For the past five years, Arboretum Festival has been a crucial part of Ottawa’s music infrastructure. It’s beginnings as a boutique music festival in the capital followed the spirit of other small-scale indie fests across the country, such as Sappyfest, Hillside Festival, and Camp Wavelength. However, those of us who have had the joy of experiencing or being a part of Arboretum Festival know one thing’s for sure—this is no ordinary music festival. In fact, music is just one component of this celebration of all that is local. Gastronomy. Craft Beer. Fashion. It’s all been represented at Arboretum over the years.
This year will be different, as organizers have opted for a scaled back lineup (less is more), as well as a brand new rural location just outside Ottawa at Rideau Pines Farm on August 18th & 19th.
Showbox is once again honoured to be partnering up with Arboretum Festival to co-present the emerging artist stage this year, fondly dubbed the “Bang Bang Barn.” Emerging local music is sort of our jam… okay, it’s what we live and die for. Joining us as co-presenter of this stage is NAC Presents, an organization that supports music locally and all across Canada year after year. We couldn’t be more excited about the lineup, which includes some faces that are new and some we’ve seen before. But each one was hang-picked for their outstanding songwriting and performance capabilities, and what better place to see a great show than in a barn under the stars?
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.
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.
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.