The final day of Bluesfest saw a lot of local groups, including Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Claude Munson, Isaac Valentin, The Riot Police, and Soul Jazz Orchestra take the stage and impress audiences.
The second last night of Bluesfest was actually dry…yes, you heard that correctly. Dry. The beautiful sunny day held in there through the night and concertgoers came out in the thousands to enjoy some vitamin D and live music. The night was packed full of electrifying sets by Mushy Gushy, Night Lovell, Dead Obies, Wide Mouth Mason, and MUSE. Check out some incredible shots by our photographer Els Durnford.
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.
It’s likely that you may have heard about Bluesfest’s seventh day—it was mired by chaos, violence and overindulgence, around 200 people were seen by paramedics and some sent off to the hospital. While it was mayhem off the stage, on the stage it was bumping with hip-hop acts Migos and Lil Yachty, as well as R&B artist Maurice Moore. Our photographer Els Durnford focused on the music while dodging and sometimes catching concertgoers surfing over the security railing, check out the photos in the gallery below.
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).
After a well-deserved break on Monday at Ottawa Bluesfest, things picked up right back up where they started on Tuesday. There were plenty of stunning sets on July 11, including performances by RL Grime, Fetty Wap, The Zombies, July Talk, and many more. Our photographer Els Durnford captured some stunning shots of the action on day two of Ottawa Bluesfest, check out the photos in the gallery below.
The night of Sunday, July 9, was a wet one, but the skies cleared up enough for festival-goers to enjoy a night packed full of music of all kinds. Our photographer Els Durnford captured some stunning shots of the action on day two of Ottawa Bluesfest, check out the photos in the gallery below.
The first Saturday of Bluesfest brought healthy crowds to see a diverse collection of musicians.
The first group I caught were Too Slim and the Taildraggers. I was initially apprehensive when each member of the band walked onstage wearing a cowboy hat, but my assumptions quickly turned out to be unfounded when the group launched into some riff-heavy blues rock. Their guitar player certainly knew his way around the instrument, and the vocals rarely strayed into the realm of twang. There were a couple tracks featuring a harmonica as well – which I personally love. With frequent solos and instrumental break, Too Slim and the Taildraggers put on a great show; the only thing more impressive than the guitarist’s riffs was his sideburns.
Also in the early evening was Tegan & Sara, bringing their brand of queer bubblegum indie. I’ve seen T&S several times at Bluesfest over the years, and it’s been interesting to watch them grow up. With every album their music has become more mainstream, and with a growing fan base they now play one of the main stages. With giant inflatable letters spelling “T & S” as their stage décor, there was no mistaking who was playing. The crowd was mostly young adults, happy to oblige in synchronized arm waving when requested. T&S played their hits and told a couple stories, including one of their first times they playing the region – at a summer camp in Hull. In summary, the camp wasn’t the best experience, but they seemed to hold no grudges and sent a humorous shout-out to our sister city.
Next up was local group Flight Distance, which can be described as hip-hop with the DJ bringing the occasional EDM track. This was their third time playing Bluesfest, and in my opinion, they were the July 8 highlight. Flight Distance worked hard to energize the crowd, which isn’t an easy feat at an outdoor festival before sunset. A particularly memorable interaction was when one of the vocalists encouraged everyone in the audience to “make a weird noise”. From the moment they took the stage to their closing track which remixed ACDC’s “Thunderstruck”, they brought their A-Game. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for future shows by these guys.
The last artist I saw was 50 Cent—about which I was cautiously optimistic—given the fairly high attendance and the nostalgic potential. Many in the crowd were dancing like they were in da club, and there was a tight crush of people close to the stage. I was a little further back, which was a good vantage point to watch the action. 50 Cent accurately busted out hits like 2005’s “Candy Shop,” and the show felt appropriately old-school. Still, I was unimpressed when he left the stage for about 5 minutes halfway through his set. I suppose the purpose was to build hype or stretch out his admittedly limited scope of material, but it came across as arrogant. Still, it was an entertaining set – if shorter than the majority of the festival’s headliners.
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest kicked off the 2017 edition in style Thursday night at Lebreton Flats with Death From Above, Pokey Lafarge, Telecomo and Pony Girl.
Death From Above (they are no longer using “1979,” but still having it written on their drum kit) made a triumphant return to Ottawa after having to cancel their 2016 appearance. The noisy rocking duo from Toronto consists of Sebastien Grainger on vocals and drums and Jesse Keeler on bass and keys, and they closed out the night at the Black Sheep Stage and stirred the crowd into a frenzy. The band incited the first mosh pit of the festival and possibly the first crowd surfers. After two songs, Keeler got on the mic and said “Thank you we are Toby Keith,” which garnered a good chuckle from the crowd and a Toby Keith chant. Keith was playing on the main stage at the same time.
In the early going the set seemed focused on songs from their latest album The Physical World, but fans of their earlier work didn’t have to wait too long. Grainger whispered “You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine” before launching into the song of the same title. The nearly two-hour long set was their second show in nine months. On the eve of the full moon, they took off from there and went on to play everything a fan could ask for including “Black History Month,” “Little Girl,” “Cold War,” “Romantic Rights”—ok those are all off of 2004’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, but they are classics. They also played a few more songs off of The Physical World such as “White is Red” and their new single “Freeze Me,” which they struggled with a little being that is was the second time they ever played it live. But that meant Ottawa got the second and the third-ever performances due to a quick re-start. The new stuff is quite a bit dancier but they still find time to have Keeler rock out and bring that gritty bass into it.
It wouldn’t be Death From Above set without a story by Grainger. During the set he told his this lovely piece about how for Canada’s 125th, he was 13 and in Ottawa at base the peace tower when a motorcade rolled up and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney came out. Grainger shook his hands and then shook his son’s hand “who grew up to have great hair plugs…I mean they probably aren’t hair plugs” he said laughing. He continued “and then another nicer motorcade pulled up a Trudeau came out and I shook his hand and then shook JT’s hand. Back then I thought to myself that he would one day be a great…snow board instructor or substitute teacher.” Many laughs were had and they got back to rocking. What a great set and an awesome way to cap off night one.
Unfortunately there was overlap on Pokey Lafarge and Death From Above so I only caught a few songs but they were excellent. Pokey and his band are simply exceptional. I mean, the act features a harmonica, brass, a stand up bass and the occasional washboard or banjo on top of the usual guitar and drums. With songs like “Close the Door,” “Something in the Water” and “Riot in the Streets” (which he all played while I was there) you get transported to a quaint bar in the southern states. His music would be perfectly accompanied with a nice tall glass of bourbon. Even without the bourbon, they had people singing, clapping and dancing under the new Bluesville tent—a great new feature—which has replaced the River Stage.
I took in a double dose of locals to start off my festival catching Telecomo on the Black Sheep Stage and Pony Girl in the Barney Danson Theatre. Telecomo are a garage rock three-piece made up of very familiar faces in the Ottawa music scene. Adam Saikaley (vocals, guitar), Gary Franks (bass), and Pat Johnson (drums) have played in bands such as The Acorn, Silkken Laumman, Bondar and countless others. As I walked over to the stage, we were greeted by the Gary Franks’ undeniable bass line from the opening track “Long Gone” off their debut full length release For Sale. Anyone in attendance who didn’t know about the album before the show, certainly knows about it know as Saikeley took a few moments to mention it and hold up a record to show people what it looked like. It was pretty effective as he sold a copy right on stage to a very enthusiastic concert-goer in the front row.
For most bands the showman is the lead singer or lead guitarist, but in this band it’s the bass player. Franks is never still and can often be seen striking quite the poses. My favorite is the very close stare down of Saikeley while he sings. Franks could have the voice of an angel but I kind of hope he never gets stuck behind a mic as his wondering is such a great addition to the performance. I’m pretty sure the band played all their entire catalogue and even included 2 new songs during their 50 minute set. I love garage rock.
Getting everything started was Pony Girl‘s performance in the standing room only Barney Danson Theater. It was great to see them pack the room. They certainly put on a show to merit the audience. A Pony Girl set features something most live acts don’t, a clarinet. Every time I see them, I am reminded of how underutilized and undervalued this instrument it. The band made full use of the space on stage and also bringing the show to the crowd singing and playing the clarinet in the first couple of rows. What is sometimes forgotten or lost in the wonders of the duel vocals is just how talented of musicians they are. Beyond the clarinet and the excellent guitar and bass work, the drummer always blows me away with all the subtle fill,s and the little extra he does that just add so much. Just as I was thinking of this, they put it all on display during an incredible instrumental lead by clarinet and drums dancing around each other which was beautifully amplified by the guitar and bass. It has been awesome to follow this band for years now and still be so impressed.