As Bluesfest rolled along, the much-anticipated seventh day finally arrived. Chicago rapper Noname was definitely one of the buzz acts of this year’s festival, as she has begun to take the hip hop world by storm. If you haven’t seen her NPR Tiny Desk concert session, you should go do that right now. Blue Rodeo also headlined the night, a band that can play Bluesfest almost every year and still draw a crowd of dedicated fans each time. Els took some great shots, have a look below.
Bluesfest has changed a lot for me. And how could it not? Over the last ten years I’ve been psyched to see artists like The Weakerthans, The Tragically Hip, Roger Hodgson (yes I love Supertramp, fight me), Attack In Black, King Khan, The Aggrolites, etc, etc. Naturally the festival has changed a lot, and so have I.
When this year’s lineup announced that people like Foo Fighters and Courtney Barnett were coming, I knew I’d have to go. But I hoped they would play on the same day so I wouldn’t have to endure the massive crowds, overpriced beers and sweltering heat for any more time than absolutely necessary. Also the new “no ins-and-outs” policy is stupid for a number of reasons, but mainly that I couldn’t hop across to Hull and pound a few tall cans on the bike path before going back to the festival (I’m spoiled, I know but whatever let me complain a little). Nonetheless, I was beyond stoked to go see an all-time favourite, and a more recent new favourite artist perform in my hometown.
Since I’ve gotten more involved in the local independent music community in Ottawa in more recent years, I’ve lost a lot of interest in seeing a lot of big stadium-sized concerts and have really prioritized going to “shows” over “concerts” if ya know what I mean. I realize a certain amount of hipster snobbery could be inferred by that, but really I just have more interest in supporting my music community and being part of small, intimate shows where you can actually see the band and meet them and they’re actually real people. That’s become way more appealing than giving more money and attention to massive acts who already have plenty of those things. It’s not a steadfast rule, more of an emerging tendency I guess. Screw the hipster punk purity, I’m allowed to like some stadium rock. Let me have this one.
It had been ten years since my sister and I went to see Foo Fighters play at the Corel Centre (I know it’s not called that, save it for the comment section, ya dingus). Against Me! were opening that tour, and I had recently become a mega fan of that band so it was super rad but a little weird to see them play in that place. Anyway, that was maybe the best rock show I’d ever seen at that point. So part of seeing this show was very sentimental because I went with my sister again, and we loved it — “YASS DAVE” became our phrase of the night. Dave Grohl’s energy is still pretty impressive considering he’s almost 50. I always forget how many hits this band has. You can’t deny the commercial appeal that Foo Fighters have maintained over the 23-ish years of being a band, but hey, some people make the same argument about Nickelback so take that how you will.
The Foos were slotted for a 3-hour set, which seemed like a lot so despite their many hits, I wondered how they’d actually fill the time. Turned out they planned a nearly 40-minute section of introducing the band (all 6 members) and playing a song that each member started, including cheesey ass renditions of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and a blues jam that probably sounded like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Sweet Little Baby.” It was so forced, bordering on hack. But hey, big crowds love being pandered to, and I do believe that rule #1 of show business is to give the people what they want.
Thinking about this brings me back to talking about community, and prizing community over industry, and how I don’t like that that kind of pandering and cheesy shit is often part of appealing to larger crowds, which is just part of the business. But the Foo Fighters didn’t get to where they are by saying “fuck business, fuck what you wanna hear.” I don’t hate on the Foos though, I actually have much respect. I think they’re kinda keeping rock & roll alive in the mainstream in a way that very few other bands are these days. Also, the lineup has some serious punk roots in terms of members’ past projects, and I respect that they’ve all become millionaires after beginnings in bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, No Use For A Name, ummm… THE GERMS, and of course, Nirvana.
Anyway, My 18 year-old self was satisfied and I think I still like this band enough to feel ok about the Foo Fighters tattoo I have (sshhh, don’t tell the punx).
When I came back the next day to see Courtney Barnett, the crowds were way more manageable. I’d heard that the only sold-out day of the festival was for Foo Fighters. And it sure felt like it. It took me an hour to get through the lines, and the whole field was like sardines. I can handle that in small clubs and mid-sized venues, but in a wide open field, it was not that pleasant. I had a much easier time finding and keeping a comfortable spot close to the Black Sheep stage for Courtney’s set.
She kicked off her set with a few tracks from her new record Tell Me How You Really Feel, and had a healthy sprinkling of tracks from her debut full-length as well. She carried herself with a very casual energy that still had some urgency, and she didn’t seem to give a shit about really “performing” and hamming it up for the crowd (a refreshing change from Dave’s relentless approval-seeking the night before). And wouldn’t ya know it but introducing her band only took a minute between songs. How about that? But the crowd was eating out of the palm of her hand the whole set (at least my friends and I were). She closed perfectly with the big banger off her first record “Pedestrian At Best,” and it brought the house down. She rules, go listen to her records.
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest wrapped up the first weekend’s programming with sets by The Strumbellas, Larkin Poe, Amos the Transparent, Keys N Krates, and many more. Our photographer Els Durnford caught the action, have a look at her gallery below.
The busy weekend continued with thousands of people from the region coming out to experience RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Artists such as Shawn Mendes, Ghostface Killah, and Chromeo headlined the big Saturday lineup, and they did not disappoint. Our photographer Els Durnford was out and about and caught some great shots of the action. Have a look below.
BROCKHAMPTON, hereafter styled “Brockhampton,” were in Ottawa on Friday night, with a diverse and complex boy band show. They even call themselves a boy band, something that hasn’t been attempted in a while, and the relatively new Brockhampton out of Texas appears to be pulling it off quite well.
Emerging to screams wearing matching white t-shirts, the group was in fine form on one of the more tolerable days of Bluesfest, weather-wise. They definitely pull off the boy band aesthetic. Each of their personalities is on full display at all times, whether they’re making goofy faces or hyping up the crowd, each one of them is working the entire time. This is no pace-around-the-stage-slowly-and-spit-the-occasional-verse affair. No. These guys work out.
Another way their personalities played a central role was in the audio-visual department, centred on a screen behind the band that featured a looping, long video of the band playing with a camera phone in a dressing room. It’s possible they understand the power of their very salient personalities, but it’s also possible they just like messing with people. Perhaps that’s the beauty of Brockhampton.
Brockhampton dropped a brand new song, likely from their new LP, in Ottawa on the banks of the river. The song was called “1999 WILDFIRE,” and features an example of the cell phone dressing room footage I was talking about earlier.
Incidentally that song is now number #30 on YouTube’s trending ladder. That’s kind of a big deal for anyone, let alone a bunch of kids from Texas who decided to do something a little bit different with the hip hop thing.
These guys have only been active since 2015 and already, perhaps through the big deal that is Kevin Abstract, one of the group’s most prominent members, Brockhampton has obtained international fame through the release of a bunch of albums that have been critically praised and welcomed by fans.
Their songs are full of excellent beats and catchy hooks, clever lyrics and interesting production. They also put on a very good show. The crowd was a mix of generations: some in their 20s, some 30s, many in their teens. They had a fairly committed moshpit and had no trouble working the crowd.
“Hands up!” shouted Abstract, gesturing. The crowd definitely obeyed. And when they dropped “1999 WILDFIRE,” the crowd was so into it, I swear I saw some lighters.
As thousands of music fans descended on Lebreton Flats to kick off this year’s RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, the sweltering heat weighed heavily on all of us as we waded through the crowded bottleneck lineup to get in. With only one entrance this year, and a laundry list of new security measures being implemented, it came as no surprise that there would be shoulder-to-shoulder crowds to get in.
After managing to simmer down a near-fistfight between a couple high school bros, we made our way through the increasingly frustrated crowd and into the grounds. The security lineup at Bluesfest is quite possibly the worst place to get into fisticuffs, for obvious reasons. The humidity remained pervasive throughout the entire night, and the only saving grace was a wisp of the occasional breeze and some ice cold beer. Well, and Bryan Adams, too. And water. Lots of water.
It should be noted that there is only one main stage this year, which somewhat condenses the festival and crowd. An interesting change, but it didn’t seem to take away from the good vibes and smiles seen throughout the grounds. I opted to check out Bryan Adams on his ULTIMATE tour because I had seen Passenger at CityFolk a few years back, and had never seen Bryan.
As we made our way to the stage, he and his band were playing one of my favourite tracks—”Run to You.” That guitar riff is so bad ass, I don’t care what anyone says. All those who used to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on PS2 know what I’m talking about. Adams started the set with the energy and enthusiasm of an early 20’s millennial—cool haircut included.
The set progressed with a distinct fervor, only to be obtained by a veteran performer who not only knows how to please crowds and write good tunes, but still deliver explosive performances as he enters his 60’s.
Is Bryan Adams Canada’s Bruce Springsteen? I don’t know. Probably not. But the comparisons are there, and I’d be lying if I said he didn’t blow my hair back last night.
At one point he told a story about how he had lived and gone to school in Ottawa for several years. He said “when I was coming through security to do this show, a police officer stopped me back stage. I said I was the one singing tonight, and he said ‘Oh, I know.’ We used to go to school together.” It was obvious that he was enjoying his time in Ottawa on this night, as he took videos and pictures with his personal phone, and even brought a lucky audience member on stage for a selfie.
He continued with some more smash hits from the 80’s and 90’s such as “It’s Only Love,” “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started,” and “Cloud #9.” I had assumed that all the youths had gone to the Black Sheep Stage to check out Passenger, but to my bewilderment there were plenty of teens and 20-somethings belting out Bryan Adams tunes. Maybe dad’s road trip music selection isn’t so bad after all, eh kids?
When the opening chords to “Heaven” started, the crowd let out a collective and romantic “ahhhh” sound. I don’t know what this means, but everyone knew the words and I almost felt like I was at a giant high school dance where everyone was just too afraid to find a slow dancing partner. I also have a good friend whose father swears that all Bryan Adams songs are just different renditions of “Heaven,” so I was also listening carefully to test out that hypothesis for science. More on this later.
The closest Bryan Adams came to Bruce Springsteen-level was when the band broke out into “Summer of ’69.” What a jam. We all belted out the words with pride, and even though Adams was only 9 years old in the summer of 1969, it’s one hell of a song. Arm in arm, with huge smiles, the crowd’s energy resonated on the stage as the band sent it right back out through the speakers. The stunning imagery on the backdrops was well crafted, and added a lot to the show as well.
The set seemed to climax there, sadly. My friend and I looked at each other and wondered what other hits he could possibly play. They dove into Everything I Do (I Do It For You), which was basically the lovemaking theme of the 90’s—sorry, millennials, you didn’t just pop out of nowhere. It is such a cheesy song, but dang it’s so romantic.
The rest of the set was unspectacular, to be honest. There were just no more hits left. The emotion and zeal present in the first half dwindled, but the crowd stayed engaged until the end.
To go back to my friend’s dad’s “Heaven” hypothesis. I swear that three of the five final songs of the set sounded exactly like “Heaven,” just arranged slightly differently. So, he certainly has a diverse repertoire, but Bryan, you gotta move beyond the “Heaven,” man.
As the set tapered off, Bryan Adams played “18 Till I Die,” which oddly enough included a graphic on the big screen that just said “DIE.” Has Bryan Adams gone emo? Why so dark? All jokes aside, the song was actually fun and there were other words that came up as well, such as “18 Till I.”
Els got some great shots from the night, but we weren’t allowed to shoot Bryan Adams. Check out the gallery below.
Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews Band, Beck, Jethro Tull, Courtney Barnett, and more to headline Ottawa Bluesfest 2018
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest has released its initial 2018 lineup, which will hit the stages July 5 – 15, 2018. Many whispers of Dave Grohl and his band of Foo Fighters being added were making their way around town, and the explosive rock band is one of many exciting inclusions in this year’s edition. The Dave Matthews Band, which was confirmed a few weeks back, will also headline the festival and give festival-goers a reason to get excited.
Other notable acts include Blue Rodeo, Jethro Tull, Beck, Zeds Dead, the War on Drugs, Courtney Barnett, BROCKHAMPTON, Chromeo, Colin James, Shaggy, Oh Wonder, Ghostface Killah, Passenger, Machine Gun Kelly, Shawn Mendes, Naughty by Nature, the Strumbellas, Keys N Krates, Grandtheft, Hanson, Benjamin Booker, Noname, Dear Rouge, Kimbra, and more.
Some stellar Ottawa acts were also announced, including Catriona Sturton, Alanna Sterling & The Silvers, Amos The Transparent, Cody Coyote, Graven, Her Harbour, Okies, TAPAS, and many more.
A one-day pre-sale will begin early on February 15 at 10 a.m., with an adult festival pass starting at $209 (+ HST). A full-festival pass will start at $139 (+HST). All tickets will go on public sale February 16 at 10 a.m.
Check out other options and more details on the Bluesfest website. Have a look at the line up (so far) below.