side of the museum were largely plaid-clad teenagers cheering for Kira Isabella or assembling by the Claridge Homes Stage waiting for pop-rapper Hoodie Allen to start.
Saint Clare performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 9, 2015.~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
I made my way down toward the river with the sounds of Saint Clare in the air as I approached the Canadian Stage. These guys (and gals) are a really fun band to see live, with the psychedelic/power-pop vibes tastefully accented by the keyboards and the brass section.
Ronnie Baker Brooks performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 9 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Danyca MacDonald
After heading back to the shade of the museum by the Monster stage, and catching some quality Chicago blues courtesy of Ronnie Baker Brooks, I returned again to the Canadian Stage for the hip-hop stylings of Ottawa’s BlakDenim. For those who aren’t familiar, I’d compare this group to the likes of The Roots and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. So yeah, pretty hype.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 9, 2015.~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
I stuck around this same stage in anticipation of my big highlight of the evening, The Screaming Eagle of Soul – Mr. Charles Bradley. A member of the NYC-based soul-revivalist Daptone Records family, Bradley is one of the most earnest and genuine performers I’ve ever seen. His ’70s-style suit and slow-motion dance moves are endlessly charming, and he just oozes love for everyone around him. He wooed the crowd with his rendition of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, and Bradley’s own heart of gold was on his sleeve as he descended from the stage at the end of the set to meet the audience – it was hugs and handshakes and picture-poses all around, and you can just tell that this is why he does what he does. Truly heartwarming. I left feeling full of love and ready to hit the hay.
It was a perfect sunny day in Ottawa to catch two of Chicago’s finest hip hop exports. With the masses piling in, for one of RBC Bluesfest’s biggest ever crowds, there was no way I was going to make it to any of the other stages. The two acts I saw though, were worth it.
Chance the Rapper performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 10, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images
Chance the Rapper brought his optimism and enthusiasm to a surprisingly large crowd at 7 p.m. The hour-long set was the perfect amount of time for a rapper only just starting to hit his stride, performing gems from his two mixtapes Acid Rap and 10 day, with some of his collaborative efforts (from Donnie Trumpet release “Surf” and his guest feature on Action Bronson’s “Baby Blue”) sprinkled in. Bounding across the stage with some infectious live accompaniment from his band, The Social Experiment, Chance sparkled with the energy of a star that’s only going to get brighter. For an artist that has had little mainstream support, he thanked the crowd: “No one pushed this down your throat, this is your room, this is your iTunes, get comfortable.” The lively crowd took that cue. Highlights of the show included his jazzy take on the theme from Arthur, “Wonderful Everyday”, his hit “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and his new single “Sunday Candy”.
Next it was Kanye. “I want you to tell your kids about this one day!” exclaimed Kanye West during one of the few lulls during his blistering two-hour set in front of a crowd of more than 25,000. And while that statement might seem preposterous, I think it’s a perfect encapsulation of the way Kanye West lives his life. Bluesfest, on no one’s radar on the major North American festival circuit, seemed like an odd choice for Kanye West. In front of a sea of adoring fans, ones able to ignore online petitions and detractors, he could have mailed it in. But that’s one thing that none of his detractors can accuse him of — he leaves everything he can on that stage.
Kanye West performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 10, 2015.~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images
Starting 20 minutes late, he realized halfway through his performance that Ottawa’s noise regulations were going to cut his anticipated set short. He began cutting songs off at the half-way mark to get through more songs saying, “I’ve got too many hits for y’all.” He bounced from the earnest, somewhat-modest College Dropout on “All Falls Down” and “Through the Wire” to the Yeezus of late on “All Day”, “Black Skinhead” and everything in between. Kanye didn’t even really have time for one of his signature rants, save for a short interlude where he discussed not compromising his artistic vision and reporting there’s only “one motherfucking Kanye West.” It’s hard to choose highlights but off the top of my head “Runaway”, “Blood on the Leaves”, “Heartless”, “Jesus Walks”, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”, “Good Life”, and “Touch the Sky”, all had the crowd, who were packed in like sardines, moving.
A change of pace from vilified personifications, Kanye smiled and even fit in some jokes. Before starting his smash hit “Gold Digger”, he faked out the crowd by telling them he was about to perform something extremely underground. Closing his set singing in auto-tune from the perspective of his dead mother on “Only One”, he showed raw emotion and sincerity.
Kanye West is capable of creating great things, whether that’s music, fashion, or even controversy. He delivered a set to the Ottawa crowd that was indeed world-class and only few would say otherwise.
It’s hard to believe that another year has passed and the RBC Bluesfest 2015 is upon us. Bluesfest has been getting better and better at including great local acts in their programming on the big stage, which for many artists is a dream come true. This year is no exception, as the festival has gone one step further to bring in more artists that are sure to rock the grounds at Lebreton Flats. Let’s dive right in with some previews of Ottawa-area musicians playing this year’s festival.
“DJ ACRO has opened for and shared the stage with a number of major artists including the likes of The Beatnuts, Mac Miller, Onyx, K.R.I.T, M.O.P, Smoke DZA, XZIBIT and a slew of other up coming and iconic Hip Hop artists.”
Bella Cat’s unique musical style has roots in soul and blues music, fusing genres and creating a sound that is distinctly her own. Her music will appeal to a broad audience, spanning all ages and tastes.
A must-see for fans of: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
If there’s one band in Ottawa that transcends genres, combines a myriad of musical styles, and has engaging and intelligent lyrical content, it’s BlakDenim. This eight-piece ensemble exudes energy on stage and are fan-favourites at Bluesfest, having played the festival in the past. Infusion of hip-hop, funk, rock, soul, and jazz.
A must-see for fans of: A Tribe Called Quest & The Roots
B&C is a three-piece high-energy, crunchy riff-driven roots blues band that are from the nation’s capital, but could just as well be from the heart of the Mississippi Delta. If you’re into raw vocals and let-loose blues instrumentation, these guys are the ones you want to see live.
A must-see for fans of: Jimi Hendrix & John Lee Hooker
Saturday, July 11 @ 3:30 p.m.
Monster Energy Stage
If you follow Showbox, you’ll know that this group is one of our local faves. Since enlisting some of Ottawa’s most talented musicians and reforming as a full band, this experimental “future folk” group has captured the hearts and minds of many in Ottawa. Pure brilliance.
Brandon Allan writes simple, heartfelt songs about everyday feelings and experiences. His brand acoustic folk/country rock is the kind that you can turn on and close your eyes to, as his soft yet searing melodies and lyrics leave nothing uncovered.
A must-see for fans of: The Weakerthans & The Tallest Man on Earth
Saturday, July 18 @ 3:30 p.m.
Barney Danson Theatre
Brea Lawrenson’s music will appeal to lovers of pop country, which is a lot of people here in the Ottawa Valley. Her voice can go from soft and warm to powerful and penetrating on a dime, so keep your ears out for her at the Flats.
This hip hop duo consisting of SawBuck and DJ So Nice has beatmaking and production of crowd-pleasing bangers down to a science. If you’re familiar with the club circuit or hip hop scene around Ottawa, you’ve probably moved your body to one or both of these guys.
A must-see for fans of: Jurassic 5 & Run the Jewels
Sturton has made a name for herself nationally as a musician and worked with artists such as Joel Plaskett, Al Tick, Rolf Klausener, John Carroll, as well as members of Sloan and Blue Rodeo. From Japanese garage rock venues to American juke joints, she’s got a pretty interesting rap sheet.
On top of being a very strong singer and songwriter, Sturton has become well-known for her proficiency playing the harmonica – she derives her style straight from the Mississippi of old, cutting her chops at local blues establishments and learning from harmonica masters such as Larry “The Bird” Mootham and Carlos del Junco.
This veteran has been making music since 1989 and has recently started writing new material after a hiatus. Raw blues rock inspired by the Chicago greats is the only way to describe the kind of music that Nelson makes.
This band is a truly special part of Ottawa/Hull’s music scenes. The band consists of members of Timber Timbre, Last Ex, and Scattered Clouds, creating disoriented and experimental art-punk with fractured arrangements.
A must-see for fans of: music that pushes boundaries, free jazz/post-punk
Calkuta, Bender & Patience have done it again, demonstrating why they’re one of the top hip hop acts in Ottawa. Their latest album, the 18-track High Priests of Low-Life, is another example of how talented this group is. Their music has an underground aesthetic with samples and production that are anything but amateur.
A must-see for fans of: Immortal Technique & Atmosphere
Wednesday, July 15 @ 8:15 p.m.
Monster Energy Stage
Grantly Franklin a.k.a G.Grand is a Showbox favourite. We just can’t get enough of his rhymes, especially when he collabs with his partner-in-crime producer Jeepz or other incredible Ottawa MC’s like Hyf the Gypsy Sun. If you’re into smooth, intelligent, and beat-laden hip hop then G.Grand is someone you don’t want to miss.
Shannon Rose has been making music for a few years now, and her full-band project – now called Gold and Marrow – is making serious waves in Ottawa. Rose has proven herself to be one of the foremost songwriters in the region, alongside others such as Amanda Rheaume or Catriona Sturton.
A must-see for fans of: Feist
Tuesday, July 14 @ 7:15 p.m.
Barney Danson Theatre
Callum Runciman and his band Grime Kings prove that music runs in the family – his sister Caylie’s band Boyhood has also turned heads in Ottawa. Grime Kings’ brand of lo-fi esoteric, fuzzy experimentations pushes the sonic limit and defies genre boundaries.
There is no other way to put it – HILOTRONS are a quintessential Ottawa band. Lead songwriter Mike Dubue’s influences are as diverse as they are obscure. The end result is album after album of relentlessly funky and imaginative songs, proving that Dubue is Ottawa’s musical mastermind.
A must-see for fans of: Talking Heads
Thursday, July 16 @ 8:15 p.m.
The man behind the epic FRENZY parties at Babylon, Iggy Smalls knows how to get things going. Don’t miss him play Diplo/Skrillex’s afterparty at Ritual tonight (July 8).
Joe Gaspar and his band put the “blues” in Bluesfest. Drawing on blues rock influences from the ’70s such as Cream and Led Zeppelin, the Joe Gaspar Band plays songs containing heavy riffs and intricate guitar solos of that era.
A must-see for fans of: Jimi Hendrix, Cream & Led Zeppelin
Ottawa-based singer-songwriter Kaleigh Watts finds beauty in simplicity by writing emotional and intense songs that create a truly incredible soundscape. Watts, who has been mentored by Juno and Canadian Folk Awards winner Lynn Miles, blends intricate acoustic fingerpicking with stirring vocal melodies.
“2009 Ottawa Red Bull Threestyle Champion, 4 Time Ottawa DMC Dj Battle champion, First title coming at the age of 15 years old. 2006 Canadian Team DMC Dj battle champions ( w/ Stylusts ) and competed at the DMC World Championships in London, England.”
“Kira Isabella has been performing her brand of up-tempo country music across Canada for more than a decade. Kira began dabbling in guitar and writing about love, life and boys. Initially, Kira delved into a variety of music, but when she discovered the likes of powerhouse country vocalists Shania Twain and Faith Hill, she knew she was hooked on country.”
Blending jazz, blues, and folk, Lucas Haneman has created his own sound and won many awards for his compositions. As an acclaimed fingerstylist and songwriter, Haneman and his band will be sure to get crowds moving at Bluesfest this year.
The best way to describe Lynne Hanson’s music is gritty, raw, and honest. It’s no surprise that she’s played shows in places like Memphis, Nashville, and Austin. With vocals that are on-point, songwriting that strikes to the core, and instrumentals that capture the soul of roots music, Hanson fits perfectly in such a stacked local lineup at Bluesfest.
A must-see for fans of: Caroline Herring
Thursday, July 9 @ 6 p.m.
Claridge Homes Stage
DJ Matt Tamblyn
Matt Tamblyn creates parties. If you’re one that scours town for places to get down, you’ve probably seen Tamblyn behind the decks at places like Parliament Pub or Mugshots. His repertoire includes SILK, Open Air Social Club, King of the Beach, and more.
MonkeyJunk are a Juno Award-winning modern blues rock band, proudly representing the nation’s capital across Canada. They have garnered a strong fan base internationally, touring Canada, the US, and Europe relentlessly. In just seven years, this band has become a Canadian staple.
A must-see for fans of: The Black Keys & Muddy Waters
This band takes neo-classical folk to another level, and have made a name for themselves internationally by creating beautifully textured and emotionally charged songs. Musk Ox create a rare brand of atmospheric, evocative, and harmonious music that resonates with our very core. This is a powerful, must-see chamber folk act.
This band plays the delta blues that would more typically be found in the deep heart of the Mississippi. A whaling harmonica, twangy hollow-body electric guitars, and raspy vocals – these guys are another band that keep the blues in Bluesfest going strong.
A must-see for fans of: John Lee Hooker & RL Burnside
Ottawa’s #1 party punk band, when New Swears perform mayhem ensues. Blow-up dolls, crowd surfers, whipped cream – these are all typical sights at a New Swears show. Do yourself a favour and strap on your seat belts, because this is one ride that’ll give you a concussion if you’re not ready.
These Ottawa veterans kick out serious jams, perfecting their crunchy proto-punk and garage rock sound that explodes from the stage. This three-piece band take us back to the CBGB’s era of early punk rock gods, and describe them selves as a cross somewhere between The Who and The Buzzcocks.
A must-see for fans of: Iggy & The Stooges, Fugazi
Another favourite of ours, Pony Girl creates intricate and consuming soundscapes. This is art-rock at its finest and it’s difficult to imagine a higher caliber of musicianship in this band. They will be playing many new songs from their upcoming epic Foreign Life, which has been about 10 years in the making.
A must-see for fans of: Broken Social Scene, The XX
Saturday, July 11 @ 7:30 p.m.
Barney Danson Theatre
This power trio is yet another Ottawa Valley blues rock band that is making waves in the region. I first heard of this band when I came across their cover of “Dust My Broom,” the perennial classic tune written by blues legend Robert Johnson (and also happens to be one of my favourite blues songs). Get your blues fill with RCJ.
The layered and intricate instrumentation, high-energy orchestral nuances, and Matthew Saint Clare’s unhinged vocals that can only be compared to those of Frank Black of The Pixies. All of this melds into the distinctive sounds that Saint Clare create together. However motley a crew they may seem, their heterogeneity makes for a potent combination when such strong band chemistry exists.
If you want catchy, sexy, danceable rock music, then Silvergun & Spleen is the band for you. With an electric stage presence and an attitude that will smack you in the face, this band is ready to let loose and take on the big stage for the first time. Get close, but not too close – S&S will set the stage ablaze.
The Haig have a sound that is not easy to describe, and that’s why we love them. It’s a little bit of ’90s alt-rock/grunge mixed in with a twisted horror film. Their full-throttle rock has taken Ottawa by storm and propelled the band to great heights.
A must-see for fans of: Queens of the Stone Age, Radiohead
“Formed in 1989, The Jivewires have jumped many musical and national borders. Taking their music from the jazz and satire of the ’40s and ’50s greats Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, Wynonie Harris, and Louis Prima, The Jivewires throw a new spin on the Jump Blues tradition.”
A must-see for fans of: ‘Swing’, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
The Reverb Syndicate are Ottawa’s premier, and maybe only, instrumental surf and go-go band. The band’s bio perfectly describes them as “reverb-drenched surf/spy-fi sounds to accompany ’60s spy films, westerns, sci-fi films and old school video games that don’t exist.” You have to see to believe.
“A rock band with few genres barred, The Superlative mix their rock with reggae, ska, pop, punk, funk, blues and more. They consistently surprise crowds across Canada with their genre-bending shows. The band embrace the rock elements many of us know and love, while putting a unique new spin to each song they write.”
“The Visit is Heather Sita Black, a vocalist unchained, and Raphael Weinroth-Browne, a powerful cellist. Together they form a self-described defiance of genre, so terms like chamber or polystylistic don’t really fit the bill. The closest long-winded definition might be experimental/avant-garde classical.”
Thrifty Kids are one of the most exciting new bands in Ottawa, and have received high accolades for the few releases and shows they have played so far. Their atmospheric and relaxed sound makes them a perfect summer band, the kind of music you want to listen to when the sand is between your toes. Keep an eye out for this band, as they are getting set to do big things.
If there’s a list of bands that keep deep Ottawa’s folk roots going strong, Winchester Warm would be on top. Following in the footsteps of local greats such as Snailhouse, Jim Bryson, and The Acorn, WW’s beautiful vocal harmonies, irresistible arrangements, and heartfelt lyrics make them another addition to this city’s incredible list of folk greats.
The Yips are another favourite of ours, playing loud and fuzzy “ouija rock” – a term they coined for their distinctly creepy, overdriven garagy sound. The Yips’ shows are wild, with “rave ghosts” always appearing with sheets over their heads and letting loose. Don’t miss out on what one of Ottawa’s best bands has to offer.
A must-see for fans of: FIDLAR, Thee Oh Sees
Friday, July 17 @ 6 p.m.
“Specializing in soul music from the past, present & future from the world over, Zattar has been moving ‘soles’ since the dawn of the 21st century. Syncopated drums with a touch of nostalgia are his sounds of choice. Bringing many years of music knowledge and crate digging to every gig, expect the unexpected.”