RBC Bluesfest Day 2: Sly & Robbie + Bonobo + Jeff Tweedy
Bon bien: Bluesfest!
A Friday table d’hôte menu that starts with three local acts at the same time is torture for those inclined to stay in to eat. It can be hard to avoid gorging on the radio’s snacks or travelling to the smorgasbords of neighbouring metropolises, but once in a while there are feasts to be had here too. RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest opened the kitchen at 1800 hours and set locals Silkken Laumann, Cold Capital & Angelique Francis to begin feeding us.
Ottawa’s own Silkken Laumann (from Detroit, MI) played both sides of the border at RBC Bluesfest on the River Stage on July 4, 2014. Photo: Mark Horton, RBC Bluesfest Press Images
Silkken Laumann could easily be from Detroit, MI as Rolf Klausener introduced his newest band, but I swear I’ve seen that bassist Gary Franks before in another eponymous band of a female Canadian… And Pat Johnson & Adam Saikaley? We have two guys in Ottawa named exactly the same! Silkken proved pop EDM is good at any time of day, even though they ended their set slightly early. There’s something uplifting about Saikaley beaming as he buttons and Franks making love to his bass guitar as Klausener offers info: “This song is about not fucking it up,” and, “this song is about going on a post-breakup fuck-spree.” Peppered swear words and social commentary on American quality of life are also for any time of day! And cheers to the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” cover.
Cold Capital opening the Black Sheep Stage at RBC Bluesfest on July 4, 2014. Photo: Joseph Mathieu
I caught the middle of Cold Capital‘s set, playing some bluesy rock with a country twang for the patrons of the Black Sheep Stage. The local five-piece band have been featured at the Canadian Music Week in 2013 and are plowing through the country rock waves with lyricist Erik Hertzberg at the helm, his brother Nick on keys, John Cote on drums, Matt Muir on guitar & Andrew Erlandson on bass. We checked out their debut EP late last year, which is available for free download on their bandcamp page.
Inside, Angelique Francis, a young up-and-coming talent from the west end, filled the Barney Danson Theatre. This 16-year-old has a stage presence for which many performers strive perhaps because she’s already had nine years to practice on stage! Her voice ranges from warm to delicate, and from quirky to refined and she writes with a look into the life of a teenager that a lot of adults should and do appreciate. The effects of peer pressure (“Come on, baby”) and the increasing issue of homeslessness are just two examples of her subject matter. She was backed up by Michel Medrano Brindis on drums, Miguel de Armas on keys & the ubiquitous Marc Decho on bass guitar. She played an hour for the full theatre and for those of us lucky enough to have a closed circuit TV outside on a busy weekend for this local gem. Good luck tonight in T.O. Angelique!
Before I could make it back to the River Stage, I thought to exit the front of the Canadian War Museum but was blasted with solo act Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish fame singing about driving on the highway, not wanting to be a DJ and finding that perfect spot on the “Radio.” This, his third single from his third country album, was enough for me. I’ve read it rumoured on the wikis that he wrote an R&B album before going rural but I wasn’t going to wait around to find out if he played any.
Bonobo, AKA Simon Green, played with vocalist Szjerdene & a four-piece band on the River Stage at RBC Bluesfest on July 4, 2014 Photo: Joseph Mathieu
Possibly the most anticipated act for me that evening was a fine Brit by the name of Simon Green, better known to the world as DJ & producer Bonobo. Is there anything better than watching something you know to be good turn out to be great? The man on the bass & buttons was flanked by five other artists who added dimension to his downbeat electronica but who also let him play solo so we could meet the hard-working multi-instrumentalist he truly is. See “Cirrus” from The North Borders & “All In Forms” from Black Sands for some solid chill out tracks.
Szjerdene, the finespun voice on his newest album The North Borders, held sway over the audience from her first appearance. The sun setting on the River Stage, the weather so beautiful as to be completely unnoticeable, and her dress the likeness of a nebula only made us love the set even more. Her spectral voice sang her own songs from Bonobo’s fifth studio album and my favourites by Andreya Triana from Black Sands (“Stay the Same“).
Loose rock rubadub reggae from music legends Sly & Robbie and The Taxi Gang at RBC Bluesfest on the River Stage on July 4, 2014. Photo: Joseph Mathieu
The stage was set for Sly & Robbie and The Taxi Gang, the hardest working dream team of legendary rhythm producers from Jamdown. Holy crap, you guys. Find a list of their collaborations and you’ll come across their well-rounded estimate of 200,000 songs played or produced. If we use the well-rounded estimate of 40 years of their work together (since they joined forces mid-70s), we can suppose that they would have had to work on 13 and a half songs a day for the last 14,610 days… This is only possible because percussionist Lowell “Sly” Dunbar & bass boss Robert “Robbie” Shakespeare are a maelstrom of creativity, and because they are sought after by thousands of artists who know their sound to be the sickest. Their hypeman Nambo Robinson fulfilled his duty without putting his trombone down all night. When he wasn’t pumping us up with his horn he had it in the crook of his arm, introducing the Taxi Gang and special guest Bitty McLean. Their road manager Peter G made his way to the stage as a prime vocalist with a penchant for serenading the prettiest lady he could find in the crowd. “I don’t like how far I am from the people right now,” he cooed, probably to the relief of that prettiest lady’s boyfriend.
After a history lesson in the evolution of roots, reggae & rock you’d think the night would be over… but over at the Black Sheep Stage Jeff Tweedy started playing his own “blues.” The charmer from Illinois quipped: “Blues isn’t about making yourself feel better, it’s about making the other guy feel worse. And that’s how I can call my music blues.” His position as an alt rock household name is secure and so is his dynasty now that he’s begun jamming & producing tunes with his son Spencer. The scion Tweedy drove the drums behind his father last night, as they are practicing their songs from their collaborative album Sukierae, which will be out in September. Once the crushing electronica bass from the Bell Stage started to make its way over the Museum, the sire Tweedy pulled out the big guns: Wilco & Uncle Typelo tracks. The rolling hills of the crowd were alive with many sighs and cheers that night…
Zedd crushing it on the Bell Stage at RBC Bluesfest on July 4, 2014. Photo: RBC Bluesfest Press Images
What I missed on the Bell Stage were two superstar deities cut from very different cloth: Journey, the demigods of arena rock from an era past, and Zedd, the daemon prince of EDM sent from the future. Crowd-pleasers to be sure, but since I’m not pleased by crowds I settled for hearing & seeing their shows from afar. Frankly, I didn’t really have the option to avoid them completely because the one thing they do have in common? Ils font du bruit en tabarnac!
Ottawa Bluesfest 2014: Local Preview
Ottawa’s RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest begins on July 3rd and will feature 30 great local groups. Here is a list in alphabetical order to help you support local at this year’s Bluesfest!
Métis singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume is a powerful vocalist with just a touch of grit and an instantly-accessible roots-pop-Americana sound. She has been impressing concert goers for around a decade in Ottawa and throughout North-America with her music and her infectious personality. Her latest release Keep Fire has earned her a Juno Nomination in the category Aboriginal Album of the Year. You can be swoon by Amanda July 11th at 6 PM on the River Stage.
Amos the Transparent
A six-piece band that plays wonderful folk-inspired, indie-pop which Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC’s radio show Q, referred to as them as “Canadian Wilco.” Amos the Transparent can really dazzle a crowd with their excellent musicianship. They will be playing July 3rd at 5 PM on the Black Sheep Stage.
Angelique Francis is a singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist (piano, drums, key board, harmonica, upright bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and the electric Bass). In July of 2011, after a country wide search, Angelique was selected by Ottawa Blues Festival as one of three next emerging female Canadian Artists ( The She’s The One Competition), she was only 13 years old at the time. Angelique plays July 4th at 6 PM in the Barney Danson Theatre.
Atherton is one of Ottawa’s finest hip-hop talents and most entertaining MC’s. In 2012 he released his third album No Threat, which features a tonne of great tracks chalked full of references to Orleans where he grew up and other neighbourhoods around town. Atherton is also the host of one of the city’s best monthly events, Hip-Hop Karaoke. Atherton performs on the hip-hop heavy day July 12th at 2 PM on the Claridge Homes Stage.
For fans of high energy garage rock and punk rock. Average Times are coming off an awesome set at Ottawa Explosion Weekend, which you can read about here. Their self-titled debut, full of energetic quick hitters, made our list of the best local releases of 2013. Head bob and rock out with Average Times July 9th at 6:15 PM on the River Stage.
Bella Cat is a rarity at the Bluesfest, as she actually plays the blues. Playing blues, soul, and jazz with very catchy melodies which will bring you back to the 50s and 60s. Not only do they play beautiful music, but Bella Cat’s booming and powerful voice will amaze. You can catch Bella Cat on Thursday, July 10 at 6 PM at the Barney Danson Theatre.
BlakDenim will fill the stage with nine members on stage and fill your ears with very dancy funk music with hip-hop vocals overlaid. They infuse hip-hop, funk, rock, soul and jazz with lyrical content that ranges from the serious to the absurd, their tone from sweet to heavy, all connected by head-nodding and hip shaking melodies. So go shake your groove thang and get down with your bad self with BlakDenim Saturday July 5 at 2 PM on the Black Sheep Stage.
Boyhood is one of Ottawa’s most intriguing bands with there very outside the box psych-pop sound. If you are into strange and quite creative music, then don’t miss out on this project. Boyhood is really just Caylie Runciman, who does all of the composition, writing and recording herself. But has a few musicians join her when she plays live. Come get lost in Caylie’s musical vision July 6th at 2 PM on the Black Sheep Stage.
Taking their cue from classic blues and rock traditions, Cold Capital‘s guitar driven music mixes blues, roots, soul and country into a boiler pot of rock n’ roll. With influences spanning from Wilco to the Rolling Stones to Gary Clark Jr., the band is a perfect fit for the Bluesfest. Catch them July 4th at 6 PM on the Blacksheep Stage.
They are a four piece indie rock band draws influences from artists such as The Black Keys, Tokyo Police Club and Jack White. Farewell Davidson‘s music has great hooks and many sing-a-long opportunities which is always fun. Come sing with Farewell Davidson July 13th at 1 PM on the River Stage.
Formed from the ashes of Crash 13 in the latter stages of 1999, Fiftymen play country rock through and through, with dusty twang surging through its veins. Beyond the twang are strong lyrics about hard luck, heart ache, jealousy, revenge and redemption. Get your stomping shoes on and go check them out July 6th at 6 PM on the River Stage.
A modern combination of blues and roots, Firebelly add some sweet sweet harmonica play and strong vocals. In true blues fashion the four-piece does not shy away from other genres such as elements of funk, swing, jazz and country. They play July 10th at 6 PM on the Black Sheep Stage.
From fis- pumping, stomp your feet working-man anthems to soulful ballads of love, heartache and loss, James Leclaire’s songs are all about storytelling. He is backed by a band called the Cable 22’s and just released his third studio album Of What is Left and has been compared to Steve Earl. James and the Cable 22 will be playing July 3rd at 6 PM at Barney Danson Theatre.
John Allaire and the Campistas
John Allaire is an experienced, award-winning singer/songwriter , including American Songwriter Assoc. “Best Lyrics” Award in 2009 for “Magnets” (Nashville, TN). He has been making music for over 30 years and has a gift for weaving captivating musical stories. Drawing on his experiences and surroundings John’s musical repertoire includes songs with sincere, intelligent lyrics that are introspective and deeply personal, as well as tunes that are light-hearted and humourous. Check out this local talent on one of the main stage, July 12th at 3 PM on the Bell Stage.
Jonathan Becker and The North Fields
Jonathan Becker and The North Fields play rock and roll with roots in folk, country, and post punk. Jonathan’s voice was an instantly recognizable rasp that delivers very heartfelt lyrics. The five piece released a wonderful five-song EP early this year and are just coming back from a tour which took them through Ontario, Quebec and some stops on Canada’s East coast. Check them out with a cold brew on July 12th at 3 PM on the River Stage.
Probably one of the happiest and most excited people in Ottawa right now as he was named to the Polaris Prize Short-List for his latest album, the wonderful Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold. The amazing accomplishment is well deserved for the absolutly talented Kalle Mattson and his band. The folk rockers often remind me of Winnipeg based The Weakerthans, as they can play super uplifting tunes that get you up and dancing and then follow it up with a beautiful gut-wrenchingly powerful fingerpicking soft songs. Go see what all the buzz is about July 5th at 2 PM on the Claridge Homes Stage.
Keturah Johnson Band
Keturah Johnson has one of the most powerful and beautiful voices I have ever heard. She has spent most of her music making career as a solo artist, but late last year added a great group of talented musicians around her to take her sound to the next level. Their is so much soul and passion that flows through her lyrics and her incredible voice, that is now complimented by a full band sound. Don’t miss being blown away July 11 at 6 PM in the Barney Danson Theatre.
The Mackenzie Rhythm Section
One of the most fun get out of your seats and shake your hips band playing the entire festival. The Mackenzie Rhythm Section describe themselves as Soulstep, soul sang from the heart and rock solid funk. To be honest I could not say it any better myself. Shine up your dancing shoes, practice your best moves and come get jiggy with it July 5th at 6 PM in the Barney Danson Theatre.
Back with the blues, Old Stereo play very funky soulful blues music. The four-piece has been greatly influenced by Gary Clark Jr. so fans of his should not miss them July 5th at 1:30 PM on the River Stage.
Old Whiskey Road
Six-piece americana and country style band with a wonderful balance of male and female vocals. Old Whiskey Road draw influences from Wilco to Neil Young and to Ryan Adams, a great bunch of excellent singer songwriters. They hit the stage July 6th at 2pm on the Claridge Homes Stage.
Pith and the Parenchymas
Probably one of the youngest acts playing the festival, Pith and the Parenchymas play very interesting experimental folk that is mature beyond their years. It is quite exciting to see the younger generation add twists to a style that has been around for decades. Pith and the Parenchymas just released their debut full length album, Songs of the Neverending Ugly Lizard. Go experience something you have never heard before July 8th at 7:30 in the Barney Danson Theatre.
Scattered Clouds‘s psychedelic rock will channel the ghosts of Lebreton Flats past. Brooding rhythms and precise noise from this experimental 3-piece underline film noir imagery. Get taken away on a psychedelic journey July 3rd at 7:30 pm in the Barney Danson Theatre.
No it is not our beloved national Olympic rowing hero. It is a group of very talented artists from Ottawa who formed an 80’s style dance band. Silkken Laumann‘s lead singer Rolf Klausener’s voice is hypnotic and the music is very much a blast from the past. Their amazing debut album Not Forever Enough is available for free, here. Kick off your Friday night in style and in dance with Silkken Laumann July 4th at 6 PM on the River Stage.
The “Northern-fried” rock and soul band made their debut in 2006 at Bluesfest and have since made big waves around the country. Silver Creek has had such highs as playing the main stage at Bluesfest in 2009 and have back Blue Rodeo on tour. Silver Creek get the honour of once again rocking the main stage (the Bell Stage) July 5th at 3 PM.
Sound of Lions
Sound of Lions were the winners of “Best New Act” and “Album of the Year” in the Ottawa XPress’ readers’ poll back in 2011 and have carried that momentum with them. They have an amazing combination of a beautiful female vocals teamed up with a very strong emcee rapping over trip-hop beats. They will take their unique sound and high level of energy to the stage on July 12th at 1:30 PM on the River Stage.
Still Winter Hills
Five-piece country band that channels the days of old. Sill Winter Hills sounds like a band that could have opened for Neil Young during his heyday. They have perfected the sound of those who came before them, while carving out their own unique sound. Check out these country boys and go back in time with them on July 13th at 2pm on the Claridge Stage.
Speaking of going back in time, let The Split teleport you back to when funky-soul bands laden with brass ensembles were king. Fans of Lee Fields, Charles Bradley and James Brown cannot afford to miss out on this talented act. You can catch this soulful act July 5, at 3:30 on the Black Sheep Stage.
Female fronted alternative rock band who’s influences range from The Pixies, Arcade Fire and Nina Simone. Tindervox is a four-piece but you would never know from the great depth of their sound and their haunting songs. If you are brave enough, check them out July 6th at 3 PM in the Barney Danson Theatre.
They play traditionally-based Ukrainian style music merged with punk rock power chords. Ukrania is perfect for fans of Gogol Bordello and gypsy style rock. They are up-beat, fun, dancy and sing all their songs in Ukrainian. Come learn a new language, gain international travel and have a party with Ukrania July 10th at 6PM on the River Stage.
Last but not least, the 30th local act, Wicked Grin. Since 2003 Wicked Grin have been playing their full-tilt blues with a groove that just won’t quit much to the enjoyment of concert goers. Wicked Grin recently won the Ottawa Blues Society “Road To Memphis” Challenge and represented Ottawa at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, in January 2014. You can catch their blues with bite July 12th at 6 PM on the Black Sheep Stage.
Everyone Wins at Ottawa Rock Lottery 5.0
Eric Scharf & Matías Muñoz hanging with ORL organizer Samantha Everts and Luca Fiore (Photo: Ming Wu)
The fifth edition of the Ottawa Rock Lottery, which was held at Maverick’s, blew me away. You are probably wondering what is a rock lottery? Well you take 25 members from local bands, pull their names out of a hat to form 5 bands. Then give them 24 hours to come up with 20-30 minutes of original music. And for an added twist, you assign each band a special instrument that they must integrate into their set. If all of that does not sound fun enough, consider that all proceeds of the event go the the Ottawa Foodbank and there were free draws between sets with a lot of merch from sponsors and bands.
The event’s special guest host was CBC Radio 1’s Amanda Putz. Amanda hosts the show Bandwith, which focuses on Ontario music. In her opening remarks she declared that not only does Ottawa have one of the best music scenes in the province (eat your heart out Montreal and Toronto), but “one of the greatest scenes in the country.”
First up was But I Don’t Want to be a Pirate. The band was comprised of Arturo Portocarrero (Miss Polygamy), Cody Allen (Cody Allen), James Rooke (Modern Era Pirate), Mike Libbos (The Goodluck Assembly) and Rory Lewis (Kalle Mattson). They were tasked with the coolest random instrument of the night, a keytar. Man can Rory rely shred on his guitar and he even did a solo on the keytar. They set the bar very high. And Ottawa is very lucky, as Jame Rooke won a three song EP recording from Audio Valley Recording Studio and announced he will use it to record with But I Don’t Want to be a Pirate.
The second band of the evening was Sextadeth. The band said the name was in honor of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who they assume will be sexted to death now that he is back on Earth. Fitting that the band that ended up with two drummers, also got assigned the spoons, and had an epic percussion finale. Sextadeth was, David Wisjman (Fire & Neon), Max Savage (StillNative), Peter Zachar (Those Gulls), Reverend Doctor D (The Pelts) and Riishi Von Rex (Riishi Von Rex). They played a really fun set, but unfortunately David announced at the end that “due to creative differences we are breaking up.” the crowd got a good kick out of that.
Black Usher was up third. They were two Keys, two MCs and a Macbook. The keys were Patrick Steele (StillNative) and Sarah Bradley (Fevers), the MCs were Atherton (Atherton) and HYF the GypsySun (Missing LinX) and the man on the Macbook was Jordan David (The Love Machine). Their set was awesome! The dynamics of the five members singing or spitting rhymes throughout their performance was very good. And the energy…oh lord the energy. They finished with the incredible “Weird, Odd, Strange” that could very well have been the song of the night. And it was fun to watch both MCs play on pots and pans with wooden spoons.
Fourth to the stage was Slow Dance Chubbies. As per their name, they slowed it down a little bit. Their set was full of guitar solos, incredible trumpet play and funny lyrics. The crowd got into their set singing along with the band. Slow Dance Chubbies was Connor (sorry no last name provided), Erik Hertzberg (Cold Capital), Gregg Clark (Pony Girl), Jake Ting (Zoo Legacy) and Shawn Desjardins. What happens when one band gets two drummers, another band gets none. But that did not stop Slow Dance Chubbies. Jake Ting, who had never played drums live before, took on the task and did a great job.
Closing the show was Nicolas Cage in Con Air. The band was made up of Craig Barlow (Loon Choir), Dave Nado (The Wicked Mercy), Jon Schofield (The Yips) Just Jamaal (Missing LinX) and Kalle Mattson (Kalle Mattson). All of their songs were named after Nic Cage movies, they opened with Ghost Rider Two, followed with Ghost Rider One, which led to Raising Arizona and concluded with Face Off. Nic Cage was an amazing combination of rap and slam poetry over rock. Their special instrument was the whistle, which they integrated into more than one song, the only band to do so. While the band tuned, Just Jamaal used his instrument, his vox, to keep the crowd entertained with some freestyling.
I think Amanda Putz said it best when speaking of the evening. “The talent tonight blew me away.” I overheard many people in the crowd saying “I figured this would be a train wreck, but this is awesome.” And I must agree, it was a great night. If you did not go this year, or are an artist and did not participate, I strongly encourage you to do so next year.
Every song from the show should be available by May 25, thanks to Audio Valley Recording Studio. Keep checking back at Ottawa Rock Lottery website for it.
Photos of the night here by Ming Wu.