We think we have finally recovered from another amazing two days out in Vankleek Hill for this year’s Beau’s Oktoberfest. This was my fourth year attending Oktoberfest and once again it did not disappoint. So much happens during these jam-packed two days. Here are the highlights from this year:
Six eighths of The Empty Steins, your Beau’s Oktoberfest Team Challenge Champions.
Competing in the team challenge
Every year I go watch the team challenge and every year I write about how much fun it looks and how cool it is to see so many people competing while raising money for charity. In years past, this joy was saved for organizations and businesses that signed up well ahead of time. This year, for the first time, they opened the team challenge up to the public. Obviously I jumped all over this and entered a team. And when the dust settled from the malt sack race, beer soaked sponge slingshots and tug of war, and after the total donations were counted, our team – The Empty Steins – were victorious. Big shout out to the other teams, the organizers and everyone who cheered loudly.
The Black Forest Stage
The Black Forest Stage made it’s debut last year and was back in fine form this year. The stage mostly features punk and garage rock and is hosted by Antique Skate, House of TARG, Vans, Pouzza Fest, and Ottawa Explosion. Once again this year it was the place to be with an absolutely killer line up featuring the likes of Steve Adamyk Bank, Solids, Lost Love, Camp Radio, Audio Visceral, Pale Lips, Wasted Potential, Brutal Youth and more. The stage also hosted an early morning Saturday Folkin’ Wake Up with some acoustic stuff to start you off slow. The highlights from this stage have to be Waste Potential bring up up Jordy Bell from The Creeps to play “Wait a Minute” and then Dave Williams from Crusades to play a track. Pretty awesome seeing the local bands getting that kind of respect. Also worth noting was the bloody blast that was Brutal Youth’s performance. I simply don’t know of many bands that have that much energy live.
Members of Antiques Skateboarding crew ripping it up on the halfpipe. Photo: Eric Scharf
In the shadow of the Black Forest Stage lies a halfpipe where many skateboarders entertain all weekend. You can find them hanging out and riding rather casually most of the time, but at a few very specific moments they let it all hang out. Whether it is during their “Gladiator” style combat where you must stay on your board while trying to remove others from theirs or when they pushed each other to the limits during a sort of best trick competition, the skaters are a sight to be seen. One thing I love about it is when people see something they like they are encouraged to throw beer tokens into the halfpipe for the skaters, I even saw some people throwing in a few bills. A photo album with some of the skateboarding I took in will follow soon.
54-40 showing that they still have it as they play on the main stage at Beau’s Oktoberfest 2016. Photo: Eric Scharf
The Main Stage Headliners
Between the team challenge, the Black Forest Stage and the Craft Haus, I didn’t have much time to check out the main stage this year. However I did watch the headliners both nights, and even though both have hyphens in their names, I was impressed for very different reasons. On the Friday it was a trip down memory lane to watch 54-40. Leading up to the show I spoke with friends about how I knew I liked 54-40, but couldn’t really think of that many of their songs. Once the band started playing I found myself singing along to every song except the new ones and having a great time. On Saturday night it was time for Beau’s collaborator K-Os to wow the stage. He played his hits and was great with the crowd, but my favourite part was when he went off freestyling, especially when he took a shot at Drake. From Canadian alt rock one night to Canadian hip-hop the next, the headliners closed out each night in style.
Remi Royale entertaining the crowd between set at the Black Forest stage at Beau’s Oktoberfest 2016. Photo: Eric Scharf
Remi Royale and the mystery of his stolen belt
This is not so much a highlight but more of an important event. Ottawa’s beloved punk rock crooner Remi Royale had his infamous hot dog championship belt stolen from the side of the Black Forest Stage. Royale was providing MC duties and singing a few songs in between bands, just doing what he does. Unfortunately some miscreant took off with his beloved belt, the item that harnesses all his special powers. If anyone knows anything that could help get the belt back, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and I am sure we can hook you up with a pretty sweet reward.
Brutal Youth were bloody brilliant as they closed out the Black Forest stage at Beau’s Oktoberfest 2016. Photo: Eric Scharf
The Food Selection and Quality
Every year I am amazed at the selection and quality of the food vendors we have to choose from on the festival grounds. There are so many inventive options, like chicken and waffles in a cone, bugger balls stuffed with smoked bacon and cheese, perogies, many kinds of schnitzel and so much more. My food highlight was Pure Kitchen’s tempeh Bavarian meatballs with roasted onion gravy served with potato hash topped with leeks, sauerkraut, pickled beets and apple sauce. Oh man am I ever hungry now.
The selection at the Craft Haus, night one wasn’t even done and stuff was sold out.
The Craft Haus
The Craft Haus is the very special tent beside the main stage where one can taste a plethora of delicious beers from many breweries. Beau’s special releases at Oktoberfest are great, Life on Juniper is one of the tastiest beers I have ever tried, and available in the other beer tents, but there is just something so special about the choices and different flavour and finishes within the Craft Haus. One of the most interesting beers was Forked River Brewing Company’s Wicked Wench which is a barrel aged sour stout. Order this beer if you ever really want to confuse your pallet. I could go on and one about all the really great beers I sampled in the Craft Haus, like Stack Brewing’s Stack ’72 an imperial IPA or Block 3 Brewing Co.’s The Epic, a chardonnay brett barrel aged saison, but instead of reading about it, just make sure not to miss out next year.
I encourage everyone, every year, to camp. I commend Beau’s for coordinating shuttle services in hopes of eliminating anyone’s urge to drink and drive, but I would much rather camp over night than have to cram into a yellow school bus with no washrooms all the way back to town. Not only do you not have to suffer through that bus ride, the party keeps on going as this year’s camping featured late night movies (Beerfest and Strange Brew), popcorn and canteen open early and late. Camping is also a great way to meet people as it is a little less noisy and rambunctious as one the festival grounds. Now if only they could find a way to have the campground licensed…
Staff and volunbeers
I think I mention this every year, but everyone I interact with, from Beau’s staff members to volunbeers, are so very nice and excited to be there. Whether it was coordinating media passes, participation in the team challenge, volunbeers serving me a drink or the ones walking around answering questions, everyone was just so positive and play an integral role in making Beau’s Oktoberfest so wunderbar.
Festival goers honing their flip cup skills at Beau’s Oktoberfest 2016. Photo: Eric Scharf
The Oktoberfest crowd
One thing that really impresses me is the behaviour of all those in attendance. When you consider that you have thousand of people displacing themselves in order to consume alcohol, I didn’t witness a single fight or any sort of misbehaviour. It is very refreshing to attend an event of this nature and see so many people having a great time and not experiencing any real problems.
Photo of Basia Bulat in NYC earlier this year by Elizabeth Durnford (Ottawa Showbox)
As I sat looking out at the grey, wet and cold Glebe, I considered just staying in the car and driving home. My Saturday had not been going as planned, and the idea of standing out in the rain for a few hours at a festival was pretty close to the bottom of the list of things I wanted to do. Basia’s latest album, Good Advice, was playing as I watched the rain hit the windshield and I knew that my Saturday would probably only get worse if added the regret of missing Basia Bulat, so I shut off the engine, threw up my hood and stepped out in to the rain.
I got to the main grounds area to be greeted by a sea of ponchos and umbrellas. People had been there for the long-haul of the day, seeing The New Pornographer’s set that preceded Basia, leaving the stage with high energy and smiles. I was ready.
This wasn’t the first time I had seen Basia live. My first experience was seeing her opening at the Bronson Centre in 2014. She stole the entire show for me, rocking the autoharp and charango, and I’ve followed her ever since. My most recent encounter with her was when I had the chance to see her do her birthday show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. The combination of rain and CityFolk policy made it so I wasn’t able to take in more then my phone for a camera. So I’ve included pictures from that show, because her majestic AF stage presence needs to be recognized and appreciated.
Basia has a combination of detailed lyrics, unique instruments, which set her out from other musicians, and of course, that stage presence that warmed up the freezing and soaked crowd. Putting herself on the very edge of the stage just so she could be with us in the pouring rain, she was appreciative of the crowd sticking around, checking in and thanking us multiple times. She sadly left the charango and auto harp out of this set, and one can only assume it was because fear of water damage, which is fair. Regardless, her set was unreal and everyone was more then happy to stand in the rain to hear her.
I’ve been describing the show as a musical cleanse. Basia’s sound and lyrics, mixed with the downpours that happened throughout the set, combined with the fact that I ended up going solo, meant that the set hit the soul, and man did it feel good.
Basia Bulat is on the short list for the Polaris Prize that is being announced tomorrow (Monday Sept 19th) in Toronto. As well she hinted that she would be back to play Ottawa at the National Arts Centre next year, though no set date could be found in my research. More to come on both of these items as things get announced.
This year’s CityFolk festival has arrived, and we’re happy to bring you our picks for the 2016 edition. In this one, we’re exploring a variety of artists – some more established and in their prime, some that have been around for ages and still conquering the big stage, and others that are emerging and creating jaw-dropping new music ready to explode onto the scene.
We implore you to have a listen to the artists we’ve carefully chosen, however it is also important to do a little exploring. Sometimes the best part of a big music festival is seeing an intimate performance on a smaller stage, discovering hidden gems on your own. So here they are, our picks for CityFolk 2016.
CityFolk takes place at Lansdowne Park September 15–18, and artists play on multiple stages around the grounds. See the full schedule and purchase your passes here.
City Stage Thu, September 15, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
There’s no way that we were going to make this list without giving some love to The Acorn. The brainchild of Ottawa’s Rolf Klausener, The Acorn is easily one of the greatest musical exports the nation’s capital has to offer. Although Klausener began this project as a series of home recordings in 2002, he has shown no sign of slowing down having just released the acclaimed album Vieux Loup last year. While dabbling in other ventures, Klausener has always stayed true to The Acorn and its intimate, textural, and poetic underpinnings.
Guided By Voices
RavenLaw Stage Fri, September 16, 10:00 PM – 11:15 PM
If there’s one band that has been relentlessly putting out music since the 1980s, it’s Guided By Voices. Mind you, the lineup has changed a lot over that time – however principal songwriter Robert Pollard has been the rock that has kept GBV’s creativity flowing. These guys are influenced by a lot of the British invasion garage rock (our kind of shit), psych, prog, and even post-punk, but no matter what you have to appreciate their gritty, DIY approach to music. This band is as genuine as it gets, and a breath of fresh air in today’s current mainstream music industry climate.
City Stage Fri, September 16, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
At just 19 years of age, Illinois’ Kwenku Collins has made a big name for himself not only as a songwriter, but as an MC and producer as well. His unique style and approach to making music have garnered him praise from major music critics around the globe – and he’s just getting started. 2016’s Nat Love LP has launched Collins into the big leagues, with ear-melting tracks like “Ghost”, “Vanilla Skies”, and “Stupid Rose” capturing listeners and never letting them go.
The New Pornographers
City Stage Sat, September 17, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
When you think of the Canadian indie rock renaissance over the last decade and a half, there’s one band that everyone agrees is a staple – The New Pornographers. Forming in 1999, this band is on an esteemed list of bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, The Weakerthans, The Constantines that poured a tank of gas on a national music scene that was largely barely smouldering embers as the millennium came to a close. In 2009, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the band’s second studio album, Electric Version, No. 79 in the “100 Best Albums of the Decade.”
City Stage Sat, September 17, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Basia Bulat has become a household name in Canadian music, proving over the years that she is as talented with her lyricism and songwriting as she is versatile in her sound. Cutting her teeth in the Ontario indie folk scene, she has separated herself from the pack as an artist that consistently outdoes herself. She’s shared the stage with Arcade Fire, The National, Nick Cave, Daniel Lanois, St Vincent, and her Juno/Polaris-nominated LP TallTall Shadow achieved national recognition and regular airplay on CBC. Her 2016 album of sorrow and redemption called Good Advice is shortlisted for the Polaris Prize this year.
BMO Stage Sat, September 17, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Julia Jacklin in an emerging artist that you should definitely keep your eye on. Her debut album Don’t Let the Kids Win is an introspective examination of life in your 20’s, and the minimalism in instrumentation contrasts beautifully with the lyrical depth that Jacklin explores so eloquently. At 25, she is sure to make some big waves, following the footsteps of musicians such as Courtney Barnett and Angel Olsen in her honest and intimate style.
RavenLaw Stage Sat, September 17, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
We love Northcote. Why, you ask? Matt Goud a.k.a. Northcote is a hard working and relentless guy with a tough exterior, but on the inside he’s got a spectrum of emotions that spill out through his music and into our ears. This small-town Saskatchewan songwriter brings a wealth of life experience to the table, and tapping into his influences which range from country to hardcore and punk rock. Whether they are anthems or lullabies, his songs of loss, love, small-town living and growing up are themes most of us can connect with. Springsteen and Gaslight Anthem fans are sure to fall in love with this guy.
BMO Stage Sun, September 18, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
At 20 years old, don’t think that youth makes Julien Baker naive. Growing up in the Memphis DIY scene, Baker has faced the challenges of coming of age as a queer person in the South. Moreover, she unapologetically discusses topics such as drug abuse and depression on her debut album Sprained Ankle. Through the bigotry and hate that swells in that part of the US against marginalized LGBTQ communities, Baker’s beautiful, powerful voice and songwriting shines through as a ray of hope. She’s the kind of artist that makes writing such emotional, intricate songs look easy. Although short in stature, she is without a doubt one of the most inspirational artists to hit the stage at this year’s CityFolk festival, standing tall amongst the rest in our mind.
With autumn just around the corner, we wait patiently for the air to cool and the leaves to turn and fall. As bummed as you might be to see summer drift away once again, we have some good news for you. We’re giving away a pair of open day passes (which can be used on any one day) to CityFolk happening September 15–18.
This year’s edition of CityFolk features acts such as James Bay, Dropkick Murpheys, Skinny Lister,Joey Bada$$, Dan Mangan, Basia Bulat, Vance Joy, Sonreal, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, and many more. Why not take a stab at getting some free passes?
How to Enter
Entering the contest is simple. Answer this question:
Q: Which Canadian act at this year’s CityFolk is nominated for the short list of the Polaris Music Prize?
Pick your answer from the dropdown menu below and click “submit.” A winner will be chosen at noon on Tuesday, September 13 and contacted via email. Good luck!
Arboretum‘s Festival Village was in full swing when I showed up Friday night to watch Sloan and Fet.Nat play.
Sloan had the tall order of playing two sets on this night, with Fet.Nat sandwiched in the middle due to METZ having to cancel for reasons out of their control. Sloan were certainly up for the task. Having seen The Tragically Hip the night before it was fun to see another modern day Canadian legend rock the stage.
The band’s first set was playing One Chord to Another, their Juno Award winning third album from 1996 from start to finish. The album begins with their smash hit “The Good in Everyone,” which is a most excellent way to start a concert. One thing that really impresses me about the boys from Halifax is how they switch instruments and share the role of lead vocals throughout the album, as well as during normal shows. Watching the drummer switch out and take lead vocals and play guitar while the bass player jumps on the drums is pretty impressive. And it is not like the drums beats aren’t that simplistic either. Another highlight of the set was the addition of local brass to the set, with members of Thrust and Kalle Mattson’s band joining Sloan on stage for a couple of tunes.
Fet.Nat being Fet.Nat at Arboretum 2016 in Ottawa.
Up next on this beautiful night lit by the full moon was Fet.Nat from just across the river in Gatineau. People often say a band is unique, but I promise you there is no band on the planet comparable to Fet.Nat. No other act is similar in the slightest. Their saxophone driven explosions, off beat drumming, wild guitar and energetic and animated lead singer combined with singing all their songs in French and waving around signs with lyrics and random statements, is quite a sight to see. Their live performance is part organized chaos, part improvisation and all awesome. Songs like “Vega Paris” and “Caquette” are perfect examples of what I am talking about. Next time you have the chance make sure you check out this genre and mind bending act. I promise you one thing, you most certainly will not be bored.
With the spectacle that was Fet.Nat now complete, it was time for a second dose of Sloan. But before Sloan took to the stage, the MC for the evening shared a great thought. “We are going through a thing nationally right now where we realize that we may have taken some of our great Canadian musicians for granted… best to a appreciate them when they are in front of us and not wait until it’s too late” So true my friend.
The second set was billed as greatest hits and fan requests. Admittedly I didn’t know as many songs from this set as I should have, given I have seen Sloan before and grew up during their take over of Canada. Opening with “Losing California” it was like they never left the stage. Missing from the stage though was drummer Andrew Scott (originally from Ottawa), who we learned was pretty injured and power through the first set like a champ. He mostly sat out the second set replaced by Taylor Knox on the drums. He did come out to play guitar and sing a few songs. Andrew had quite the limp going, what a champ.
The band had loads to choose from for this set, considering they have put out 11 albums and they crammed as much as they could into the hour long set. Chris Murphy was in a playful spirit all night, at one point he said to the screaming crowd: “To hear your request you must scream at the top of your lung in unison in a high pitch voice.” Later in the set Chris once again took some time to interact with the crowd “Thank you all. This has been fun and a little obscene, we have been playing a long time tonight.” The set obviously included “The Other Man” and “If It Feels Good Do It.” One overarching observation was learning the patented 4 – 4 time Sloan clap which appears to be applicable to almost every song they encouraged us to clap to.
Ottawa is buzzing once again in anticipation of this year’s Arboretum Festival happening August 17–21. Going into its fifth year, the festival has grown from a boutique music and arts festival held in a parking lot to a full-on institution in the capital. That includes incorporating and celebrating important aspects of Ottawa’s music, art, food, history, activism, and more. Not to mention that there’s an entire conference portion (called Assembly), where informative, interactive, and sometimes uncomfortable-but-necessary discussions can be had about challenges people in our community face. Each iteration of the festival has built on its previous self, adding one crucial piece after another to make it into something that can stand up to any festival of comparable size in North America. Ottawa is on the map.
We at Showbox have been lucky enough to witness Arboretum grow into an exemplary and multifaceted entity since 2012. Moreover, we are honoured to be part of the festival this year as a presentation partner with the Witching Hour Official Arboretum After Parties being held at Bar Robo every night of the festival.
This year’s festival can be broken down into two physical domains: the Concert Village and the Festival Village.
The venue portion – a.k.a. the Concert Village – includes venues and spaces around town that will host band showcases, conference panels, mixers, speed meetings and after parties. Folks with full-festival passes will have the ability to bounce around the map and have plenty of chances to catch intimate performances, schmooze, and really see what Ottawa has to offer under the surface. There is also another (albeit pricier) option: those who don’t want to get the full pass can pick and choose which venues they’d rather go to by paying cover at the door.
The centralized Festival Village site is located behind Ottawa City Hall on Lisgar Street, and brings together some of the best local food, drink, shops and more, in addition to the music. The village itself will have two stages: the Main Stage, which is the larger of the two and where larger acts like Sloan perform, as well as the Debaser stage, where some emerging and experimental acts will play. The Arb organizers promise no Jumbotrons.
Here’s a breakdown of each day’s activities during Arboretum Festival 2016:
Wednesday kicks things off at 11am with some crucial and informative discussions at Bar Robo, Discussions include topics surrounding the transforming role of record labels and the new realities of building and sustaining a home for recorded music, ageism and professional roadblocks and cultural biases experienced on either end of the age spectrum, followed by a round of speed meetings for participants to network with industry delegates.
The evening will begin at St. Alban’s Church with the keynote presentation featuring acclaimed writer and broadcaster Andrea Warner (author of “We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ’90s and Changed Canadian Music”) which will explore the institutional and internalized sexism facing women in music. Attendees have the option of sticking around to catch Evening Hymns, Safia Nolin, Her Harbour play sets at the beautiful sounding church, or head back to Bar Robo for the Hand Drawn Dracula Showcase or over to House of Common for the You’ve Changed Records BBQ.
If you’re into some late night drinks and jams, don’t forget to hit up Bar Robo for the Witching Hour Official After Party featuring Hand Drawn Dracula DJs. Robo will have a special Arboretum cocktail called “Capo Melo” served all week long, which contains CAPO CAPO, grapefruit juice, vodka (it’s the perfect delicious summer drink). Great music and discussions all around on the first day.
The Must-See: Partner 9:00 @ You’ve Changed Records BBQ, House of Common
They’ve been called the “best new bands in Canada,” and that’s no bullshitting. They’re heavy, they’re punchy, and they’re relentless. And they will consume you whole with their blistering live performance.
The Hidden Gem: Andrea Warner 5:30pm @ St. Alban’s Church
In this keynote presentation, Warner will be discussing internalized and institutional sexism in the music industry, an issue that effects women from small clubs to the highest levels of pop stardom. Moderated by Vish Khanna.
This day is packed to the brim with goodies. No early mornings today, but be sure to get to Bar Robo by 12:30pm for a panel on publicity and media relations in today’s ever-evolving media climate – particularly helpful for new bands or artists that aren’t yet established and looking for some guidance on how to crack the code on getting your music out there. The second round of speed meetings also takes place at 2:30pm, so get your networking pants on!
In the evening, you might have to make some tough choices on the schedule. You could start off at the Babely Shades Block Party at House of Common around 6:15pm, and if you decide to stay all night you’ll catch stellar performances from Toronto’s Above Top Secret and Lido Pimienta. Or you could hit up our very own Telecomo showcase at Bar Robo, one of Ottawa’s hottest new tickets. Or do both, the venues aren’t far apart!
From there, one option is checking out Jeremy Gara (of Arcade Fire), Ottawa’s youngest and brightest talents Trails, and the one and only Tim Hecker at St. Alban’s. I can’t think of a more appropriate venue for this lineup, and it’s sure to be a mind melting experience. Another louder option is the Buzz Records showcase at Babylon Nightclub. Dilly Dally are not to be missed, and their 2015 album Sore was an absolute tour-de-force. They will be supported by Fake Palms, Twist, and one of our Ottawa faves Bonnie Doon. Let’s just say Buzz Records can do no wrong.
Once again, Bar Robo will be hosting the after party and the Pony Girl DJs will be providing your soundtrack late into the night.
The Must-See: Dilly Dally 11:30pm at Buzz Records Showcase, Babylon Nightclub
A little bit of 90’s angst, a lot of full-throttle overdriven riffage that will make the sonically meek curl up into a ball in the corner. Full disclosure, Sore was my favourite album of the year in 2015 which I wrote about in Mixtape Magazine. Raw and unclean, Katie Monks takes this band into the stratosphere with her powerful vocals and energy on stage. Like, seriously, don’t miss them.
The Hidden Gem: Above Top Secret 9:15 @ Babely Shades Block Party, House of Common
Babely Shades aren’t just making a huge impact here in Ottawa with their activism. They’re bringing in acts that push boundaries and smash them. One example is Above Top Secret, a Toronto-based “experimental, rap – electro – dub hop mashup infused with feminist politics” who are making music to bounce to while fighting against systemic injustices at the same time. Read a great interview that Elsa did with them in a recent issue of Ottawa Beat.
The Festival Village opens. Before you go discover the wonders that lie there, at 5:30pm there is a discussion with city planners, venue owners and managers, cultural developers, employers, and music promoters regarding zoning and city planning for performance venues in Ottawa at the Ottawa Art Gallery Annex at City Hall. Make sure to get there early enough to see local pop punk three-piece BB Cream open up the village at 6:00 pm on the Debaser stage. Their self-titled debut has ten songs that reflect a band that came to age attending punk shows all over town. They are fun, awkward but mostly fun. Go check them out and dance with a friend or make some new friends.
Travel back to the 90s and see Sloan play at 8:30. They will be performing their gold-certified and Juno award winning album, One Chord To Another, from start to finish which kicks off with the Canadian smash hit “Good in Everyone.” Bar Robo will be going late into the night with DJs Lamb Rabbit and Pat Egan spinning gold all night.
The Must-See: Sloan 8:30pm @ Main Stage, Concert Village
Sloan hardly needs an introduction, let alone a reason why they are a must-see on Friday night. This rock/power-pop group has been kicking out the jams for 25 years and have shown no sign of slowing down. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see them play their seminal 1996 album One Chord To Another from start to finish.
The Hidden Gem: Moss Lime 7:00pm @ Debaser Stage, Convert Village
This minimalist post-punk trio have been bubbling under the surface in Canada’s independent music landscape for a few years now. While their music sounds like something between Joy Division (cliché, I know) and The Slits, Moss Lime have created a distinctive sound that includes 3-part vocal harmonies and simplistic yet irresistible riffs.
Shake off your Friday hangover at the Back Lot BBQ at Spaceman Music starting at 11am, because hair of the dog works… right? Or head back to the Village for the OPEN AIR BRUNCH CLUB at noon presented by Buchipop. Free brunch prepared by chef Mike Frank (ex- Mellos Restaurant / Bar Robo) dishes out Egg Snackwiches, Vegan and Vegetarian grub, taters and more. Wash it down with Buchipop Mimosas or caesars from Union Local 613’s cocktail bar. To top it all off, Brockville Lions Steel Drum Band plays at 2 pm which I am sure will be super cool.
Keep the drum theme going at 5 pm on the Main Stage with the Kina Nimiwag & Anishinabe Drum Group. They combine traditional Anishinabe drum-song, dancing and electronic dance music which will blow you away. Join them as they take you on an adventure through a contemporary and traditional performance.
After watching all that dancing you will certainly want some dancing of your own. When the sun goes down and 8:15 rolls around, Jef E. Barbara’s Black Space will take to the Debaser stage and it will be nearly impossible not to dance to the sounds of sultry 70s love making beats. Think of smooth bilingual Roxy Music.
You will quickly want to rush back to the Main stage for 8:45 pm to see the incomparable Mykki Blanco. Mykki Blanco is the stage name American rapper, performance artist, poet and activist Michael Quattlebaum. Don’t miss your chance to see Mykki’s poetry and rap with unrelenting energy and emotion. Cap off the night with NYC’s Junglepussy, who will be sure to amaze, or head over to Bar Robo to experience DJ Memetic of TimeKode until the wee hours of the morning.
The Must-See: Junglepussy
7:45pm @ Main Stage, Concert Village
New York’s Junglepussy is an artist that has been exploding onto the scene after her first mixtape in 2014 went viral. Her music is heavy and the beats are deep, and her powerful vocals are reminiscent of her predecessors such as Lauryn Hill. Strap yourselves
The Hidden Gem: Jef Elise Barbara’s Black Space 8:15pm @ Debaser Stage, Convert Village
Get ready for one funky-ass party. Jeff Elise Barbara’s performance is centred around the idea “of blackness and the rejection of racialized tropes within white spaces.” Sounding like a blast from the past, this purveyor of glam would fit perfectly right next to Prince and Blood Orange and revel in the fact that they’ll make your sweat ooze from your pores.
The Comedown Day party will be kicking off across the river in Hull with drinks, games for kids, pedal displays by Fairfield Circuitry, and more. You’ll see sets by Montreal’s Dixtorchons and hometown gems Pony Girl, as well as a soundtrack provided by DJ Glory Hull, Mister Caffrey, and DJ Daisy. What better way to end the festival?
Featured photo: RBC Bluesfest Press Images. PHOTO/Danyca MacDonald
I got to Bluesfest later than I’d planned (because some things never change), and while I missed Bonnie Doon’s set, I got it on good authority that it was killer and complete with inflatable pizza slices. I kinda blew it, but it was too early in the day to be bummed so I hit the City Stage to catch The Peptides.
I’ve always heard this group puts on a fun show and, from the neon hair and plastic shirts to the choreographed dances and 5-part vocal harmonies, I’d say you can believe that hype. Shit was pure entertainment.
The PepTides at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 17, 2016 ~ RBC BluesfestPress Images. PHOTO/Danyca MacDonald
We split a bit early to hop across the bridge to the closest dép (because one can only budget for so many $8.50 beers in a day). Brown-baggin it, we honoured the traditions of teenage Bluesfests of yore, and hustled back to catch Bombino.
This band goes by the nickname of band leader Omara “Bombino” Moctar, who grew up in a Tuareg encampment in North Niger. They blend traditional modes and rhythms of the region with rock’n’roll, and Moctar himself (birthname Goumour Almoctar), has a hell of a personal history. He has lived through multiple Tuareg rebellions, lost friends and family, lived in exile in Burkina Faso, and also recorded in California with The Rolling Stones and was Angelina Jolie’s personal tour guide to his home region. That last bit about Angelina is kinda kitschy by comparison but the point is this dude’s getting around, and his music is reaching people around the world. A few years ago I was in New York and found a Bombino record produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys (a record which apparently won them a Grammy), and I knew I’d have to see this band live someday. So I did. And they’re amazing. Check it out.
Next we took a welcome break from the sun, to chill inside with Merganzer. The air conditioning only enhanced the relaxing experience of the ebbs and flows of Mika Posen’s dreamy layers of violin and keys. A drummer, bassist and another singer/pianist accompanied most of the set, and it fleshed things out beautifully. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone dedicate a song to a classical composer, but I guess shouts out to Dvorjak are kinda par for the course at a Merganzer show.
I popped back outside to watch leMeow,whose singer was described to me Ottawa’s Amy Winehouse, which was apt as the band rolled a slick cover of Amy’s song “Valerie.” They sailed through some smooth soul jams, with a rare minimalism in soul/r&b music (only piano, bass and drums accompanying the voclas). The singer also took the backseat on keys as the ivory mainstay took centre stage for an impressive flute solo on the Van Morrison classic, Moondance. Step aside, Ron Burgundy, this is some real jazz flute.
The air conditioning was calling my name and I was anxious to get back to the Wi-Fi (for no good reason at all, I’m not even playing Pokémon Go), so it was back to a packed Barney Danson Theatre for Monday I Retire.
This is a really cool band, inventive jazzy jams with some atmospheric pop and soul for good measure, their style spanned from reminders of Snarky Puppy to Explosions In The Sky. Super fun to watch with loads of clear chemistry, with the rhythm section watching one another and laughing at complex passages, not to mention the fact that lead singer Mackenzie and guitarist/keyboradist Ben are siblings as well as the main songrwiters in the band. It was challenging to follow at times, given some odd time signatures and that thing that jazz musicians do that’s kinda showing off, but not in a douchey way. I think that’s what the kids call “killin it”. I definitely recommend catching their EP release show August 27th at the Rainbow Bistro.
One last local for the day: Scary Bear Soundtrack, also in the lovely air conditioned Barney Danson Theatre. Dedicating songs to their parents, and sharing stories of living in Nunavut, they charmed a receptive crowd with their sweet, dreamy synth-pop tunes. Not to mention their back-to-back covers of the Sailor Moon theme song, and Dancing In The Dark. Now that’s how to reach everyone in the room. Consider this crowd pleased. Be sure to catch them at Bar Robo on August 25, presented by Ottawa Showbox.
And it’s then it was time for the feels trip of the evening. I have long since given up trying to figure out who hurt Dallas Green, in a way that left him perpetually writing songs that simultaneously warm and break your heart. The last time I saw City and Colour was in 2010 when Bluesfest set up a free stage in the Byward market, and he played a solo show to a sardined York Street. Things have really grown since then – his 5-piece band sounded huge, with new arrangements of older tunes and a much more sophisticated sound of post-rock, country and even some R&B.
City and Colour at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 17, 2016 ~ RBC BluesfestPress Images. PHOTO/Mark Horton
Opening the set with the newest album’s opening track, the slow-burning atmospheric Woman pulled us in while he held us there with a few more cuts from the new record, If I Should Go Before You. I was hooked, but I couldn’t get over the blazer he was wearing… this cheesy plaid thing, with lapels that looked like a patch quilt, as if he was running late coming from his cottage and just cut up some blankets and threw a jacket together. I wouldn’t even forgive Don Cherry for wearing this thing.
He threw us more bones as the set progressed, playing songs like “The Girl” and “Sleeping Sickness.” For the latter, I’m sure everyone was hoping that Gord Downie might miraculously join him on stage, to no avail. But Dallas covered some classic Hip with “Bobcaygeon” as a closer. I left early to beat the crowds, and his voice reverberated off the Library and Archives building, keeping the vibe going as he cooed Ottawa Bluesfest to sleep for another year.
Saturday evening at Bluesfest had a little something for everyone thanks to bands such as The Paul James Band, Holy Fuck and Wolf Parade.
Having been at the HOPE Volleyball Tournament all day I missed many great acts throughout the afternoon, but it was all for great causes. This meant my evening started off with the infamous Paul James Band. Paul James is a Juno award wining blues guitarist and rock n roller from Toronto who has been entertaining crowds around the world for more than four decades now. His performance in Ottawa might as well of been straight from the 70’s or 80’s, as he has not slowed down or lost a step over the many years since first beginning.
The Paul James Band showing us some good old time rock and roll with some help from the Texas Horns at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday July 16, 2016.
Always an entertainer, James went back and forth from covers and originals as he danced, spun around playing the guitar behind his head, duck walked and having an all-around blast. He dedicated his opening song, a cover of “Last Clean Shirt” by Eric Burdon and the Animals to his friend Willy DeVille, best known as the front man of Mink DeVille who James toured with. The amazing Texas Horns joined the band for several songs including an awesome rendition of his original track “Suzette.” Before playing his song “Joint Outback,” he commented on the particular odour in the air and mentioned that he released this song “when Justin’s father was in power.”
One of the most memorable moments of the set was the closing song as he drank half his beer while playing, pulled off the label from one side and used the bottle as his slide. After all these years, the man can still really entertain and get a crowd dancing and laughing.
For something completely different, I took a seat on the hills facing the Black Sheep Stage to take in the powerful force of organized chaos known as Holy Fuck. It was quite the shift from ol’ time rock and roll to electronic stylings of Holy Fuck. The thing that really impresses me about this group is that they are not just any electronic group, their really cool customized instruments are complemented with non-instruments, including items such as a 35 mm film synchronizer, toy keyboards and toy phaser guns, but they also feature guitar, bass and drums. All of this with only four people on stage.
They create such a powerful soundscape that broadens the mind and really pushes the limits with creativity that is far beyond my realm of understanding. The group had taken a little hiatus before their latest release Congratsand it was great to have them back at it live. They were also quite happy to be back at it, saying “we haven’t played in a long while so you probably haven’t seen us before. We are very happy to be here on a beautiful night.” On top of the mind bending rhythms and beats, two jugglers showed up in the crowd, completely unrelated I believe. They did however have glowing juggling balls and were pretty entertaining as every once in a while their movement would sink with the songs.
Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade is seen here performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday July 16, 2016. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO/Scott Penner
It was now time for my most anticipated set of the festival, the return of Wolf Parade. The band returned with a vengeance after a five year hiatus and the Bluesfest crowd was ecstatic and so was the band. The band couldn’t believe the reception they received constantly sporting huge smiles after a song, thanking the crowd and giving thumbs up. The band opened with “Soldier’s Grin” from their 2008 album At Mount Zoomer, followed by “Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts” from Apologies to the Queen Mary. This set the trend for the night where the band bounced back and forth between songs where guitarist Dan Boeckner sang lead to songs where keyboardist Spencer Krug sang lead.
The band recently released EP 4 and they played two songs off of it “C’est La Vie” and “Floating World.” They looked in disbelief at how well their new songs were received. After the songs Spencer said “You’re so kind… I can’t believe you’re here and not watching Duran Duran,” as he chuckled. The bands energy on stage was matched by the crowds raw enthusiasm which saw people jumping, dancing, screaming at the top of their lungs and often saying things like “holy shit this is actually happening” or “I can’t believe I am finally seeing them” in between songs.
The set was full of great moments, moments that quickly became the highlights of my festival. Things like a three song set of “You Are A Runner and I Am My Father’s Son,” then “Fancy Claps” topped off by “This Heart’s on Fire.” I could have walked away happy after that moment and called it a night. But wait, after a few songs more Spencer and Dan hugged! This sent shivers down my spine leading me to believe they are all happy to be back to Wolf Parade after all the side projects and this is no victory lap or cash grab, this is a band that happy to rocking together again.
And just when I thought there couldn’t be anything better after all those amazing songs, great energy, happiness and amazement, they band closed with “Kissing the Beehive” which is one of the most epic finishing songs I have ever seen live. The original is about 10 minutes, but live it clocked in closer to 15 minutes and after the singing stops around the 7:30 minute mark the band launched into an epic jam session which really put each musician on display in their own way without resorting to typical solos. I was absolutely blown away, there wasn’t a single song I wanted to hear that they didn’t play and they performance was everything I wanted it to be and then some.
In the opinion of this humble writer Wolf Parade played the best set of the festival and one of the best Bluesfest sets I have seen in a while. If Saturday night was a taste of what is to come, I cannot wait to see them again at Wayhome and again after Osheaga.
“All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” Inferno – Dante Alighieri
The road to Ottawa Bluesfest was deranged by discarded liquor bottles, as a hoard descended down on the festival grounds. Defying my understanding, a solid majority of them were under the age of 25 and were feverish over the imminent witnessing of the greatness, the legendary greatness of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Understandably, these precariously employed millennials want to pre-drink, the alternative being a nearly-nine dollar can of Coors Light.
As the clump I found myself in passed through the entrance of RHCP valhalla, Bluesfest had already broken every previous sales and attendance record and the hoards were still coming. There are few words in the English Language that fill me with the kind of irrational dread as “Red Hot Chilli Peppers.” Having been alive in North America, I know their songs. I like them too, but there is something that makes me deeply uneasy about the band and last night I found out what it is.
As the opening chords of the first song rang out into the night, I witnessed the preliminary fight of the evening. One guy in a baseball hat and sleeveless shirt tried to force another guy in a baseball hat and sleeveless shirt out of his way. The second gentleman responded to the advance and they were now in a fight. This was eventually broken up by three other men similarly making up for a lack of sleeves with head accessories.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers at Ottawa Bluesfest on Friday, July 15, 2016. RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Mark Horton
The less rage-induced crowd began shuffling forward and we passed into the first circle of the Ottawa Bluesfest RHCP concert – guys who really, really like talking about the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Through the ebb and flow of pushing bodies, a common whisper was shared among friends and lovers alike, “I can’t hear them!” The vocals of the first half dozen songs were very low and were drowned out by hundreds of people repeating with barelled voices, in both official languages, their absolute lack of belief that they were watching the Red Hot Chili Peppers live. Eventually my clump escaped the first circle and made it into the second “people taking pictures of each other’s heads.”
The number of amateur photographers in this city is astounding, just stick to the clump and you will get through. In the third circle the fighting resumed, this time in two places at once. Two girls began taking swings at one another as their compatriots pull them towards the beer tent. The other brawl indistinguishable from the one described above. Now the murmuring began again, this time, expressing the dissatisfaction with the crowd.
I could go on, dear reader but it is enough to say that I never made it past the 4rd circle into the promised “front” where dancing and merriment was had. Where people respected each other and music lovers delighted. And while the music was enjoyed by those in every circle – the unified front of chest beating, aggressive human beings of all ages was the take away.
The band played the hits, and a urinal overflowed.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers at Ottawa Bluesfest on Friday, July 15, 2016. RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Mark Horton
On July 14 I treated myself to a double dose of PUP, one of the best live acts around. First, out in the blistering hot sun at Ottawa Bluesfest and then later that night in the sweaty depths of the House of Targ.
On the same day that the band’s latest album The Dream is Over was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize, they got to play to a big crowd at 6 pm at Bluesfest. Lead vocalist and guitarist, Stefan Babcock, was loving the setting. “This is great, it feels like we are hanging out in a park by the river and perfect spot to play some rock ‘n’ roll,” said Babcock. The crowd was clearly feeling it because as soon as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You I will” kicked in the moshing and pogo-ing began. As the band followed up with “DVP,” “Dark Days,” and “Lionheart” the crowd never slowed. The other guitarist Steve Sladkowski made sure to remind them of the importance of looking out for each other. “Just because we are outside doesn’t mean the pit rules don’t apply, pick people up and take care of each other,” he said.
PUP playing at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa. Photo: Ming Wu
The band that toured more than almost anyone else since releasing their debut album in 2013, had taken a little time off leading up to and following the release of The Dream is Over. They showed no sign of rust. The band was firing on all cylinders, I checked my phone and at the 20 minute mark they had already played six songs and found time to chat up the crowd. If you are looking for blistering rock ‘n’ roll songs, energy and a great time, a PUP show is not to be missed. Sladkowski took some time to engage with the folks sitting in the back while other members were tuning. “I’d like to give a special shout-out to the people in the back who are just confused enough, they don’t know if they hate this or like it enough to stick around,” he said with a huge smile. The band kept plowing forward bouncing from their self-titled debut to their latest release throughout the set, but closed with a focus on songs for their long time supporters playing “Mabu,” “Yukon,” “Factories,” and “Reservoir,” all off of their debut album. As they thanked the crowd, we clearly weren’t ready for this to end and continued to yell for more. In a moment I have never seen before, a non-headlining band played an encore at a music festival. They closed with a cover of Weezer’s “El Scorcho.”
What a show. How could my day possibly get any better? How about another PUP show. We headed to House of Targ early to beat the rush for their “secret show.” But this was no regular show. Last time PUP played in Ottawa Stefan was losing his voice, so the band decided to try out PUP-karaoke and had so much fun they decided to do it again. As much fun as seeing the band play in the beautiful sun light by the river earlier, nothing compares to seeing the band in its element, a super hot and sweaty small intimate setting of a basement show.
Merv the Perv killing “Reservoir” during PUP-Karaoke at House of TARG in Ottawa. Photo: Ming Wu
Stefan explained that they would play some songs and then invite people on stage to take a mic and let them be the lead singer throughout the set. Stefan would still sing a long with them if they liked. The band opened this show as they did earlier that day and as they do their new album, with “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and “DVP.” The tone quickly got turned up a notch as they picked a guy out of the crowd and asked him for his request. He chose “Reservoir,” a song the band typically closes with. Not one they play third but they were into the idea saying “Already? Ok. Gauntlet thrown.” The guy who requested it didn’t want to sing it so they looked to the crowd and Marie-Eve “Merv the Perv” Mallet of local band Silvergun and Spleen answered the call and absolutely killed it. Merv started a trend and the next three PUP-karaoke songs were sang by women and they all did a fantastic job. Steve said “that’s 4 for 4, the ladies are batting a thousand and killing it.”
The crowd was extremely raucous constantly spilling onto the stage, moshing and pushing non-stop, and screaming every word at the top of their lungs. With so much crowd participation and people absolutely nailing it on stage, especially during “Guilt Trip,” Stefan took to the mic and said “This is the best I feel like I don’t even have to be in the band any more.” The show wasn’t all rosy, with so many bodies crashing on stage Stefan’s guitar peddles often got stepped on or unplugged and his guitars were having a hard time, but no one seemed to mind at all. A HUGE shout-out has to go to Matt Racha (The Valveenus and The Sentries) for essentially being Stefan’s guitar tech throughout the show. Stefan was extremely appreciative mentioning it multiple times and even telling the merch person to give Matt whatever he so desired for free. Speaking of free, mid-way through the set, Targ staff, including Yogi, brought out trays of pipping hot free hotdogs for the crowd.
Seeing a bunch of friends losing their mind in the crowd and some of them taking the stage, like Richard “Rich Chris” Barrie who slayed “Familiar Patterns,” made this one of the most memorable shows ever. I wasn’t alone in that sentiment as the show came to an end, Stefan said “Thank you for being so energetic when you watch the worst show of your life”
Their album may be called The Dream is Over but on this night they made several people’s dreams come true. I declare with the powers vested in me by Ottawa Showbox that July 14 should forever been known as PUP-day.