RBC Bluesfest Day 2: Charles Bradley Loves Everybody
RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
The sun was beating down as I made my way around all the construction at Lebreton Flats. I broke a sweat trying to get there in time to catch the opening acts, but that’s not saying much for a guy who sweats tying his shoes. With country singers Jason Aldean and Kira Isabella on the bill this evening, I was navigating a sea of cowboy hats and plaid shirts tied around waists before I even got into the festival grounds. Guess I missed the memo on tonight’s dress code.
Since the openers all started at the same time, I knew I’d be rocking the ol’ festival split – which usually means going halfsies on two sets in the same time slot, leaving one stage early to catch the other act. But with Thrifty Kids, Saint Clare and River City Junction all starting at 6, I was going three ways and had to make it quick.
Thrifty Kids got me off to a lovely start, in the Barney Danson Theatre, which was a great atmosphere for their style of mellow surf pop. I really like this band, and this was my first time seeing them, so I would’ve loved to see the full set but I was soon on to the next one.
Caroline Addison of River City Junction performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 9, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Danyca MacDonald
On the quieter and shadier side of the museum, River City Junction was trucking through their set on Monster Energy stage, formerly the Blacksheep Stage. This Montreal three-piece play a smooth blend of Delta blues, and funky country rock ‘n’ roll, and lead singer/drummer Caroline Addison is an absolute pleasure to watch.
In true Bluesfest fashion, there were baby-boomers in lawn chairs everywhere, and I thought to myself, “Oh, here you all are!” because the crowds on the other side of the museum were largely plaid-clad teenagers cheering for Kira Isabella or assembling by the Claridge Homes Stage waiting for pop-rapper Hoodie Allen to start.
Saint Clare performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 9, 2015.~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
I made my way down toward the river with the sounds of Saint Clare in the air as I approached the Canadian Stage. These guys (and gals) are a really fun band to see live, with the psychedelic/power-pop vibes tastefully accented by the keyboards and the brass section.
Ronnie Baker Brooks performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 9 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Danyca MacDonald
After heading back to the shade of the museum by the Monster stage, and catching some quality Chicago blues courtesy of Ronnie Baker Brooks, I returned again to the Canadian Stage for the hip-hop stylings of Ottawa’s BlakDenim. For those who aren’t familiar, I’d compare this group to the likes of The Roots and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. So yeah, pretty hype.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 9, 2015.~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Scott Penner
I stuck around this same stage in anticipation of my big highlight of the evening, The Screaming Eagle of Soul – Mr. Charles Bradley. A member of the NYC-based soul-revivalist Daptone Records family, Bradley is one of the most earnest and genuine performers I’ve ever seen. His ’70s-style suit and slow-motion dance moves are endlessly charming, and he just oozes love for everyone around him. He wooed the crowd with his rendition of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, and Bradley’s own heart of gold was on his sleeve as he descended from the stage at the end of the set to meet the audience – it was hugs and handshakes and picture-poses all around, and you can just tell that this is why he does what he does. Truly heartwarming. I left feeling full of love and ready to hit the hay.
RBC Bluesfest Day 3: Kanye West & Chance the Rapper
RBC Bluesfest Press Images
It was a perfect sunny day in Ottawa to catch two of Chicago’s finest hip hop exports. With the masses piling in, for one of RBC Bluesfest’s biggest ever crowds, there was no way I was going to make it to any of the other stages. The two acts I saw though, were worth it.
Chance the Rapper performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 10, 2015. ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images
Chance the Rapper brought his optimism and enthusiasm to a surprisingly large crowd at 7 p.m. The hour-long set was the perfect amount of time for a rapper only just starting to hit his stride, performing gems from his two mixtapes Acid Rap and 10 day, with some of his collaborative efforts (from Donnie Trumpet release “Surf” and his guest feature on Action Bronson’s “Baby Blue”) sprinkled in. Bounding across the stage with some infectious live accompaniment from his band, The Social Experiment, Chance sparkled with the energy of a star that’s only going to get brighter. For an artist that has had little mainstream support, he thanked the crowd: “No one pushed this down your throat, this is your room, this is your iTunes, get comfortable.” The lively crowd took that cue. Highlights of the show included his jazzy take on the theme from Arthur, “Wonderful Everyday”, his hit “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and his new single “Sunday Candy”.
Next it was Kanye. “I want you to tell your kids about this one day!” exclaimed Kanye West during one of the few lulls during his blistering two-hour set in front of a crowd of more than 25,000. And while that statement might seem preposterous, I think it’s a perfect encapsulation of the way Kanye West lives his life. Bluesfest, on no one’s radar on the major North American festival circuit, seemed like an odd choice for Kanye West. In front of a sea of adoring fans, ones able to ignore online petitions and detractors, he could have mailed it in. But that’s one thing that none of his detractors can accuse him of — he leaves everything he can on that stage.
Kanye West performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 10, 2015.~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images
Starting 20 minutes late, he realized halfway through his performance that Ottawa’s noise regulations were going to cut his anticipated set short. He began cutting songs off at the half-way mark to get through more songs saying, “I’ve got too many hits for y’all.” He bounced from the earnest, somewhat-modest College Dropout on “All Falls Down” and “Through the Wire” to the Yeezus of late on “All Day”, “Black Skinhead” and everything in between. Kanye didn’t even really have time for one of his signature rants, save for a short interlude where he discussed not compromising his artistic vision and reporting there’s only “one motherfucking Kanye West.” It’s hard to choose highlights but off the top of my head “Runaway”, “Blood on the Leaves”, “Heartless”, “Jesus Walks”, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”, “Good Life”, and “Touch the Sky”, all had the crowd, who were packed in like sardines, moving.
A change of pace from vilified personifications, Kanye smiled and even fit in some jokes. Before starting his smash hit “Gold Digger”, he faked out the crowd by telling them he was about to perform something extremely underground. Closing his set singing in auto-tune from the perspective of his dead mother on “Only One”, he showed raw emotion and sincerity.
Kanye West is capable of creating great things, whether that’s music, fashion, or even controversy. He delivered a set to the Ottawa crowd that was indeed world-class and only few would say otherwise.