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.
After two days off Bluesfest returned Wednesday with a sweltering hot day featuring The Decemberists and Half Moon Run.
Colin Meloy of The Decemberists putting on a show at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Mark Horton
Celebrating 15 years as a band, Portland, Oregon’s The Decemberists seemed in fine form on the Claridge stage. Lead vocalist and guitarist Colin Meloy was having a blast between songs. Before playing “Calamity Song” off their 2011 album The King is Dead, Meloy said “This song is about the end of the world, but don’t worry Canada survives and goes on to repopulate the world.” I mean that sounds like potential for a pretty good restart at things.
I may be in the minority on this point, but I like it when bands who have been around for a while don’t shy away from playing some new material. It must be hard to play the same song day in a day out, especially when you keep recording new music. I really enjoyed the band’s few new songs mixed in with the songs everyone wanted to hear. One thing rings true for The Decemberists, and that is how very true they are to their sound. They don’t record music they can’t replicate live and as a result really impressed me in person.
Devon Portielje of Half Moon Running performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Mark Horton
After The Decemberists I made my escape from the massive sea of people heading for Brad Paisley and found solace in watching Montreal indie rockers Half Moon Run. The Blacksheep Stage was packed for the boys and they wasted no time opening with their hit “Turn Your Love.” The big crowd was well deserved by this hard working and ever evolving band. They are still in the reasonably early days of their career, but I feel like we have seen them grow leaps and bounds already. The band is clearly not resting on their laurels and continue to push themselves.
The only thing more energetic and enthralling than the crowd and the simplistic but amazing light show was the band members themselves. They know how important energy and movement is to a live show and they do not disappoint. They also recognize the important role Ottawa has played in their forming and success. Conner Molander, guitar, keys and vocals, said “We love Ottawa they gave us this guy,” speaking of their energetic front man Devon Portielje. They thanked the crowd by playing fan favourite and one of the songs that launched the band “Call Me in the Afternoon.” Once again, as during every Half Moon Run show, the band showed everyone in attendance why they are widely recognized as one of Canada best and brightest rising stars in the world of indie rock.
It was a beautiful Sunday and a perfect way to cap off the first half of Bluesfest with Yukon Blonde, Wild Child, Steamers and Debauche.
Debauche performs at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 10, 2016. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Mark Horton
There was no better way to start my day than with Debauche. The four-piece based out of New Orleans play super fun gypsy music in the style of Gogol Bordello. As their leader Yegor Romantsov said in a thick Russian accent, “For those who haven’t seen us before, we play Russian hooligan songs about orphans, prostitutes, lesbians, and of course gypsies.” They had the crowd dancing none stop to the sound of the acoustic guitar, standup bass, accordion and steady drums. I am more than certain that most people dancing had never seen the act before which made it even better. It is quite powerful to watch a band really get a crowd into it when they sing in a language over 90% of the crowd doesn’t understand. Such a fun set, if they ever come to your town, or if you are ever in New Orleans look them up. I guarantee you will not regret it.
Steamers drummer Phil Castiglione performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 10, 2016. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO/Scott Penner
Up next on the Claridge Stage was Ottawa’s one and only power-folk band, Steamers. Playing in front of their biggest crowd ever by, getting the slot right before Thomas Rhett may have contributed, the band was fired up. It also helped that the sun finally completely broke through the clouds as they took the stage. They opened with “Head North” followed by “This Is A Song” and quickly made fans of many of the people who were simply there killing time. One of the very unique features and great qualities of Steamers is that all six members sing and the band performs in both English and French. It is a wonderful addition to a set in the nation’s capital and songs like “Passer une nuite” and “Le bâteau” are great no matter what language they are sung in.
One of the more intense moments of the show was when guitar and singer Quin Gibson took to the mic to introduce the very powerful and emotional song “Mike.”
“Someone close me passed away recently and this one goes it to my mom,” who was in the front row with his wife and daughter. At this point they had one over many new fans who were singing a long, bobbing their heads and some even dancing. And as if they needed to work on me, they made me even more of a fan for life when they dedicated one of their older tracks and one of my favourites “Blue Skies” to me. They crafted their set perfectly blending their slower songs with their faster ones and including a bunch of opportunities for crowd participation. They closed out the set with “Strings & Skins” followed by the very sing a long friendly “Montreal” which had more people singing a long to one of their songs than I have ever heard before. It was beautiful.
Wild Child is seen here performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 10, 2016. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO/Scott Penner
It was now time to head to the Monster Stage, formerly the River Stage, to go from one six-piece to another six-piece and watch Wild Child from Austin, Texas. Anyone who has been to Bluesfest before knows that there is no better stage to be in the evening to listening to music and watch the marvels of nature unfold in the form of a breath taking sun set over the Ottawa River. Wild Child were a wonderful soundtrack to the beautiful view. The band is led by Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins who share the singing responsibilities. Their excellent chemistry and voice complement each other so well. No better than the cutest song ever about your partner finding another lover, “Someone Else.” The band closed with the great track “Fools.” One thing I couldn’t help but notice how similar the keys on the song reminded me of “Twin Size Mattress” by The Front Bottoms, a song I like very much as well. Have a listen to them both and see: Fools and Twin Size Mattress. Two different songs with one similarity and I enjoy them both.
Brandon Scott of Yukon Blonde is seen here performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 10, 2016. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO/Scott Penner
Yukon Blonde recognized the beauty of playing by the water. Just as they took the stage, Jeff Innes singer and guitarist of the band said “Look at the view behind you, I love what I do.” Yukon Blonde’s synth rock teleported us to an 80s detective or cops show where the main character is cruising through the night with the top down and his hair flowing in the late night breeze. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed Rebecca Gray on synth, she has surely been influenced by the likes of Joy Division and New Order. The band was having a riot, moving around all over the stage and engaging the crowd in songs and getting clapping going. The band mentioned that their “first time in Ottawa was at Cafe Dekcuf then our 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th shows about 10 years ago.”
The crowd was putty in their hands as they played radio hits like “Confusion” and “Radio” to butter them up. They then played “Favourite People” which Innes said “is about people like you,” to a loud reaction by the crowd. Innes clearly loving crowd and the setting then said “we’d be lucky to get something like this every 4 years.” They closed with the track that made it all possible, their big radio hit “Stairway.” As the song came to an end Innes and other guitarist Brandon Scott left the stage to sing a capella with the crowd while standing on the barrier. Brandon then crowd surfed as the rest of the band rocked out the end of the song.
Though the rain clouds held out for the earlier days of Bluesfest, they decided to let it pour on Day 3. While the weather dampened the crowds at various points in the evening, the gaps in a surprisingly sparse Bluesfest Saturday certainly didn’t help. That said, there were highlights to be had with some patience and a poncho.
Ottawa’s Yusso hit the stage with subwoofers tuned so loud that you could see the pools of water above them vibrating in the air. And that’s a good thing. The young crowd looking for a lit show was bouncing to the production, while Yusso’s star power was on full display. His flow over production with trap elements sounded like Shad crossed with Jazz Cartier. With shout outs to Gatineau and Heatherington, Yusso’s a local act who got a spot on stage at only his second Bluesfest (after watching Kanye last year). With that kind of growth, who knows what next year will bring?
Yusso performed at Ottawa Bluesfest on Saturday, July 9, 2016. RBC Bluesfest Press Images – PHOTO/Scott Penner.
I hadn’t heard much from New York’s Tor Miller before he and his band took the stage, but it was clear from the get-go that he’s a man on a mission. Picture Hozier-like passion paired with a baby faced charm (a la Dave Franco) and you’ll understand why the crowd steadily grew as the set went on. Highlights like “Baby Blue” and “Carter & Cash” showcased a smooth indie pop sound that is bound to find a home on the charts if the stars align.
Tor Miller performed at Ottawa Bluesfest on Saturday, July 9, 2016. RBC Bluesfest Press Images – PHOTO/Scott Penner.
My previous experiences watching Earl Sweatshirt (aka Earl) did not give me a huge sense of anticipation. His deadpan flow is a welcome contrast to Odd Future’s theatrics but it doesn’t seem to mesh well with large stages. And that’s a shame. Most would argue that he’s the best lyricist of the Odd Future collective. Despite a crowd chock-full of sweatshirts that literally said “Sweatshirt,” my fears were realized. It felt like something was missing the entire set. Perhaps it’s the style of production, perhaps it’s his energy (or lack thereof), or perhaps his album title “I don’t like shit, I don’t go outside” is accurate. I like his music enough to keep trying, but I’ll be aiming for intimate venues from now on.
Earl Sweatshirt performed at Ottawa Bluesfest on Saturday, July 9, 2016. RBC Bluesfest Press Images – PHOTO/Scott Penner.
Preoccupations took the Blacksheep Stage to end the night in front of a small, soaked crowd that was continuing to get rained on. No one seemed to notice as their blistering form of post-punk took over. Their set included a few songs off their upcoming September 16th self-titled release and their Polaris-shortlisted debut’s hits sounded even better live. “Continental Shelf” inspired a polite Ottawa mosh-pit, “March of Progress” slow build redefined foreplay and their closer of “Death” was an explosion of energy that felt unstoppable, even when guitarist Daniel Christiansen had to switch to a keyboard due to technical difficulties. Despite the ominous melodies and themes, the invigorated crowd left looking more alive than at any other point of the night.
The second day of Ottawa Bluesfest dawned on us as we shuffled into Lebreton Flats, gazing somewhat fearfully up at the sky as it daunted us with dark, looming clouds. At that point, you either comes to terms with the fact that you’ll probably get soaked or you turn back. My friend and I took the “it’s-probably-going-to-be-damp” option.
Seeing as I had to miss Bluesfest last year due to out-of-town family commitments, it was so refreshing to be back on-site. There was an excitement in the air as the gathering crowd meandered around, reacquainting themselves with the territory at the Flats. It’s quite an experience walking into Bluesfest and hearing The Heavy Medicine Band cap of their early set, which I unfortunately had to miss most of because of work. But over in the distance, I could see Keturah Johnson electrifying the crowd that had gathered in front of the Claridge Stage, enchanting them with her masterful vocal abilities.
Coeur de Pirate performed at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 8, 2016. RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Marc DesRosiers
The City stage glittered with a gold backdrop, and what little sunlight was left came through the clouds to welcome Coeur de Pirate. Songwriter Béatrice Martin came out and immediately offered her warmth to the crowd, and the crowd reciprocated the love. The beginning of their set started off with energy, and irresistibly catchy songs like “Undone” and “The Way Back Home” off the new album Roses enveloped the crowd.
Martin’s graceful movements on stage added some flair to the set, moving off her piano bench and dancing with whispy hand and body movements. The set consisted of a lot of newer songs, both in French and English. The band has clearly hit their stride, and they sounded incredible together live. The impressive harmonies melded together intricately, not missing one note. Without a doubt, we were all in Martin’s gaze throughout the set, and she had us in the palm of her hand. Adults and children alike offered their appreciation after each song.
As she got set to play the song “Saint-Laurent” off 2011’s Blonde, Martin admitted “This is a song about Saint-Laurent in Montréal, but it could apply to the one in Ottawa too”. The crowd chuckled, as we all know that Ottawa’s St. Laurent doesn’t really compare. As the set came to a close, we were enthralled.
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals performed at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 8, 2016. RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Marc DesRosiers
Next up was Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals over at the Claridge Stage, and the clouds kept holding out for us as we nestled in nice and close to the stage. Their much anticipated new album Call It What It Is came out in April of this year, and their set consisted of some new tracks as well as a healthy dose of older ones we all know and love.
Setting the tone early, the group played a great live version of “Burn To Shine” off of the band’s first album together by the same name. It was something special to see the original crew still kicking out songs on stage, albeit a little bit older and greyer. But age didn’t get the best of them during this set, sounding on-point the whole time. We could all tell they were having fun up there. They went into the tried-and-true classic “Steal My Kisses,” which started off with percussionist David Leach teasing us with a fun bongo intro. The crowd indulged the band by singing along gleefully.
The tone turned sombre for a few minutes during the performance of the new single “Call It What It Is.” Starting off with a mean slide guitar riff, the song is about police violence against black people – a song which is especially poignant given the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police over the past few weeks. No message could be more important right now than addressing the systemic racism that continues to exist in police forces – particularly in the US. With the crowd sending positive vibes to the stage, the band finished off their set with “Burn One Down.”
The Tallest Man On Earth performed at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 8, 2016. RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Marc DesRosiers
The last act of the night for us was Kristian Matsson, a.k.a The Tallest Man On Earth, down at the Monster Stage. Monster had some weird green area to sit at the back that was distracting, so most people went away from it and went close to the stage. The Tallest Man On Earth’s latest album Dark Bird Is Home was recorded with a full band and has a fuller sound than his previous three releases, and this Bluesfest set was a nice balance of him playing alone as well as with the group.
He opened with “Wind and Walls” off of 2012’s There’s No Leaving Now, followed by the crowd-pleasing “1904.” With each song his energy grew, and with each lyrics he became more passionate. At 9:30, about a third through the set, Noel Gallagher started playing on the City Stage. The loudness definitely put a damper on the set, as the booming noise from the big stage could be heard over the softer songs being played by Matsson.
“I’m just going to put my finger in my one ear,” Matsson joked, plugging the ear closest to Gallagher’s. “He’s got his wind machine blowing right at us.”
For a guy that wears what could be the tightest pants ever sold, Matsson kept moving freely and easily across the stage, continuing to put on an amazing show despite the distractions. His beautiful fingerpicking, distinctive vocal style, and natural ability to capture his crowd made this the most memorable one of the night.
Say what you will about the festival, Bluesfest is a huge supporter of local music. They extensively search for Ottawa talent every single year and bring in both established acts as well as newer artists that are looking for that next big opportunity. This year is no exception. Bluesfest organizers have booked in almost 60 local artists to play on the big stages this year. We’ve broken down a list of all the artists from the Ottawa-Gatineau region for you to have a better idea of what to check out while you’re at Bluesfest this year. So go on, explore!
Sat, July 9, 9:30 PM to 10:45 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Amanda Rheaume is an award-winning folk singer songwriter. In 2014 Amanda received a Canadian Folk Music Award for Aboriginal Songwriter and a Juno Nomination for Aboriginal Album. Amanda has graced several stages in the Ottawa area, across Canada and around the world. Her latest album Holding Patterns was produced by another very talented local musician Jim Bryson.
Amos the Transparent
Sun, July 17, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – City Stage
Amos the Transparent are a six piece indie folk band the just keep getting better. They started as a studio project 10 years ago and have grown musically and in following in the nation’s capital. Their performance are full of both soft melodies and beautiful vocal harmonies. They just recently released a new single, so fans may be in for a treat of a bunch of new music.
Barry and The Blasters
Sun, July 17, 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Barry and The Blasters is a group of eight musicians from the Old Ottawa South. They’ve have been playing sold-out shows in local clubs in the Ottawa area for more than 10 years. The Blasters include an awesome brass ensemble and a gentlemen that can really rock the harmonica. Make sure to bring your dancing shoes and get ready to boogie to some bluesy rock and some soul.
Sun, July 17, 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
The post-punk foursome known as Bonnie Doon draws influences from many places, such beach parties, ghost stories and pizza joints. Armed with distorted vocals, ripping riffs and driving drums Bonnie Doon never fail to impress.
Sun, July 17, 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Brock Zeman is one of Canada’s most prolific singer songwriter having released 11 albums over the years. He may very well be the capitals best kept secrets considering his 2015 release Pulling Your Sword Out of the Devil’s Back was a semifinalist in the International Songwriting Competition and came in second in the The Unsigned Only Competition in 2015. He write very clever and profound songs which he delivers with just the right rasp.
Wed, July 13, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM – Black Sheep Stage
Carlo are a instrumental surf band with members from both Ottawa and Toronto. Check them out to practice your best beach dance moves like swimming against the air, surfing and the mash potato.
Thu, July 14, 8:15 PM to 9:15 PM – Black Sheep Stage
Born in Pittsburgh now based in Ottawa Jay Williams, better known and Cashtro Crosby lays down some smooth hip-hop. Cashtro thrives on making music about his personal experiences, from the good to the bad, from popping in clubs to millionaire dreams.
Sat, July 9, 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Chris Page perfectly skirts the line of punk rock and folk while playing pop songs on his acoustic guitar. Page has been heavily involved in music in the region having played in Camp Radio, Stand GT and currently playing in Expanda Fuzz. Page’s latest solo release, his fourth, Volume Vs. Voice, was one of my favourite of 2015, not just in Ottawa but period. Chris Page is a must see for fans of The Weakerthans and for people who love it any time a punk rock soul finds himself behind an acoustic guitar.
Wed, July 13, 9:00 PM to 10:15 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Craig Cardiff is a very talented songwriter and troubadour who builds landscapes of sound using live digital loops, bringing the room to a hush. Beyond his great musical talent, in between songs Craig is an entertainer telling great stories for the crowd, jokes and just loves engaging his audience. A Craig Cardiff set will make you want to cry due to a broken heart one minute and cry of laughter the next.
Wed, July 13, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Danielle Allard is an award winning singer songwriter with one of the nicest voices in the capital region. The local talent has been performing well before her teens and graduated of Canterbury High School’s school of music. Danielle is also extremely engaged and active in her community playing countless fundraisers and charity events. Most have seen Danielle solo or as a duo, but for Bluesfest they will be a five-piece and you are surely in for a treat.
Sat, July 16, 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Danny Albert is a classically trained solo violinist who has been an active performer in the local music scene for many years. He plays a wide variety styles from contemporary to classic rock and the jazz standards all on the violin sometimes accompanied by a few friends on keys. He has opened for bands like The Strumbellas and Oh Susanna.
Thu, July 7, 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM – Casino du Lac-Leamy (Free Programming)
DJ ACRO a veteran of the scene well known for his scratching, mixing and versitility. He is also an in-house DJ for Babylon and Ritual Nightclub, backing artists such as Ghostface Killah, GZA, Cappadonna, Onyx, and opening for the likes of DJ CRAZE, The Underachievers, Mac Miller, M.O.P and DJ Premier just to name a few. In 2015 ACRO competed in the RedBull Thre3style World DJ Championships, battling his way through the East Canada regionals and earning a trip to the National Finals in Winnipeg among the top 6 DJs in Canada.
Thu, July 14, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM – The Big Chill Stage
Fri, July 15, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM – The Big Chill Stage
DJ Calkuta is one of many proficient Ottawa DJs making regular parties happen across the city. If he’s not busy getting down to business at SABBATH Sunday night dance parties at Babylon, you can also find him along side his squad in the hip hop group Flight Distance. Wear your deodorant, it’s going to get sweaty.
Wed, July 13, 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM – Casino du Lac-Leamy (Free Programming)
As the city’s best known country DJs, LTP has played alongside and opened up for the likes of Anthony Orio and the Goodfeller’s (number 1 band in Nashville four years running), Tim Hicks, Chad Brownlee, Jason Blaine and Dallas Smith. He has also opened for rapper Classified and rocker Sass Jordan.DJ LTP is currently the house DJ at The Crazyhorse, which has been his home for the last seven years.
Thu, July 14, 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM – Casino du Lac-Leamy (Free Programming)
Sat, July 16, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM – The Big Chill Stage
Sun, July 17, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM – The Big Chill Stage
DJ Magnificient is DJ and host of Ottawa’s only monthly night with a focus on soul-funk-motown and vintage reggae on all on 45s called DOUBLE BARREL. The man has been playing records for 23 years now and shows no signs of changing his ways. He is happiest when 7 inches of something funky or soulful at 45 rotations per minute.
Sat, July 16, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Playing together since the ages of 6, 7 and 9, Dubé started out on the streets busking their way to over $200, 000 for charity. From a humble beginning of three brother busking together on the street outside of Bluesfest to playing some of the world’s largest music festivals and now gracing the stage at Bluesfest.
Fri, July 15, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM – CF Rideau Centre (Free Programming)
Dylan Phillips is an incredibly talented classical guitar player who will wow you with his finger picking. As a student in the Bachelor of Music, Singer-Songwriter program at Carleton University, Dylan has developed into a mature polymathic musician and songwriter, who is on track to release his first album in 2016 through Physik Records.
Fri, July 8, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Fire Antlers is Travis Kinnear, supported by his archaic drum machine (975 Rhythm Ace FR 8L), crafting a unique blend of lo-fi pop and sci-folk that is danceable and layered with internal reflections.
Sat, July 9, 3:00 PM to 3:15 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Sat, July 9, 7:15 PM to 7:30 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Grace Lachance took the stage for the “SHE’S THE ONE” talent contest at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa in 2015a as 15-year-old musician from Stittsville, Ontario. At the end of the day she walked away the winner. She continues to mature as an artist, even though she has more experience under her belt than most her age, and develop her alternative-pop sound with a touch of new country.
Wed, July 13, 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Gabrielle Giguere, better known as Her Harbour, has a powerfully haunting voice that reminds you of the voice of a siren luring you into the sea with her music. The music is dark, eerie and very emotional as Giguere strums her auto-harp and her band members add in just the right complementary subtleties. Recently, Giguere has been composing music for television and film, including TV5’s series 2h14. Her Harbour is currently working on her second full-length album, set for release in the spring of 2016.
Sat, July 9, 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Jill Zmud‘s latest album comes from the discovery of an old dusty reel-to-reel tape in her parents’ Saskatoon home, the very house Jill grew up in. On that tape in a cardboard box were the songs of her musician uncle, Ed Clynton. Ed was a member of the Canadian band Witness Inc. in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This album lead her to play some great country music where she explores themes of loss, hope and unbreakable bonds of family.
Sun, July 10, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM – CF Rideau Centre (Free Programming)
Jillian Kerr is a singer-songwriter born and raised on the outskirts of Ottawa. Jillian writes lyrics that listeners can relate to, but weaves in hints of mystery in each song. Her songs speak to a depth beyond her years as a songwriter. Her most intriguing quality stems from her unique and soothing voice that leaves audiences wanting more. Jillian recently won the MusikOttawa Singer-Songwriter competition in 2015 performing songs from her debut EP Dreams.
Sun, July 10, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM – City Stage
Jordan McIntosh is a rising star in the pop-country world. This was solidified when he most recently took home the Rising Star Award at the 2014 Country Music Association of Ontario (CMAO) Awards and earned a spot as a Top 6 finalist in the CCMA Discovery Program.
Sat, July 16, 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Just Poets are an Ottawa-based Hip-Hop trio consisting of Ottawa’s most prolific producer Jeepz and emcees Just Peace and Street Scholar. Armed with some of the slickest beats thanks to Jeepz the two emcees don’t shy away from spitting rhymes at the speed of light, but also find comfort in smooth slow jamming.
Wed, July 13, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Kelly Prescott inherited some great musical genes thanks to two great Canadians bloodlines, spanning three generations, and she certainly has not squandered that head start. Her natural country voice over a steel guitar and a fiddle is something of beauty for any fan of traditional country music. She has released music under the name Prescott, Kelly Prescott and with a band The Claytones.
Sat, July 9, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM – CF Rideau Centre (Free Programming)
Not sure if you are feeling roots or soul, well with Kelsey Hayes you don’t have to decide. She combines her powerful soul-jazz vocals over an acoustic guitars and gives you a taste of both on her journey of heartbreak, betrayal and love. Kesley also recently won the MusikOttawa Singer-Songwriter competition in 2015 performing songs off her self-titled debut EP.
Sun, July 17, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Want to actually see some blues at Bluesfest? A novel idea I know. Well if you do you can’t miss Lemeow. Sultry, smooth and all about the blues while still keeping it modern. If you love the sounds of Amy Winehouse and upbeat Adele you will love Lemeow.
Lost to the River
Thu, July 7, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Lost to the River are a dynamic and catchy indie rock band from Ottawa, whose performance always feature a ton of energy. Their songs are intimate, textured, and contain the heart and soul that many of us have come to love about Canadiana folk music. Their critically acclaimed debut received extensive airplay and earned them the 2015 Stingray Rising Star Award.
Sun, July 17, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM – CF Rideau Centre (Free Programming)
Mark Fossen is a perfect fit for anyone looking to sit down and be swept away by a man and his guitar. His soft voice with a little rasp is an incredible conduit for his emotions and stories.
Sat, July 9, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Mehdi Hamdad has been playing music since he was a teenager and he’s been organizing and playing shows for over a decade now. The Mehdi Cayenne Club was formed in 2009, on the day Michael Jackson died — June 25. Mehdi is the songwriter in both French and English for all the songs, but completes his pieces with the help of his bandmates Olivier Fairfield and François Gravel. There are few more fitting stages for a performer as Mehdi playing in the Monster ENERGY stage as he is one of the most energetic and frenetic performers I have ever seen
Sun, July 17, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Merganzer is the new experimental pop project of Violinist Mika Posen (Timber Timbre, Agnes Obel, Forest City Lovers).In 2013 she moved to Berlin where she visited the graves of her favourite composers, experimented with sounds, and began writing and recording music of her own. After returning to Canada in 2015, she mixed her debut record, Mirror Maze. Merganzer’s songs were primarily built using the “mikatron,” a mellotron-style string machine that she created from 90 different samples of her own violin. A Merganzer performance is really quite an experience, and we strongly recommend it.
Monday I Retire
Sun, July 17, 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Monday I Retire are led by the powerful vocals of lead singer Mackenzie Di Millo. The five-piece that gracefully and skillfully blends jazz, soul, blues rock with a hint of pop. A standout and highlight of Monday I Retire sets are your urge to dance and to lose yourself in the trumpet solos.
Thu, July 14, 9:30 PM to 10:45 PM – Barney Danson Theatre with featured guests: Paul DesLauriers, Colin Linden, Sue Foley and Jack Broadbent
Fri, July 15, 9:00 PM to 10:15 PM – Barney Danson Theatre with featured guests: Jack de Keyzer, Jeff Lang, Sue Foley and Paul Reddick
Sat, July 16, 9:30 PM to 10:45 PM – Barney Danson Theatre with featured guests: Paul James, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne and Michael Schatt
Sun, July 17, 9:30 PM to 10:45 PM – Black Sheep Stage with featured guests: Paul Reddick, Lance Anderson and some special surprises
Monkey Junk have quite the interest task and honour at this year’s Bluesfest. The juno award-winners and Ottawa swamp-rock, roots and blues icons will be hosting a not-to-be-missed Blues Revue during the final four days of the ‘fest. Every night they will be joined by different special guests and supported The Texas Horns, a unit that has the ability to adapt on the fly, often minutes before the performance, and have become a permanent fixture at the RBC Bluesfest.
Sat, July 16, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Pipahauntas is local artist Sam Pippa’s (Organ Eyes, Blue Angel) solo project. This project sounds very different from the bands she plays in. No guitar or bass here – she is armed with a laptop, pedals and a microphone, delivering trip hop and lo-fi rumblings. Pipahauntaus’ music is great for late night cruise with your windows down with the wind slowly gracing your cheeks and flowing in your hair.
Pith and the Parenchymas
Sat, July 16, 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM – Black Sheep Stage
Pith and the Parenchymas are a duo employing an extremely modern and spacey blend of folk timbres with the techniques and tools of electronic music. They are breaking down barriers and creating sounds that you won’t find anywhere else. Beware of musical geniuses at work.
Scary Bear Soundtrack
Sun, July 17, 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Scary Bear Soundtrack have a lot kilometers on their treads. The band originally based in Ottawa, packed up and moved to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and has now returned to be based in the nation’s capital. The indie synth-pop project is very politically-conscious and actively promotes inclusion in the Ottawa music scene. Their song “Fault Lines,” about violence against women, made it to the national final Top 4 in CBC Music’s Searchlight competition for Canada’s Best New Artist.
Thu, July 7, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Scattered Clouds is a dark, experimental, post-apocalyptic three-piece rock group, from Hull, QC, led by bassist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Philippe Charbonneau (Hilotrons, Evening Hymns, Jim Bryson). The band also features the wild Mike Dubue (HILOTRONS) and multi-talented drummer Jamie Kronick. A Scattered Clouds show is so powerful as Philippe’s singing will haunt your dreams in the best way possible, while Mike creates sounds most people can’t even think of and as Jamie Kronick puts on a display behind the drums.
Sat, July 9, 6:00 PM to 7:15 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Silver Creek are sometimes soulful, twangy, driving and loud, but never stray far from what they truly are; just a good old rock and roll band. They have been compared to The Band, Allman Brothers, Blue Rodeo and Neil Young, but make sure to carve out their own space to be their own band.
Sun, July 10, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Hailing from both sides of the Ottawa River, with family ties and strong friendship the six-piece known as the Steamers play folk music you just have to stomp, clap and sing a long to. They call it power folk and one sing in you will understand as they vary from slow darker sounds to upbeat speedy blasts. Every member of the band sings and they perform both in English and French. There really is something for everyone at a Steamers show.
Steve Adamyk Band
Fri, July 15, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM – City Stage
Steve Adamyk is the most prolific punk rocker in Ottawa if not Canada. The man has been pumping out punk and power-pop for years now. With his band, Steve Adamyk Band, they have sold almost 10,000 physical vinyl records alone and have toured Europe, Japan, U.S. and Canada many times over. If you love quick, catchy, high energy songs and watching a bunch of buddies have an amazing time then you need to see the Steve Adamyk Band perform. They also happen to be playing in the opening slot for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I wonder how many songs they can fit into an hour long set… show up and find out.
Suits n toques
The Chocolate Hot Pockets
Fri, July 15, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
If you’re looking for the real deal when it comes to instrumental musicianship, The Chocolate Hot Pockets are your band. This band takes jazz / fusion, funk and soul and smashes them together for an all-out flurry of sounds from across the musical spectrum. They embrace the weird, and the weird embrace them.
The Heavy Medicine Band
Fri, July 8, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM Claridge Homes Stage
In the musical apothecary, take one part psychedelic onslaught of haunting instrumentals, and one part vocal prowess. Mix the two together and the concoction you end up with will induce tremors of the spine. The Heavy Medicine Band are a force to be reckoned with in Ottawa. Keturah Johnson is easily one of Ottawa’s most stunning and breathtaking vocalists, and her abilities are only accentuated on the live stage. Don’t miss this band.
The Jesse Greene Band
Thu, July 14, 6:00 PM to 6:45 PM – Black Sheep Stage
The Jesse Greene Band are the kind of act that you might expect to find in a Chicago dive bar. As you’re sipping on your whiskey amongst the motley bunch of shady figures, The Jesse Greene Band rocks away in the corner, filling the place with genuine blues rock that doesn’t quit. Greene’s raspy vocals and Luke Donovan’s irresistibly intricate guitar riffs are sure to put the “blues” in Bluesfest this year.
The Jimmy Tri-Tone Band
Sun, July 10, 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM – Black Sheep Stage
This husband-wife duo form Almonte, ON, are just another example of the quality of musicianship coming out of small towns in the Ottawa region. While the spark of romance exists off the stage for this group, there’s no shortage of chemistry on stage either. Take a break and check these guys out for some good ol’ folk rock.
Sat, July 16, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM – City Stage
Let me just start by saying that few bands in town have as much energy on stage as The Lionyls. These guys are a tried and true rock n’ roll band that truly live up to the ferocity in their name. They’re one of those bands that you see jumping around on stage having fun and think to yourself, “how can they still sound so good?” They have perfected the art of groove and are ready to deliver to the crowd at Bluesfest this year.
The Lucas Haneman Express
Fri, July 8, 6:00 PM to 6:45 PM – Black Sheep Stage
This train’s leaving, and you’re going to want to get on board. From quiet and subdued bluesy jams to explosive crescendoes abounding with dynamic riffs and rhythms, The Lucas Haneman Express is a 4-piece blues rock ensemble that electrifies audiences. Whether its on the big stage at Bluesfest, or a smaller one at the Black Sheep Inn, this group will get any crowd in the palm of their hand.
Sun, July 17, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM – City Stage
The Peptides have garnered acclaim and earned a reputation in town for putting on fun, choreographed shows to go along with their music. When you go to see this band, it feels like you’re at a Broadway musical with over-the-top theatrics, wild hair and makeup, and visually stunning stage effects. The Peptides blend all kinds of music, such as pop, funk and soul, to bring us a high-energy, high-octane live shows.
Sun, July 17, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
The Powergoats are a rock n’ roll outfit that music fans of all ages will appreciate. These guys toy with a lot of different sounds, utilizing more than just guitar and drums – they incorporate piano, daring harmonies, and some pretty rad effects too. You’ll even hear tinges of blues and reggae in their songs, too. Singer Jamie Douglas’ strong stage presence matches the power of the sounds coming out of the speakers, all proving that this isn’t just band with a sweet name.
The Red Rails
Fri, July 15, 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM Claridge Homes Stage
The Red Rails have turned heads in Ottawa since forming in 2012, having played countless shows and given audiences a dose of their brand of rock. Vocalist Kim Vincent’s dynamic vocals could be compared to that of Anthony Kedis or Josh Homme, but the truth is he’s got his own thing going on. The band’s 70’s stadium rock and 90’s grunge influences come through loud and clear, something which will be sure to get audiences moving at Bluesfest this year.
The Slow Century
Sun, July 17, 3:00 PM > 4:00 PM Monster Energy Stage
What if you were sitting at your cubicle, and your co-worker comes up to you and says “Hey, let’s start a band.” Would you do it? Well these guys certainly did. The Slow Century is comprised of a few journalists here in town, Ottawa Sun writers Aedan Helmer and Tony Spears. They began writing different kinds of stories through music once they officially got together in 2013, incorporating bluesy riffage and an alt rock sound that audiences love.
The Wicked Mercy
Sat, July 16, 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM – Monster Energy Stage
When you hear the sound of raw, crunchy, whiskey-soaked rock n’ roll electrifying the airwaves, it’s probably The Wicked Mercy coming to take your soul. OK, maybe not your soul, but their music is a perfect blend of high-energy rock mixed in with some pretty intricate blues-inspired guitar riffs that almost act like a second lead vocalist.
Fri, July 15, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM Claridge Homes Stage
Readers of Ottawa Showbox know very well that The Yips are one of our favourite local bands. Why? They take everything we love about fuzzed-out garage rock and multiply it tenfold. Kerri Carisse’s wild, piercing vocals are infectious and compliment the Jon Schofield’s crunchy lead guitar and Kurt Rafuse’s maniacal bass lines. Catch The Yips for a transformative live experience.
Sun, July 10, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM Barney Danson Theatre
When you first hear Thrust, immediately you know that there’s something special going on. Fusing jazz, funk and soul with elements of hip hop and electronic music, this band takes an improvisational approach to their music and create soundscapes for us to meander in. Using a myriad of instruments, they will leave you wondering how a trio can pack such a punch.
Fri, July 15, 6:00 PM to 6:45 PM – Black Sheep Stage
Training Season is a local hip hop collective is led by rapper/songwriter GPxTempest (aka GP), rapper/songwriter King Caexar (aka Caexar), and singer/songwriter Queen (aka Q). They take minimalist samples and layer some smooth beats and intelligent lyrics to create smooth, jazzy hip hop. Their collabs with producers are on-point, too, and this crew is certainly one to keep an eye out for on the Canadian hip hop scene.
Treasure Dub Quartet
Sat, July 9, 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM – Black Sheep Stage
You don’t see many dub bands these days, and the good stuff – the lo-fi Jamaican recordings – can only be found on our record shelves. But the Treasure Dub Quartet is bringing it back. The band consists of a few extremely prolific Ottawa musicians: Adam Saikaley on guitar; Alex Moxon on bass; Philippe Charbonneau on Dub Station; and Michel Delage on drums. They bring together everything we love about dub of old – groove heavy bass lines, fluttering drum patterns, and trippy sound effects. Light one up for these guys.
Fri, July 8, 9:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
The Split have garnered a reputation for inducing hip-moving, booty-shaking dance parties in front of the stage. This veteran neo-soul band takes elements of classic soul music and gives it modern spin. Matthew Chaffey’s distinct vocal style adds some grittiness to their live performance, and fits perfectly with the mean brass section and unrelenting rhythm behind him. Don’t believe me about the dance party thing? Watch the video below.
Thu, July 7, 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Tyler Kealy is a veteran of the scene, and has been relentlessly active for over a decade. You don’t see many piano players making a name for themselves these days, but Kealy’s style is something music fans of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy. He’s shared the stage with names like Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Blues Brother Dan Ackroyd, and continues to play shows several times per week. He’s getting set to release a new album this summer, but until then catch him play a set at Bluesfest – fittingly at the Barney Danson Theatre.
Sat, July 9, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – City Stage
Don’t know Yusso? You should know Yusso. We love Yusso. This guy is a hidden gem of the Ottawa hip hop scene, bringing together unorthodox samples, intelligent lyricism, and a distinct flow. He’s a real-deal emcee and he displays that talent every show he plays. He’s the kind of artist that has something to say, and when he performs he makes sure to deliver that message to audiences.
Big festivals can be pretty overwhelming, and seeing as how Ottawa Bluesfest is one of the largest in North America, it is no exception. One of the best parts about music festivals, in our opinion, is that you get a chance to learn about some really great artists that you may not have heard about before. Yes, the huge headliners are an obvious draw. But don’t underestimate the potential for smaller, lesser-known acts to blow you out of your seat. For the last few years we’ve provided some of our picks for you to check out, and we’ve done it again this year. So strap yourselves in and get ready for some of this year’s non-local talent at Bluesfest.
If you haven’t gotten your passes yet, find more information here.
Thu, July 14, 6:00PM Monster Energy Stage
PUP is without a doubt one of the most energetic and frenetic live shows you can see. This four piece punk ensemble just released one of the best albums of the year, The Dream Is Over, which is fuelled by non-stop touring, partying, and hanging with your friends. If you love beer, catchy riffs, and unapologetic lyrics, PUP are not to be missed. Be warned – there will probably be a rather raucous mosh pit and crowd surfing during their set. (Photo by Ming Wu / Photogmusic)
Wed, July 13, 7:00PM City Stage
Canadian pop-R&B singer Alessia Cara is a young artist that is heating up on the charts nationally. Her recent fame is purely a result of her talent, as she would consistently upload acoustic songs from a number of genres on YouTube over the last several years. Eventually she started turning some heads and has exploded into the industry with her songs “Here” and “Wild Things.” Cara’s potential is undeniable and unlimited, and she is certainly an artist to keep an eye on.
Wed, July 13, 6:00PM Black Sheep Stage
Pierre Kwenders is a Congolese-Canadian musician that is on the forefront of fusing musical genres in Canada. Kwenders sings in English, French, Lingala and Tshiluba, and is often cited as a modern spokesperson for Africa, blending traditional African music and beats with hip hop, electronic and pop to create a truly unique sound that is catchy as hell. He has been nominated for World Album of the Year at the Junos, and also has a Polaris Prize nomination under his belt. Kwenders’ music is infectious. You’ve been warned.
Coeur de Pirate
Fri, July 8, 7:00 PM City Stage
Béatrice Martin is an amazing talent with an incredible voice. Whether you understand French or not, Coeur de Pirate’s music knows no boundaries and its sheer beauty and honesty will make you melt. It is also important to note that her latest album features English songs if you needed a little more convincing. (ES)
Half Moon Run
Wed, July 13, 9:30PM Black Sheep Stage
Now based in Montréal, this band hails both from BC and Ontario and can really get a crowd moving. If you love dancing to the sounds of indie rock or swaying side to side to finger picking over the sound of driving drums these gentlemen are perfect for you. What is really fascinating about their live performance is the number of instruments each member plays during a set, especially when several members take to percussions all at once. (ES)
Sat, July 16, 9:00PM Monster Energy Stage
When Montreal’s Wolf Parade went on an indefinite hiatus in 2010, it was like a knife through the heart for many of us die-hard fans out there. Would they ever get back together? Would they leave us hanging forever? Well, the answer is “no.” Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug have both been hard at work with multiple other projects in the last several years, keeping their instruments warm for the Wolf Parade reunion announced in early 2016. This seminal Canadian indie band is not to be missed, and absolutely rip on stage. Oh yeah – they’re recording new music, too.
The Tallest Man on Earth
Fri, July 8, 9:00PM Monster Energy Stage
When it comes to soulful, poetic folk music, there are few that do it better than Kristian Matsson a.k.a. The Tallest Man On Earth. Many have compared his unique style to that of Bob Dylan, and it might seem strange that a Swedish singer-songwriter has internalized and been influenced by the Americana folk tradition so deeply. But don’t be fooled into thinking he’s trying to mimic something that he’s not – Matsson’s music is in a league of its own. If you love intricate guitar, beautiful storytelling, and music that hits you at the core, The Tallest Man On Earth is your jam.
Thu, July 7, 11:30 PM Casino du Lac-Leamy Free Programming
Okay, let’s mix it up here a bit (pun intended). Halifax’s Paul Murphy, known by the stage name Skratch Bastid, is one of Canada’s illest and most respected DJs and producers. He has gained international attention for his lightning fast hands, high-level collaborations, and sharp ear, playing an average of 200 shows per year and touring everywhere from Southeast Asia to Brazil. After all of this, you’d think that his energy level would dip a bit, but you can expect an all-out party at every single show of his.
Sat, July 16, 8:00 PM Black Sheep Stage
You’ve never heard anything like this before. Toronto’s Holy Fuck technically makes electronic music, if we have to reduce them to a genre. But they do it without all the looping and pre-programmed jargon that goes along with that kind of music. They’re a band, and they play music that refuses to be constrained by any specific “sound.” Refusing to use laptops or backing tracks, Holy Fuck creates an undeniably memorable live experience by using all kinds of instruments (and some other objects) to recreate electronic-sounding textures, rhythms, arrangements, and noises. They have been nominated for a Juno and shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize.
Champion and His G Strings
Thu, July 14, 11:30 PM Casino du Lac-Leamy Free Programming
DJ Champion has been involved in the Montreal music scene for the better part of two decades, and is showing no signs of slowing down. Maxime Morin’s appreciation for all kinds of music is reflected in his own work, as he embraces everything from pop and rock to soul and electronica. This is eclecticism at its finest, and it is sure to get you up and moving in no time.