Saturday night at CityFolk delivered. Throughout a jam-packed lineup that featured not one but two performances by Fred Penner (the later performance was just for adults), there was no shortage of quality in spite of the quantity. Father John Misty’s thunderous closing set was backed by an opening lineup seemingly hand-picked to complement the dynamism and stage presence of Mr. Misty. This was a night of huge personalities performing captivating sets.
At first glance, the odd man on the schedule was Penner, whose musical stylings are most often associated with the children’s section of Chapters or CBC in the 90s. But there seems to be a very strong contingent of Fred Penner fans amongs those of Father John Misty, and nostalgia was strong on the air as a hanger full of nineties kids belted out “sandwiches are beautiful, sandwiches are fine” as a 70-year old man serenaded them.
Penner’s set was wholesome fun. He puts on a great show, and is still just as charismatic as he was when his catchy-as-anything kids tunes first hit the playgroups. He has the energy of a man still doing what he loves after what he admits is quite a long time. Forgetting the lyrics to the second verse of a song requested by an audience member he exclaimed that he hadn’t played the song in 30 years, something of which most of the room’s occupants had no concept.
Also on the Ravenlaw stage, Common Deer played a dream-poppy dynamic set, with long harmonies over tight beats and fantastic musicianship across the stage. With cello, guitar, keas and violins blaring, the group is a great example of what can be achieved when innovative musicians approach indie rock tropes. Also, their name is good.
On the City Stage, The Philosopher Kings capitalized on a bit of the nostalgia thrown into the air by Penner. The Canadian band, best known for their cover of the Godley and Creme song “Cry” in 1998, is staging a comeback with the release of their first album in eleven years and a stylish new music video for the song “Still The One” (no, not the 1998 Shania Twain song).
The Kings put on a great show, and frontman Gerald Eaton proved that the 90s are most certainly not dead with his Timberlake-esque dance moves and microphone technique. To their set, there could be no greater contrast than that of Corb Lund and Ian Tyson which followed. The two legends sat throughout a beautiful set of country and blues tunes, harmonies echoing across the Lansdowne lawn. The audience followed suit, sitting in rapt silence as two of the greats did their thing. But soon the stage cleared for the main event.
Father John Misty is a thing to behold. So much could be said of his look alone. The bearded, longhaired man in tight pants and a sport jacket look has taken off in large part due to this man, and I can confirm that many people at the concert on saturday were sporting said look. It’s a good look, don’t get me wrong. But no one wears it like Father John, whose real name is Joshua Tillman.
Interesting side note about Josh Tillman: he has played in many of your favourite bands, including Fleet Foxes, Pearly Gate Music, Demon Hunter and many more. To me, Father John Misty seems like a persona of his, to which I attribute much of the over-the-top theatrics associated with the act.
That look of his features heavily in the show he is putting on. We know this because at every opportunity the lighting director (excellent job, by the way) found a way to backlight Father John so as to emphasize his form as he danced wildly, throwing his arms up like Michael Jackson used to do.
Misty himself takes on a role similar to that of a cult leader, asking his followers to eschew the foibles of modernity (cell phones, texting, etc.) and play acoustic guitar in heels. It’s a little funny to be lectured about modern life by a walking brand, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe the hipsters are onto something after all.
Unfortunately for Yours Truly, Matt Mays was so crowded no one was able to get in. I’m sure he was very good.
As Ottawa enjoyed its seemingly first weekend of summer weather, a lively crowd descended on Day 3 of CityFolk for some throwback nostalgia and some first glimpses of buzzworthy bands.
To start the night, Suitcase Junket played the Ravenlaw stage to a crowd split between fresh ears and those who were so impressed with his late show on Day 2 of City Folk, that they came out for a repeat performance. He was mindful of that dynamic and played a largely separate setlist, save for a few overlapping tracks. His folksy blues sound was a hit with the crowd, with songs like “Swamp Chicken” and “Busted Gut” particularly resonating. His ability to multitask with a seemingly endless array of instruments is mesmerizing, think Shakey Graves crossed with Owen Pallett (though there were no loop pedals in sight). Playing several tracks off of his recent release Pile Driver, he described himself as such, driving around a pile of instruments to win over audiences, something that he certainly achieved on this evening.
Following Suitcase Junket was Brooklyn’s Big Thief, a band with two incredible releases and a significant amount of buzz (particularly due to this masterpiece. They played with a pared down ensemble which fit with the intimate Ravenlaw stage. Lead guitarist and vocalist, Adrianne Lenker was magnetic, deftly weaving from whisper to wailing guitar solo. Highlights included “Paul”, “Shark Smile,” the aforementioned “Masterpiece,” and haunting “Pretty Things” (with lyrics like “there’s a woman inside of me, there’s one inside of you, too…” resonating even more live).
The unfortunate scheduling of Canadian indie rock legends Broken Social Scene 15 minutes into Big Thief’s set had an impact on crowd size as well as the atmosphere, with Big Thief’s intimate songs having a subtle backdrop of muffled Kevin Drew vocals. Though Lenker expressed some frustration to that extent, the band powered through, and we’re hopeful they return for us to have an opportunity to enjoy them under ideal circumstances (rather than take a Sun Kil Moon approach to a grievance with Ottawa Folkfest scheduling).
Though Ottawa has enjoyed live performances from various members of the Broken Social Scene collective over the past few years (Kevin Drew at Arboretum 2014, a particular highlight), seeing them all together (well, most of them) is a rare treat. About to kick off a North America wide tour to support their latest release, Hug of Thunder, the set was a power-packed hour of hits new and old (as well as a brief cover/singalong of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”).
New member Ariel Engle filled in admirably for Feist on Hug of Thunder’s lovely title track and both she and Amy Millan did “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” justice. While the crowd was enthralled throughout, a short passionate speech from Kevin Drew about the state of the world and a call for the crowd to cathartically yell as loud as they could made closing tracks “Cause=Time” and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement” particularly meaningful. As they closed the set (and for many, the evening), many wondered aloud why the heck they weren’t headlining tonight’s show.
Amanda Marshall bounded onto the City Stage next and she did her best to prove the scheduling skeptics wrong. Playing for the first time in more than a decade, she joked about the lack of Netflix and Uber when she last hit an Ottawa stage. There were no signs of rust, as she dove into her back catalogue with a tight seven piece band for an assembled crowd of passionate Amanda Marshall fans and curious BSS holdovers. As “Sunday Morning After” and “Trust Me (This Is Love)” began, many in the crowd exchanged an “Oh, I remember this song” look. Her biggest hit “Birmingham” followed and sufficiently delivered, sending many of her fans to the promised land (you know, the one beyond the lights of Birmingham…?).
Gee, the Ottawa Folk Festival sure has changed. Since 2011 when the Bluesfest producers took over, CityFolk as it’s been so recently dubbed, has become an extension of Ottawa Bluesfest. In all but name, size and location, CityFolk is indistinguishable from its older festival brother. That old “where is the blues in Bluesfest?” criticism can and has been applied.
But for the second night of 2017’s CityFolk, the festival seemed to harken back to its roots, presenting a lineup of artists who likely wouldn’t be offended at the use of the term folk to describe them. Jack Johnson headlined the night, and his acoustic sensibilities informed his openers, from Nathaniel Rateliff to local favourite Honey and Rust.
However, because there is so much overlap between these artists, many fans may have found themselves double booked, which is the other major criticism levelled at festivals like Bluesfest: you can’t see everything you want to. So it was Thursday night as Jenn Grant took to the indoor stage as Nathaniel Rateliff took the outdoor. Though the word was that both shows were great, Nathaniel Rateliff’s set was the highlight of the night for many.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have recently exploded out of Denver with their song “S.O.B.” reaching number one on the American Adult Alternative Charts in 2015. It’s a catchy song with a swear in the hook, so its popularity is to be expected. What was unexpected, at least to the casual listener, is the degree to which Nathaniel Rateliff backed up that hit with a solid set, characterized by country-folk-esqueness.
Rateliff is a born performer, and he certainly looks the part. With his ten-gallon hat and wide gait, his appearance lent authenticity to a new band playing a very old style of music. I don’t want to say he’s making the organ cool again, but he’s certainly trying. With horn-blaring crescendos aplenty, Rateliff’s band had the crowd stamping their feet to his well-written music.
Fitttingly opening for Rateliff was The Family Crest, a recording collective whose music is a loving homage to the folk music structure. Overtop of excellent melodic work, the group’s talented musicians create a beautifully textured sound, replete with horn, keys and multiple guitars. Because they’ve refined this sound to such an extent, their sound is pretty consistent. There are negatives and positives to this, but one clear negative is that no one song stood out to one unfamiliar to their music. However, the band performed exceptionally, and while they may lack a certain memorableness, they make up for it by putting on a great show.
Inside at the RavenLaw stage, Ottawa’s Honey and Rust performed an intimate set of music from their self-titled album released last year. Despite some shakiness, most likely due to the inclusion of two temporary (?) new members to their duo, the band’s sound was clear and refined, with the instant hook of Jo Beattie’s voice. Her singing brings out the sadness that is so often a feature of the band’s music, and Cristy Williams’ drumming compliments it perfectly.
From the emotional intensity of Honey and Rust, we turn to the closer of the night, Jack Johnson, whose emotional intensity was that of a bag of cotton balls. Judging from the crowd at his show, it’s unclear if he’s a musician or a party entertainer. Chalk it up to “shitty Ottawa crowds” if you like, but most people at J. J.’s concert seemed more interested in their conversational partner than the stage. Whether he was making banana pancakes or being all positive, Johnson wasn’t able to hold their attention.
And yet the park was packed. Clearly Johnson has a following in this city. It seems that Johnson just isn’t great live, and despite their love for him, his fans are more used to having him on in the background of a party.
The show was pretty lackluster. Johnson swayed his way through his repertoire, pausing every so often to make low-energy comments to the crowd about the weather. I do understand that low energy is Jack Johnson’s style, but for an outdoor festival with a huge stage, it felt incongruous, even boring.
At one point, his keyboard player crowd surfed for about one minute. Crowd surfing to Jack Johnson is a very odd thing to do, and even Johnson seemed confused, demanding the crowd return his keyboard player for the next song. And it is that image of the gangly keyboardist riding a wave of people as Jack strummed his acoustic guitar, swaying ever so gently, that most encapsulates the mixed tone of this show.
Part of that mixed tone is due to CityFolk’s own identity crisis as it seeks to draw more crowds, growing a festival that is trying to stay dedicated to its folk roots while putting on shows for thousands of people. Maybe folk and stadium crowds don’t go together? Tell that to Bob Dylan and Neil Young, I guess.
A few weeks ago, my friends and I went to the Horticultural Building at Lansdowne in Ottawa for the Ukrainian edition of Ottawa Welcomes the World. We were treated to two great sets of live music by some of Ukraine’s finest, ONUKA and Mad Heads… for free.
Ottawa Welcomes the World invited embassies and high commissions to mark their country’s national celebration in Ottawa with free events which highlight their nation through food,art, music and more. I had no idea about these events and I have clearly missed out on a lot of really fun days and nights, but lucky for me my buddy invited me to go check out Ukraine.
The evening started with a sand art performance where the artists moved sand around on a back-lit platform creating beautiful images to tell the story of Ukraine and Canada’s connection. All of this accompanied by a violinist. It was very impressive and visually stunning.
Mad Heads, from Ukraine, performing at the Horticultural Building in Ottawa.
After a few speeches from very distinguished guests, including the ambassador to Canada, it was time for the music. Up first was Mad Heads—a ska band and the reason we were there. Little did I know they had been performing and releasing music for over 25 years and 8 studio albums. They were high energy and a lot of fun. I didn’t understand a word, other than their cover of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but their music was infectious and had us dancing.
ONUKA, from Ukraine, performing at the Horticultural Building in Ottawa and putting their big “horn” on display.
Headlining the night was ONUKA. ONUKA, which means granddaughter, are an electro-folk act and were introduced as a band with chart-topping hits all over Europe. The band has four main members, a singer/wind instrumentalist, keyboardist, percussionist and a banduryst (which is one of the coolest looking instruments ever with so many strings). For their live performance they also had a three piece brass ensemble with a french horn and two trombones. During some songs one trombonist switches to this massive 10 or 12 foot horn. All of this was performed in front of an ever changing video screen ranging from the abstract to animals. All that to say that it was quite a sight to see and even better to hear. One of the most touching and heavy moments was when they performed a song “Vidlik.” Lead singer Nata Zhyzhchenko simply introduced the song saying “let’s all pray for the victims of 1986,” which was a reference to the Chernobyl disaster, the biggest disaster in the country’s history.
All the great music was complimented by traditional Ukrainian food, including perogies and cabbage rolls, as well as Lvivske—a Ukrainian beer which traces its roots to a monastic beer of 1715. It was an amazing night and of this is a sign of what to expect from other Ottawa Welcomes the World events, I strongly encourage you to check them out.
Thanks to House of Paint, Mill Street brewery, and Ottawa Pride, this last weekend of August was a memorable one. When biking around the National Capital Region, I noticed people outside enjoying themselves at these and other festivals. It gave a sense of vitality to the areas, showing hints of the city Ottawa is becoming.
Because a girl can’t be everywhere, this review will focus on House of PainT and Mill Street/Dine Alone Records’ new festival, Hopped and Confused.
House of PainT – Urban Art Fest
Fourteen years and going strong, they’ve done it again! I may sound confident in this assertion, but this was actually my first time checking out the festival. The lineup was strong, with everything offered from slam
poetry, to B-Boy and B-Girl dance competitions, and excellent music, both live and DJs. Friday evening was a blast with Timekode and guest DJ Bear Witness (from A Tribe Called Red) taking their dance beats onto the Ottawa river. I don’t think I’ve attended a floating dance party since my frosh week in University, but I actually had a really fun time. The people on board were friendly and laid-back, and the music kept us dancing until late in the evening. It was definitely one to remember, but I must admit that it was House of PainT’s Saturday events that really captured my attention.
Photograph by Greggory Clark.
I’ll confess – I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to infrastructure and urbanism. I’m fascinated by the way people interact with spaces, especially when it relates to transportation and culture. When you are under the Dunbar bridge, it’s clear that this space has cultural value that emerged without being intended by the engineers that designed the structure. More than concrete and steel, it has become a gathering point for the community–and House of PainT is a celebration of this.
But if you weren’t drawn-in by talented breakdancers and live-painting by graffiti artists, or by the arches in the bridge structure, then stay for the music. Saturday evening brought attendees a stellar performance by the Souljazz Orchestra, who lived up to their usual brilliance and kept us dancing for hours. Souljazz are a mainstay on the music scene in both Ottawa and Gatineau, and if you haven’t seen these talented musicians before, you need to go about changing that as soon as possible. (Luckily, they’re playing Ottawa again soon with an album release party on September 23 at Babylon!).
On both Friday and Saturday night, I attended this small festival of music and beer. Now in its second year, the riverside alcove outside the brew-pub was turned into a temporary home for a festival. Managing to feel both intimate and packed at the same time, it was a nice place to take in some music. The lineup was pretty stacked, with nearly all the musicians signed with Dine Alone Records. While Dine Alone does focus on Canadian music, they also recognize that this isn’t an identifier. They were even selling t-shirts proclaiming that “Canadian is not a genre”. Their artists have some diversity of styles but are primarily focused in alternative music. The record label is forming strong connections in the Ottawa area, with some of their artists playing here regularly – or in the case of the New Swears, being from here.
Especially for a festival only in its second year, Friday was extremely smooth and well-executed. The turn-out was higher than I expected, with a good number of people who came to see Said the Whale, Yukon Blonde, and the Trews. The set-up was picturesque, and the festival felt both well-attended and intimate. I’ve been a fan of Yukon Blonde for a few years, so I enjoyed both their classic tracks and the new singles they introduced. Friday seemed to be a successful evening for this festival.
New Swears were a rowdy bunch, as usual, at Hopped and Confused at Mill Street Brew Pub.
I returned around 6:30pm the next day to see our home-grown talent. True to form, New Swears gave an energetic performance. Perhaps it was the early hour, or the accompaniment of sunlight, or their regular touring schedule – but their performance felt more polished than it had when I last saw them. I’m not entirely sure how they managed to feel “polished” despite pelting the crowd with ramen noodles, Joe Louis, and confetti–an impressive feat indeed! I’ll continue following the New Swears to see what’s next, but based on their 2017 record, And the Magic of Horses, I’m confident that they’ll continue to do Ottawa proud.
New Swears were followed by Dilly Dally, who were excellent. This was my first time seeing them, following a near miss last summer when they nearly played Arboretum festival. As someone who was introduced to punk rock by the Distillers, I appreciated the vocals which alternated between raw and melodic with a healthy dose of reverb. The band represented gender parity (and were totally badass). I think the musicians enjoyed themselves as well, because they played their set fiercely with hardly a pause between songs.
It seemed as though their intention was to do an encore, but the festival at this point started experiencing technical difficulties. The unthinkable happened – and the power went out in the stage area! At first it seemed innocent enough, but the silence stretched on. Upon inquiring, I learned that the generator had been used to power the fridges overnight (fair enough, beer should be kept cold). However, it seemed as though the generator had not been re-fuelled. The crowd was surprisingly calm about it, with Hollerado’s dedicated fan base waiting more than 90 minutes until the power eventually returned. In the meantime, the band members hung out onstage and spoke with their fans. At the end of the day, both Hollerado and Tokyo Police Club played their sets, to the great enjoyment of those who stuck around.
BONUS TRACK: Beer review of Mill Street’s special release, “Hopped and Confused”
The signature beverage for the event, Hopped and Confused was a smooth, sessionable ale. With a medium IBU and a rich mouth feel, the taste was more delicate than hop-forward. The first taste is malt, which turns into a tang of sorts. The bitterness kicks in after a couple seconds and lingers unexpectedly. Quite a nice beer, nicely enjoyed on draft. It pairs well with late summer nights and great music.
House of PainT celebrated its 14th year this past week with another outstanding edition of the festival that highlights the five pillars of hip-hop: MCs, break dancers, graffiti artists, DJs, and culture.
House of PainT is kind of a hidden gem. It is one of the most innovative and interactive festivals in the capital region and most of it takes place under the Dunbar Bridge across from Carleton University, right next to Brewer Park. This year I took in the weekend portion of the festival, which was a fun-filled time to say the least.
Saturday was dedicated to the dancers, the breakers, the b-boys and b-girls. The day included twelve hours of programming from 11 am to 11 pm and incorporated everything from introductory dance classes to break dance crews battling to live music. I arrived under the bridge mid-afternoon and the art was already covering the walls and the DJ had the crowd pumped up. One of the coolest parts of House of Paint truly is the paint. The festival paints all the walls underneath the bridge a neutral colour and then sets up scaffolding for the artists to do their thing.
Slack Bridges with Aspects getting soulful and funky at House of PainT.
After staring at the colourful walls and ceiling for a bit in amazement, it came time for some dancing. I watched crews battle it out in a round robin-style format while three judges had the tough challenge of picking who moved on. Once the prelims finished Ottawa’s funky soul band Slack Bridges took to the stage. The dance floor stayed full as dancers practiced future moves and stayed limber ahead of the semis and finals.
Slack Bridges set kept the party going and was tight as always, but it also featured a couple of new things. First of all, they had a new saxophonist Zac Sedlar playing his first show with the band since their previous saxman was recruited by The Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Secondly, they wove in snippets of hip-hop classics throughout the set, like Notorious B. I. G.’s “Big Poppa” which flowed out of their cover of “Between the Sheets” (which is the song B. I. G. sampled). And lastly, they invited local rapper Aspects on stage to join them for “Doin’ This Thing,” off their upcoming album, and he not only provided backing vocals but delivered some sweet free-styling as the band jammed out. It was magic.
Up next was a popping competition that took over the dance floor which was followed by the semi-finals crew battles featuring Canada’s very own DJ Skratch Bastid providing the beats. While the judges deliberated, Ottawa ex-pat rapper Dynamic hit the stage to entertain. He had some sweet flow and had another MC join him on a track and rap from the crowd. We were then treated to a pretty solid popping finals (you can check out a little taste of it here) which then set the stage for the finals.
The packed crowd around the Breakin Crew final with Souljazz Orchestra on stage at House of PainT.
Not only did the finals feature the two best crews battling it out, but they did so to the sounds of one of Ottawa’s best bands—Souljazz Orchestra—playing live on stage. No disrespect to the DJs, but there is something special about watching people competing to the sound of live music. And if you have never seen break dance crews battle, you’re truly missing it out. The flow, the back and forth, the team work, and collaboration really takes the dance to a whole other level.
This year’s champions Groundwork Sessions Crew hail from Whitehorse, Yukon, and blew me (and everyone in attendance) away with how synchronized they were with the live jams and athletic moves. And as if the night couldn’t get any better, we were treated to a full Souljazz Orchestra set to cap off the night.
Where Saturday focused more on the breakers and the DJs, Sunday was for the rappers and MCs. I was running late but was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the Knowledge Conference (think Ted Talks for Hip Hop Heads) where a panel discussed career development and the importance of the team you build and surround yourself with.
Cody Coyote joined on stage by a B-Boy and a traditional indigenous dancer at House of PainT.
As the panel wrapped up, the main stage got going once again. There were acts all day long, but unfortunately the crowd didn’t really show up in numbers until much later. This didn’t really seem to affect the artists who all still brought energy to the stage and did their thing.
Cody Coyote from Ottawa, with Ojibwe roots and ancestry from Matachewan First Nation located in Northern Ontario, performed a song where he was accompanied by a B-Boy and a traditional male indigenous dancer. Watching both dance so differently to the same track was a treat.
Cashtro Crosby, accompanied by DJ Mes, brought it to the stage as if he was performing to a packed house. He had one of my favourite flows of the day and showed off why he was a perfect pick for this festival, as well as the stage at Bluesfest.
Rita Carter was my favourite performance while the sun was still shining. I can’t believe she is an Ottawa artist that hadn’t been on my radar. The group began as a four-piece with Rita on guitar and vocals, accompanied by a bass player, drummer, and another singer. Her song “Shot Anotha Down” was a very powerful song about the ever growing gun violence in the city. As the set continued, she was joined on stage by Aspects sporting a guitar, and then they were joined by a violinist for another song. Check Rita Carter out as soon as you can, and don’t sleep on her talent.
As soon as The Sorority from Toronto hit the stage you knew it was going to be hype. With four MCs (Haviah Mighty, Keysha Freshh, Lex Leosis and pHoenix Pagliacci) who all sported some yellow and a DJ keeping the beats, the ladies delivered. What really makes them interesting is that each one of them brings such a different style and delivery that it is almost like watching four different acts all at once. It certainly takes the entertainment to another level.
With the day time acts all wrapped up and some tasty supper from the food truck consumed, the anticipation was killing me for Dubmatique. As a French-Canadian growing up in a mostly anglophone community, I wasn’t exposed to much French music. But Dubmatique were one of the exceptions—not only was I introduced to them through school, but I actually liked their music. And I wasn’t alone, the band has gone platinum with sales and has won countless awards. The band formed 25 years ago, so when I saw that they were playing House of PainT, I was ecstatic.
Dubmatique bringing some old school French Canadian hip-hop to House of PainT.
The two MCs, Disoul (Jérôme-Philippe Bélinga) and OTMC (Ousmane Traoré), were on fire. They certainly didn’t look slowed down by the passage of time, nor did they seem rusty having not released any new music for close to a decade. Dubmatique songs are really a full experience, as their rapping flows so well with the music it becomes an instrument. The beats don’t overpower, and it’s all topped-off by several vocal sections breaking up the verses and adding that extra element.
Watching them perform these songs live just made me feel like both MCs really think about the totality of the track and its delivery, not just their lines. It makes Dubmatique very special and that separates them from so many other acts. This was especially present in tracks like “Soul Pleurer,” “La force de comprendre” and “La vibe.” The only way their set could have been any better was if it was longer. Thank you to House of PainT for helping me check one of the list.
Arriving to line-ups that wrapped around the hallways outside of the Algonquin Commons Theatre was a sure sign that it was going to be a Friday fans would remember. The lobby was buzzing with the VIP ONE OK ROCK fans who had just had a meet and greet with the band, and the crowd ran through open doors to get the best standing room spots. The first band up was New Jersey-based band Palisades who brought high energy to keep the already buzzing crowd in high anticipation. Set It Off was the second band, showing the crowd exactly how they got their name through jumps and crowd interaction. They held their intensity throughout, continuing the build up for the eagerly awaited headliners.
When ONE OK ROCK hit the stage the energy peaked as the crowds sang along to their catchy songs. In Japan, these guys sell out massive venues, and their music videos get tens of millions of views on YouTube. The fervour of the crowd was met with passionate stage presence, including high jumps and hair flips from the band. Needless to say, they made a lasting impression on everyone in the room.
It was a soaking wet night Friday night at RBC Bluesfest which saw sets cut short due to lightning crashes and torrential down pours.
The lightning had seemingly finally taken a break as headliner Live took the stage in the rain. They kicked things off with “All Over You” from their seminal sophomore album Throwing Copper with the opening line “Our love is like water,” which was very appropriate seeing as how the rain came down harder and harder. Hundreds of us decided to head to the beer tent for cover in hopes the rain would subside, but unfortunately it didn’t slow and the thunder returned. Three songs the band was pulled off stage and all the screens at the festival read “CAUTION” and asked us to exit the grounds. I was pretty disappointed, but completely understood. They had great energy and most likely would have put on a great show, but Mother Nature had other plans for that night. The following day organizers announced that anyone with a day pass for the Friday show could get free entry to either Saturday or Sunday which is quite a nice gesture given that the weather is completely out of their control.
Anderson .Paak was really into it at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa. Photo: Els Durnford
Before Live and the terrible weather arrived, we grooved to Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals on the Claridge Stage. Paak is a little bit of everything—he is a singer, songwriter, rapper, record producer, ,very talented drummer, and an entertainer. Standing on an riser at the front of the stage, .Paak danced and smiled ear to ear the entire time. When he wasn’t dancing at the front of the stage he was behind the drum set for a couple songs showing that he is far from a one-trick pony. The crowd was feeling it and we were dancing up a storm to tracks from his hit album Malibu including the extremely popular “Come Down.” Unfortunately we must have been dancing too hard as the storm began to loom. .Paak was asked to leave the stage as a storm was coming, which he did hesitantly. I don’t remember that ever happening at a festival. Usually it a set is stopped due to inclement weather, not imminent weather. The lighting did eventually show itself and rain began to fall but not for another 10 minutes, which could have allowed 2 or 3 more songs. I know safety is very important but it didn’t seem consistent with other stages and acts.
During the pause the crowd broke out into a couple of sing alongs including “Twist and Shout.” Paak did return to the stage after about 20 minutes and clearly didn’t cool off. He jumped right back behind the drums and they launched into the super dancy and fun “Put Me Thru.” He then said “We don’t have much time so we are just going to skip right to the party” and played “Am I Wrong” as he stepped out from behind the drums and really got us all moving. It has been a while since I have danced this much at a festival show. Even with delays, .Paak and The Free Nationals were certainly my highlight of this year’s Bluesfest. This is the hip-hop I am looking for and the kind that is pushing the limits and creativity. I can only hope that it continues to grow and take space from trap, turning trap into a phase we will look back on like rap-metal.
Hugh Dillon of The Headstones rocking out at the RBC Bkluesfest in Ottawa. Photo: Els Durnford
Getting things started for me on this night was Kingston’s very own band The Headstones. Formed the year I was born (1987), the band is celebrating 30 years as one of Canada’s most influential alt-rock bands and provider of Can-con on radio stations across the country. Going into the show, I pretty sure I knew a few songs I could sing to, but once they started playing it was like riding a bike and I knew the words to almost every track. Lead-singer Hugh Dillon makes use of all the space at his disposition going all over on stage and off, heading into the camera pit by the second song to high-five fans and get closer to them. They threw in some excellent transitions to other great songs. For example, while playing “Settle” they flowed right into The Tragically Hip’s “Blow At High Dough” and later on they played a punk rock cover of Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler.” My highlight of the set was when Dillon went over to one of the camera men on stage and said “your shoulder must be tired let me take that for you,” taking the big camera onto his shoulder and pointing it at the crowd before the band played “Smile and Wave.” The band still rocks, still puts on a great show and I am very glad I caught them on this tour.
Wednesday’s weather forecast was a perfect summary of summer in Ottawa thus far. Rapidly oscillating between heat and cool, dry and wet, festival goers were not quite sure what to expect from the skies. That same sense of curiosity was also applicable to what many deemed the best night of the Ottawa Bluesfest schedule. Highlighted by bands that were the soundtrack to many of our upbringings, I still vividly recall the scene in Garden State where Zach Braff leans over to Natalie Portman in Garden State and plays her “New Slang” or the first time I heard the crescendo from Dance Yrself Clean. The nostalgia factor for those two bands alone was off the charts, but how would they sound in 2017 following lengthy hiatus periods?
To start the evening, Slack Bridges burst onto the Bluesville stage with incredible energy. The six-piece soul-funk band was propelled forward by their instrumentation, particularly the expanded brass section (they were joined on stage by special guest, the Texas Horns).
The song “Beholden” had the crowd beneath the tent moving and they played many new songs from their upcoming album, which comes out in October. Following their other recent sets at Jazzfest and the Ottawa Race Weekend, many in town are eagerly awaiting their what comes next.
Phantogram was up next. With their recent shift towards rockier and more hip hop elements, many fans of their older indie electronic sound were likely wondering if their music got them high anymore. Luckily, it mostly did, with new tracks like “Same Old Blues” resonating with the crowd both figuratively and literally (there was a hell of a lot of bass).
Lead singer Sarah Barthel’s energy is infectious and when classics like “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “Don’t Move” come on, it’s impossible to not start moving. And the nostalgia was only just beginning.
It’s easy to forget just how many hit songs The Shins had during the early 2000’s. “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow” were monumental albums that defined many individual’s concepts of the sound of “Indie” and thankfully, the band did not shy away from playing what the crowd came to see.
Jumping right in with songs like “Phantom Limb”, “Turn On Me” and “Girl, Inform Me”, the older-crowd-seeking-nostalgia was responsive, while the band initially appeared slightly bored. Thankfully, that didn’t last long as they got into the swing of things. Recently released track “Name For You” and “Sleeping Lessons” (the incredible opener from Wincing the Night Away) were good enough to convert any new fans in the crowd (i.e. those who lived under a rock from the years 2001-2007).
As LCD Soundsystem took the stage, the Ottawa sky couldn’t quite decide whether it would let their set-up full of electronics remain fully functional. Hastily covered with tarps and cloth, the band defiantly pushed forward, starting the night with “Yr City’s a Sucker”, a dance-punk anthem for us self-deprecating citizens in the rain.
The band’s veteran presence was certainly felt, their tight instrumentation (shout outs to the cowbell) and focused energy made each swell of a crescendo hit with maximum impact. Their recently released tracks “Call The Police” and “American Dream” fit into their set perfectly and really highlighted how nice it is to have them making new music. That veteran presence was also felt when James Murphy shouted out foam rollers for those of us with back pain from all the standing.
As the rain eventually decided to fall, the crowd made the most of the circumstances, dancing themselves clean beneath a giant disco ball with all of their friends (old and new).
The Ottawa Jazz Festival saw its 37th year in downtown Ottawa this June. The festival, which takes place between Confederation Park, City Hall and the National Arts Centre, is committed every year to bringing world-class jazz and jazz-rooted music to the region. This year was no exception. With large-scale acts like Feist and Kenny Rogers headlining, local musician and jazz-lover Garett Bass focused on the lesser-known acts that shocked crowds with their instrumental prowess and heart. Read about his favourite moments below.
Thursday, June 22
Tanika is a soul singer from Toronto that I’ve been hoping to catch live for a while now. I was able to catch her band’s set, the very first of the festival, to a sit-down crowd in the Tartan Homes Stage. Though her and the band could have taken a few more risks or offered a bit more energy, it was enjoyable enough. Amongst a set of originals, they played funky covers of “Boots or Hearts” by the Hip and “Money” by Pink Floyd.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Fortunately the main stage had the energy I was looking for, and the rain even held off. For those who didn’t catch them at CityFolk in 2015, St. Paul & The Broken Bones are a new soul band in the style of the late 60s/early 70s era, with a talented and energy-fueled frontman. With a new and very different album behind them, I was interested to see if he could bring the same energy as he did touring his first record.
The first thing that was clear: the band has become more versed in the traditional appeals of soul music showmanship. They went through the classic intro: 1) band comes out hot with an instrumental jam, 2) horns break out into an epic fanfare, 3) introduce the singer with a cheesy radio voice, and 4) have the singer enter in a cape. The cape, of course, is a nod to the greats before him like James Brown and Elvis, but lead singer Paul Janeway’s giant and wrapped cape much more resembled something that a Game of Thrones character might wear.
From the point the cape hit the ground, Janeway was a ball of energy. He danced and belted out the tunes with a great ease, interacted with the band more frequently, and even had a David Byrne-ish moment in which he took one of the large red props from the back of the stage and began to roll around on the floor with it, tearing it apart piece by piece. All in all, it was a great way to start the festival.
Saturday, June 24
Lemon Bucket Orchestra
Saturday was a busy day, and I unfortunately didn’t make it out to see Kenny Rogers. Fortunately, I was able to make it just in time to see the Lemon Bucket Orchestra turn a 200 person crowd into true believers.
If you haven’t seen this klezmer dance party band from Toronto before- you’re missing out. They perform classic songs from the Balkans, Ukraine and Serbia with an intense energy. The show has become seamless as each band member is featured- one minute the bass trombone is soloing at the front, and the next the alto sax player is competing in a sexy dance solo with a belly dancer, and a minute later the crowd is being formed into a giant dance chain and pulled every which way.
My favourite part? For the encore, the band unplugged and literally jumped off the stage one by one, and proceeded to play a New Orleans style brass band cover of “I Like to Move It” in the center of the dance floor, with the lead singer shouting and playing police sirens on a megaphone.
Monday, June 26
When the band first started, I have to admit, it was a bit lackluster. I’ve been a huge fan of Mavis ever since seeing her sing on The Band’s “The Last Waltz,” and I had really been building this show up in my head. When the band simply walked on stage and started up with a tame, light-hearted reggae song, it seemed as though they were just going to play it safe.
But with every song, Mavis slowly offered more of her wisdom and her personality, telling stories of her wild adventures with the Staple Singers and her lifelong career. It was a slow burn in which we were treated to the Staples’ classics “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There,” her best solo hits, and a series of new songs with really great backstories. Mavis even let the stage for a moment to let her rhythm section treat us to a jam where, in a fun moment, the guitarist played his solo lighter and lighter until the guitar signal was all but gone; and then proceeded to play his unamplified telecaster into the microphone. In all, it was a really special show with a really special woman, and the NAC couldn’t have been a better venue.
To Ray, With Love: Maceo Parker & The Ray Charles Orchestra featuring the Raelettes
This performance was nailed. From the first 10 seconds, it was clear that Maceo was prepared to do a perfect impression of Ray Charles in its fullest- from his distinctive crooning to his style of adlibbing throughout each tune. If you let your guard down for even a second, you sometimes forgot it wasn’t the man himself up there.
If you’re a fan of Ray’s “Modern Sounds in Country & Western” era, this show hit home. From medium-tempo shuffles like Busted, slow crooner classics like How Long Has This Been Going On? and You Don’t Know Me, and finally fast swing like Oh What a Beautiful Morning- the first half of the set got through a surprising amount of material and played it exactly as its meant to be played.
The Ray Charles Orchestra, formed only of individuals who had played with Ray at some point in his career, featured a fantastic array of brass and woodwind, a great piano player who maybe was sometimes a little too tight for a Ray Charles show, and a solid swing rhythm section. Even the conductor was full of energy, waving his hands around wildly infront of the band in ways that a purist might snub as unnecessary. I’m going to personally use the word “endearing;” he was really fun to watch! On top of it all, Maceo picked up his alto for a couple instrumental takes, reminding us why his sax tone and chops are unmatched by most.
About 3/4 of the way through, Maceo introduced The Raelettes, who came out and sang on some classics like Hit the Road Jack and Look What They’ve Done to My Song. They did a great nailing the sound of the classic Raelettes, albeit they were the only part that felt a bit ‘canned.’ All in all, it was a great show and I think they were able to appeal to big fans and general listeners alike.
Robert Glasper Experiment
Following this show was the Robert Glasper Experiment. With their back catalogue often backing various singers and rappers, I was unsure of what to expect.
The set started off with a DJ playing Thundercat’s Them Changes slowly turned into Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” easing our expectations into the greasy R&B to come. The band took stage with Glasper on multiple keyboards, as well as a singer/saxophonist, bassist, and drummer. The DJ stayed on stage for various sounds and white noise. The singer loved his effects as he started the first tune off with a heavy autotune that worked well with his voice, a sound he would use most of the set. That same first song lasted about 8 minutes, with various members taking solos, and Glasper showcasing his classic Thelonious Monk-esque piano sounds. The second song went into a lighter instrumental that slowly built, with the singer jumping on an effect-dripping saxophone. After that, the band flip-flopped between a vocal tune and an instrumental for the rest of the set. The bassist was in the pocket, the drummer was tight, Glasper’s licks and fills were on point- everything you’d want in a jazz R&B show.
My one complaint would be that they didn’t interact with the audience much at all compared to most of the other acts at Jazz this year, whether through anecdotal stories or vocal singalongs. Otherwise, it was a slick, fun and experimental show!
Friday, June 30
I caught most of Bixiga 70’s set in the Tartan Homes tent. I will admit, they had a tough slot, with the excitement in the air bubbling about the upcoming Charles Bradley performance. But despite all that, this Brazillian powerhouse played as though they were the only band in town. Ottawa loves its afrobeat, and it was great to have a band in town that takes that sound and combines it with a spice of their own. From Willie Colon style brass harmonies to very tight latin rhythms, they made the sounds of Brazil, Puerto Rico and Cuba mesh so well with afrobeat that you’d think the genres had always been played that way together. My highlight was lenthy percussion solo played on the tiny percussion kit to the side, with four band members trading off one another and playing wild counter-rhythms. These guys were a great way to start off the night!
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
Charles Bradley is always a treat to see in Ottawa, but even moreso now that he has a few albums behind him. From the second that the pianist came out and gave his “are you ready?” style speech, it was on. Charles ditched the glitter disco suit from last time and this time came in a red 60s-style button up suit, like something from a Sgt Pepper video. The song arrangements weren’t much different than the record, and there wasn’t a lot of extra frills, but with Charles it doesn’t matter. His sheer passion is addictive for audiences, and every person in the audience was a fan whether they started as one or not. In fact, this was the first time I’ve ever seen large groups summoned from their chairs to dance like crazy at the front of the lawn chair section. Classic songs like “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” and “Changes” had the entire audience singing arm in arm.
As usual, I was extremely impressed by his Extraordinaires. Like any Daptones band, they were tight and to-the-point and let Charles do his thing. Their catalogue is also a lot more expansive than the last time he was in town- by the time they were at the last song, I was questioning what they possibly had left to encore with, and then he pulled out “Why Is It So Hard?” and took us all to church. What an incredible show by a true performer! With the recent loss of Sharon Jones to cancer, and Charles’ recent announcement that he is also struggling with a cancerous tumour, we can only hope every day that this man overcomes his illness and is able to continue what is obviously as important to him as it is to us. Stay healthy, Charles!
My favourite part about Jacob Collier was the crowd’s reaction to the first tune. I’ve been following this young guy’s (22!) work for a couple years, and was well aware of the talent. Placing him after a giant like Charles Bradley was an extremely wise move by Jazz Fest, as hundreds of music fans poured into the Tartan Homes tent without the slightest clue of what they were about to see.
The stage was littered with instruments: a grand piano, a couple synths, an electric upright bass, a bass guitar, an acoustic guitar, a drum kit and various percussion instruments on a stand. But when only Jacob Collier walked out wearing a wireless microphone, I could see confusion in the eyes of the crowd. Where were the other musicians? Within 4 minutes, Jacob had created a rich and righteous funk tune, running from one instrument to the next while singing in his usual high pitched way. I have to hand it to the people behind the scene, as I don’t think the audience truly respected the prowess in whoever had the task of creating these loops. Jacob would grab a tambourine and shake it wildly at a microphone, only to immediately have that tambourine join the song. Next he would strap on the Fender jazz bass and play a funky rhythm, which would be looped perfectly into the tune by the time he was putting it back on the stand. Once the structure of the song was sound, he would make it to the synth just in time for the hook, using his synthesizer to alter and harmonize his singing line.
The second song- a quiet and very Canadian-style fingerpicking piece (think Don Ross) played on acoustic, which at its peak saw Collier running to the grand piano to continue playing his lush, jazzy arrangement. It was totally different from the first song, and huge indication for how all-over-the-map the entire show would be.
Collier’s excitement to experiment is very obvious as he jumps around the stage, begging the audience to clap a complicated beat, only to jump on the drum kit and play a competing polyrhythm. Is it a novelty? Well, yes, a bit. After playing with Snarky Puppy in 2016, I’m sure that a jazz icon like Collier could easily find musicians to take the stage with him. But half the fun is seeing him run around the stage, caught in his own web of insanity. His energy left me wanting to listen to and play more jazz immediately, and if that isn’t the best outcome of a jazz performance, then I’m not sure what is.