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.
Ottawa Bluesfest kept the excitement coming on Friday night with some strong performances by Matt Andersen, DJ Mustard, Anna Lunoe, Eddie Quotez, and many more. Our photographer Els Durnford captured some stunning shots of the action on day two of Bluesfest, check out the photos in the gallery below.
Say what you will about the festival, Bluesfest is a huge supporter of local music. They extensively search for Ottawa talent every single year and bring in both established acts as well as newer artists that are looking for that next big opportunity. This year is no exception. Bluesfest organizers have booked in almost 60 local artists to play on the big stages this year. We’ve broken down a list of all the artists from the Ottawa-Gatineau region for you to have a better idea of what to check out while you’re at Bluesfest this year. So go on, explore!
Sat, July 9, 9:30 PM to 10:45 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Amanda Rheaume is an award-winning folk singer songwriter. In 2014 Amanda received a Canadian Folk Music Award for Aboriginal Songwriter and a Juno Nomination for Aboriginal Album. Amanda has graced several stages in the Ottawa area, across Canada and around the world. Her latest album Holding Patterns was produced by another very talented local musician Jim Bryson.
Amos the Transparent
Sun, July 17, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – City Stage
Amos the Transparent are a six piece indie folk band the just keep getting better. They started as a studio project 10 years ago and have grown musically and in following in the nation’s capital. Their performance are full of both soft melodies and beautiful vocal harmonies. They just recently released a new single, so fans may be in for a treat of a bunch of new music.
Barry and The Blasters
Sun, July 17, 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Barry and The Blasters is a group of eight musicians from the Old Ottawa South. They’ve have been playing sold-out shows in local clubs in the Ottawa area for more than 10 years. The Blasters include an awesome brass ensemble and a gentlemen that can really rock the harmonica. Make sure to bring your dancing shoes and get ready to boogie to some bluesy rock and some soul.
Sun, July 17, 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
The post-punk foursome known as Bonnie Doon draws influences from many places, such beach parties, ghost stories and pizza joints. Armed with distorted vocals, ripping riffs and driving drums Bonnie Doon never fail to impress.
Sun, July 17, 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Brock Zeman is one of Canada’s most prolific singer songwriter having released 11 albums over the years. He may very well be the capitals best kept secrets considering his 2015 release Pulling Your Sword Out of the Devil’s Back was a semifinalist in the International Songwriting Competition and came in second in the The Unsigned Only Competition in 2015. He write very clever and profound songs which he delivers with just the right rasp.
Wed, July 13, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM – Black Sheep Stage
Carlo are a instrumental surf band with members from both Ottawa and Toronto. Check them out to practice your best beach dance moves like swimming against the air, surfing and the mash potato.
Thu, July 14, 8:15 PM to 9:15 PM – Black Sheep Stage
Born in Pittsburgh now based in Ottawa Jay Williams, better known and Cashtro Crosby lays down some smooth hip-hop. Cashtro thrives on making music about his personal experiences, from the good to the bad, from popping in clubs to millionaire dreams.
Sat, July 9, 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Chris Page perfectly skirts the line of punk rock and folk while playing pop songs on his acoustic guitar. Page has been heavily involved in music in the region having played in Camp Radio, Stand GT and currently playing in Expanda Fuzz. Page’s latest solo release, his fourth, Volume Vs. Voice, was one of my favourite of 2015, not just in Ottawa but period. Chris Page is a must see for fans of The Weakerthans and for people who love it any time a punk rock soul finds himself behind an acoustic guitar.
Wed, July 13, 9:00 PM to 10:15 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Craig Cardiff is a very talented songwriter and troubadour who builds landscapes of sound using live digital loops, bringing the room to a hush. Beyond his great musical talent, in between songs Craig is an entertainer telling great stories for the crowd, jokes and just loves engaging his audience. A Craig Cardiff set will make you want to cry due to a broken heart one minute and cry of laughter the next.
Wed, July 13, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Danielle Allard is an award winning singer songwriter with one of the nicest voices in the capital region. The local talent has been performing well before her teens and graduated of Canterbury High School’s school of music. Danielle is also extremely engaged and active in her community playing countless fundraisers and charity events. Most have seen Danielle solo or as a duo, but for Bluesfest they will be a five-piece and you are surely in for a treat.
Sat, July 16, 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Danny Albert is a classically trained solo violinist who has been an active performer in the local music scene for many years. He plays a wide variety styles from contemporary to classic rock and the jazz standards all on the violin sometimes accompanied by a few friends on keys. He has opened for bands like The Strumbellas and Oh Susanna.
Thu, July 7, 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM – Casino du Lac-Leamy (Free Programming)
DJ ACRO a veteran of the scene well known for his scratching, mixing and versitility. He is also an in-house DJ for Babylon and Ritual Nightclub, backing artists such as Ghostface Killah, GZA, Cappadonna, Onyx, and opening for the likes of DJ CRAZE, The Underachievers, Mac Miller, M.O.P and DJ Premier just to name a few. In 2015 ACRO competed in the RedBull Thre3style World DJ Championships, battling his way through the East Canada regionals and earning a trip to the National Finals in Winnipeg among the top 6 DJs in Canada.
Thu, July 14, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM – The Big Chill Stage
Fri, July 15, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM – The Big Chill Stage
DJ Calkuta is one of many proficient Ottawa DJs making regular parties happen across the city. If he’s not busy getting down to business at SABBATH Sunday night dance parties at Babylon, you can also find him along side his squad in the hip hop group Flight Distance. Wear your deodorant, it’s going to get sweaty.
Wed, July 13, 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM – Casino du Lac-Leamy (Free Programming)
As the city’s best known country DJs, LTP has played alongside and opened up for the likes of Anthony Orio and the Goodfeller’s (number 1 band in Nashville four years running), Tim Hicks, Chad Brownlee, Jason Blaine and Dallas Smith. He has also opened for rapper Classified and rocker Sass Jordan.DJ LTP is currently the house DJ at The Crazyhorse, which has been his home for the last seven years.
Thu, July 14, 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM – Casino du Lac-Leamy (Free Programming)
Sat, July 16, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM – The Big Chill Stage
Sun, July 17, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM – The Big Chill Stage
DJ Magnificient is DJ and host of Ottawa’s only monthly night with a focus on soul-funk-motown and vintage reggae on all on 45s called DOUBLE BARREL. The man has been playing records for 23 years now and shows no signs of changing his ways. He is happiest when 7 inches of something funky or soulful at 45 rotations per minute.
Sat, July 16, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Playing together since the ages of 6, 7 and 9, Dubé started out on the streets busking their way to over $200, 000 for charity. From a humble beginning of three brother busking together on the street outside of Bluesfest to playing some of the world’s largest music festivals and now gracing the stage at Bluesfest.
Fri, July 15, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM – CF Rideau Centre (Free Programming)
Dylan Phillips is an incredibly talented classical guitar player who will wow you with his finger picking. As a student in the Bachelor of Music, Singer-Songwriter program at Carleton University, Dylan has developed into a mature polymathic musician and songwriter, who is on track to release his first album in 2016 through Physik Records.
Fri, July 8, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Fire Antlers is Travis Kinnear, supported by his archaic drum machine (975 Rhythm Ace FR 8L), crafting a unique blend of lo-fi pop and sci-folk that is danceable and layered with internal reflections.
Sat, July 9, 3:00 PM to 3:15 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Sat, July 9, 7:15 PM to 7:30 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Grace Lachance took the stage for the “SHE’S THE ONE” talent contest at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa in 2015a as 15-year-old musician from Stittsville, Ontario. At the end of the day she walked away the winner. She continues to mature as an artist, even though she has more experience under her belt than most her age, and develop her alternative-pop sound with a touch of new country.
Wed, July 13, 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Gabrielle Giguere, better known as Her Harbour, has a powerfully haunting voice that reminds you of the voice of a siren luring you into the sea with her music. The music is dark, eerie and very emotional as Giguere strums her auto-harp and her band members add in just the right complementary subtleties. Recently, Giguere has been composing music for television and film, including TV5’s series 2h14. Her Harbour is currently working on her second full-length album, set for release in the spring of 2016.
Sat, July 9, 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Jill Zmud‘s latest album comes from the discovery of an old dusty reel-to-reel tape in her parents’ Saskatoon home, the very house Jill grew up in. On that tape in a cardboard box were the songs of her musician uncle, Ed Clynton. Ed was a member of the Canadian band Witness Inc. in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This album lead her to play some great country music where she explores themes of loss, hope and unbreakable bonds of family.
Sun, July 10, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM – CF Rideau Centre (Free Programming)
Jillian Kerr is a singer-songwriter born and raised on the outskirts of Ottawa. Jillian writes lyrics that listeners can relate to, but weaves in hints of mystery in each song. Her songs speak to a depth beyond her years as a songwriter. Her most intriguing quality stems from her unique and soothing voice that leaves audiences wanting more. Jillian recently won the MusikOttawa Singer-Songwriter competition in 2015 performing songs from her debut EP Dreams.
Sun, July 10, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM – City Stage
Jordan McIntosh is a rising star in the pop-country world. This was solidified when he most recently took home the Rising Star Award at the 2014 Country Music Association of Ontario (CMAO) Awards and earned a spot as a Top 6 finalist in the CCMA Discovery Program.
Sat, July 16, 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Just Poets are an Ottawa-based Hip-Hop trio consisting of Ottawa’s most prolific producer Jeepz and emcees Just Peace and Street Scholar. Armed with some of the slickest beats thanks to Jeepz the two emcees don’t shy away from spitting rhymes at the speed of light, but also find comfort in smooth slow jamming.
Wed, July 13, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Kelly Prescott inherited some great musical genes thanks to two great Canadians bloodlines, spanning three generations, and she certainly has not squandered that head start. Her natural country voice over a steel guitar and a fiddle is something of beauty for any fan of traditional country music. She has released music under the name Prescott, Kelly Prescott and with a band The Claytones.
Sat, July 9, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM – CF Rideau Centre (Free Programming)
Not sure if you are feeling roots or soul, well with Kelsey Hayes you don’t have to decide. She combines her powerful soul-jazz vocals over an acoustic guitars and gives you a taste of both on her journey of heartbreak, betrayal and love. Kesley also recently won the MusikOttawa Singer-Songwriter competition in 2015 performing songs off her self-titled debut EP.
Sun, July 17, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Want to actually see some blues at Bluesfest? A novel idea I know. Well if you do you can’t miss Lemeow. Sultry, smooth and all about the blues while still keeping it modern. If you love the sounds of Amy Winehouse and upbeat Adele you will love Lemeow.
Lost to the River
Thu, July 7, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Lost to the River are a dynamic and catchy indie rock band from Ottawa, whose performance always feature a ton of energy. Their songs are intimate, textured, and contain the heart and soul that many of us have come to love about Canadiana folk music. Their critically acclaimed debut received extensive airplay and earned them the 2015 Stingray Rising Star Award.
Sun, July 17, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM – CF Rideau Centre (Free Programming)
Mark Fossen is a perfect fit for anyone looking to sit down and be swept away by a man and his guitar. His soft voice with a little rasp is an incredible conduit for his emotions and stories.
Sat, July 9, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Mehdi Hamdad has been playing music since he was a teenager and he’s been organizing and playing shows for over a decade now. The Mehdi Cayenne Club was formed in 2009, on the day Michael Jackson died — June 25. Mehdi is the songwriter in both French and English for all the songs, but completes his pieces with the help of his bandmates Olivier Fairfield and François Gravel. There are few more fitting stages for a performer as Mehdi playing in the Monster ENERGY stage as he is one of the most energetic and frenetic performers I have ever seen
Sun, July 17, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Merganzer is the new experimental pop project of Violinist Mika Posen (Timber Timbre, Agnes Obel, Forest City Lovers).In 2013 she moved to Berlin where she visited the graves of her favourite composers, experimented with sounds, and began writing and recording music of her own. After returning to Canada in 2015, she mixed her debut record, Mirror Maze. Merganzer’s songs were primarily built using the “mikatron,” a mellotron-style string machine that she created from 90 different samples of her own violin. A Merganzer performance is really quite an experience, and we strongly recommend it.
Monday I Retire
Sun, July 17, 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Monday I Retire are led by the powerful vocals of lead singer Mackenzie Di Millo. The five-piece that gracefully and skillfully blends jazz, soul, blues rock with a hint of pop. A standout and highlight of Monday I Retire sets are your urge to dance and to lose yourself in the trumpet solos.
Thu, July 14, 9:30 PM to 10:45 PM – Barney Danson Theatre with featured guests: Paul DesLauriers, Colin Linden, Sue Foley and Jack Broadbent
Fri, July 15, 9:00 PM to 10:15 PM – Barney Danson Theatre with featured guests: Jack de Keyzer, Jeff Lang, Sue Foley and Paul Reddick
Sat, July 16, 9:30 PM to 10:45 PM – Barney Danson Theatre with featured guests: Paul James, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne and Michael Schatt
Sun, July 17, 9:30 PM to 10:45 PM – Black Sheep Stage with featured guests: Paul Reddick, Lance Anderson and some special surprises
Monkey Junk have quite the interest task and honour at this year’s Bluesfest. The juno award-winners and Ottawa swamp-rock, roots and blues icons will be hosting a not-to-be-missed Blues Revue during the final four days of the ‘fest. Every night they will be joined by different special guests and supported The Texas Horns, a unit that has the ability to adapt on the fly, often minutes before the performance, and have become a permanent fixture at the RBC Bluesfest.
Sat, July 16, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Pipahauntas is local artist Sam Pippa’s (Organ Eyes, Blue Angel) solo project. This project sounds very different from the bands she plays in. No guitar or bass here – she is armed with a laptop, pedals and a microphone, delivering trip hop and lo-fi rumblings. Pipahauntaus’ music is great for late night cruise with your windows down with the wind slowly gracing your cheeks and flowing in your hair.
Pith and the Parenchymas
Sat, July 16, 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM – Black Sheep Stage
Pith and the Parenchymas are a duo employing an extremely modern and spacey blend of folk timbres with the techniques and tools of electronic music. They are breaking down barriers and creating sounds that you won’t find anywhere else. Beware of musical geniuses at work.
Scary Bear Soundtrack
Sun, July 17, 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Scary Bear Soundtrack have a lot kilometers on their treads. The band originally based in Ottawa, packed up and moved to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and has now returned to be based in the nation’s capital. The indie synth-pop project is very politically-conscious and actively promotes inclusion in the Ottawa music scene. Their song “Fault Lines,” about violence against women, made it to the national final Top 4 in CBC Music’s Searchlight competition for Canada’s Best New Artist.
Thu, July 7, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Scattered Clouds is a dark, experimental, post-apocalyptic three-piece rock group, from Hull, QC, led by bassist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Philippe Charbonneau (Hilotrons, Evening Hymns, Jim Bryson). The band also features the wild Mike Dubue (HILOTRONS) and multi-talented drummer Jamie Kronick. A Scattered Clouds show is so powerful as Philippe’s singing will haunt your dreams in the best way possible, while Mike creates sounds most people can’t even think of and as Jamie Kronick puts on a display behind the drums.
Sat, July 9, 6:00 PM to 7:15 PM – Monster Energy Stage
Silver Creek are sometimes soulful, twangy, driving and loud, but never stray far from what they truly are; just a good old rock and roll band. They have been compared to The Band, Allman Brothers, Blue Rodeo and Neil Young, but make sure to carve out their own space to be their own band.
Sun, July 10, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Claridge Homes Stage
Hailing from both sides of the Ottawa River, with family ties and strong friendship the six-piece known as the Steamers play folk music you just have to stomp, clap and sing a long to. They call it power folk and one sing in you will understand as they vary from slow darker sounds to upbeat speedy blasts. Every member of the band sings and they perform both in English and French. There really is something for everyone at a Steamers show.
Steve Adamyk Band
Fri, July 15, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM – City Stage
Steve Adamyk is the most prolific punk rocker in Ottawa if not Canada. The man has been pumping out punk and power-pop for years now. With his band, Steve Adamyk Band, they have sold almost 10,000 physical vinyl records alone and have toured Europe, Japan, U.S. and Canada many times over. If you love quick, catchy, high energy songs and watching a bunch of buddies have an amazing time then you need to see the Steve Adamyk Band perform. They also happen to be playing in the opening slot for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I wonder how many songs they can fit into an hour long set… show up and find out.
Suits n toques
The Chocolate Hot Pockets
Fri, July 15, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
If you’re looking for the real deal when it comes to instrumental musicianship, The Chocolate Hot Pockets are your band. This band takes jazz / fusion, funk and soul and smashes them together for an all-out flurry of sounds from across the musical spectrum. They embrace the weird, and the weird embrace them.
The Heavy Medicine Band
Fri, July 8, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM Claridge Homes Stage
In the musical apothecary, take one part psychedelic onslaught of haunting instrumentals, and one part vocal prowess. Mix the two together and the concoction you end up with will induce tremors of the spine. The Heavy Medicine Band are a force to be reckoned with in Ottawa. Keturah Johnson is easily one of Ottawa’s most stunning and breathtaking vocalists, and her abilities are only accentuated on the live stage. Don’t miss this band.
The Jesse Greene Band
Thu, July 14, 6:00 PM to 6:45 PM – Black Sheep Stage
The Jesse Greene Band are the kind of act that you might expect to find in a Chicago dive bar. As you’re sipping on your whiskey amongst the motley bunch of shady figures, The Jesse Greene Band rocks away in the corner, filling the place with genuine blues rock that doesn’t quit. Greene’s raspy vocals and Luke Donovan’s irresistibly intricate guitar riffs are sure to put the “blues” in Bluesfest this year.
The Jimmy Tri-Tone Band
Sun, July 10, 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM – Black Sheep Stage
This husband-wife duo form Almonte, ON, are just another example of the quality of musicianship coming out of small towns in the Ottawa region. While the spark of romance exists off the stage for this group, there’s no shortage of chemistry on stage either. Take a break and check these guys out for some good ol’ folk rock.
Sat, July 16, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM – City Stage
Let me just start by saying that few bands in town have as much energy on stage as The Lionyls. These guys are a tried and true rock n’ roll band that truly live up to the ferocity in their name. They’re one of those bands that you see jumping around on stage having fun and think to yourself, “how can they still sound so good?” They have perfected the art of groove and are ready to deliver to the crowd at Bluesfest this year.
The Lucas Haneman Express
Fri, July 8, 6:00 PM to 6:45 PM – Black Sheep Stage
This train’s leaving, and you’re going to want to get on board. From quiet and subdued bluesy jams to explosive crescendoes abounding with dynamic riffs and rhythms, The Lucas Haneman Express is a 4-piece blues rock ensemble that electrifies audiences. Whether its on the big stage at Bluesfest, or a smaller one at the Black Sheep Inn, this group will get any crowd in the palm of their hand.
Sun, July 17, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM – City Stage
The Peptides have garnered acclaim and earned a reputation in town for putting on fun, choreographed shows to go along with their music. When you go to see this band, it feels like you’re at a Broadway musical with over-the-top theatrics, wild hair and makeup, and visually stunning stage effects. The Peptides blend all kinds of music, such as pop, funk and soul, to bring us a high-energy, high-octane live shows.
Sun, July 17, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – Monster Energy Stage
The Powergoats are a rock n’ roll outfit that music fans of all ages will appreciate. These guys toy with a lot of different sounds, utilizing more than just guitar and drums – they incorporate piano, daring harmonies, and some pretty rad effects too. You’ll even hear tinges of blues and reggae in their songs, too. Singer Jamie Douglas’ strong stage presence matches the power of the sounds coming out of the speakers, all proving that this isn’t just band with a sweet name.
The Red Rails
Fri, July 15, 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM Claridge Homes Stage
The Red Rails have turned heads in Ottawa since forming in 2012, having played countless shows and given audiences a dose of their brand of rock. Vocalist Kim Vincent’s dynamic vocals could be compared to that of Anthony Kedis or Josh Homme, but the truth is he’s got his own thing going on. The band’s 70’s stadium rock and 90’s grunge influences come through loud and clear, something which will be sure to get audiences moving at Bluesfest this year.
The Slow Century
Sun, July 17, 3:00 PM > 4:00 PM Monster Energy Stage
What if you were sitting at your cubicle, and your co-worker comes up to you and says “Hey, let’s start a band.” Would you do it? Well these guys certainly did. The Slow Century is comprised of a few journalists here in town, Ottawa Sun writers Aedan Helmer and Tony Spears. They began writing different kinds of stories through music once they officially got together in 2013, incorporating bluesy riffage and an alt rock sound that audiences love.
The Wicked Mercy
Sat, July 16, 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM – Monster Energy Stage
When you hear the sound of raw, crunchy, whiskey-soaked rock n’ roll electrifying the airwaves, it’s probably The Wicked Mercy coming to take your soul. OK, maybe not your soul, but their music is a perfect blend of high-energy rock mixed in with some pretty intricate blues-inspired guitar riffs that almost act like a second lead vocalist.
Fri, July 15, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM Claridge Homes Stage
Readers of Ottawa Showbox know very well that The Yips are one of our favourite local bands. Why? They take everything we love about fuzzed-out garage rock and multiply it tenfold. Kerri Carisse’s wild, piercing vocals are infectious and compliment the Jon Schofield’s crunchy lead guitar and Kurt Rafuse’s maniacal bass lines. Catch The Yips for a transformative live experience.
Sun, July 10, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM Barney Danson Theatre
When you first hear Thrust, immediately you know that there’s something special going on. Fusing jazz, funk and soul with elements of hip hop and electronic music, this band takes an improvisational approach to their music and create soundscapes for us to meander in. Using a myriad of instruments, they will leave you wondering how a trio can pack such a punch.
Fri, July 15, 6:00 PM to 6:45 PM – Black Sheep Stage
Training Season is a local hip hop collective is led by rapper/songwriter GPxTempest (aka GP), rapper/songwriter King Caexar (aka Caexar), and singer/songwriter Queen (aka Q). They take minimalist samples and layer some smooth beats and intelligent lyrics to create smooth, jazzy hip hop. Their collabs with producers are on-point, too, and this crew is certainly one to keep an eye out for on the Canadian hip hop scene.
Treasure Dub Quartet
Sat, July 9, 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM – Black Sheep Stage
You don’t see many dub bands these days, and the good stuff – the lo-fi Jamaican recordings – can only be found on our record shelves. But the Treasure Dub Quartet is bringing it back. The band consists of a few extremely prolific Ottawa musicians: Adam Saikaley on guitar; Alex Moxon on bass; Philippe Charbonneau on Dub Station; and Michel Delage on drums. They bring together everything we love about dub of old – groove heavy bass lines, fluttering drum patterns, and trippy sound effects. Light one up for these guys.
Fri, July 8, 9:00 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
The Split have garnered a reputation for inducing hip-moving, booty-shaking dance parties in front of the stage. This veteran neo-soul band takes elements of classic soul music and gives it modern spin. Matthew Chaffey’s distinct vocal style adds some grittiness to their live performance, and fits perfectly with the mean brass section and unrelenting rhythm behind him. Don’t believe me about the dance party thing? Watch the video below.
Thu, July 7, 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM – Barney Danson Theatre
Tyler Kealy is a veteran of the scene, and has been relentlessly active for over a decade. You don’t see many piano players making a name for themselves these days, but Kealy’s style is something music fans of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy. He’s shared the stage with names like Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Blues Brother Dan Ackroyd, and continues to play shows several times per week. He’s getting set to release a new album this summer, but until then catch him play a set at Bluesfest – fittingly at the Barney Danson Theatre.
Sat, July 9, 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM – City Stage
Don’t know Yusso? You should know Yusso. We love Yusso. This guy is a hidden gem of the Ottawa hip hop scene, bringing together unorthodox samples, intelligent lyricism, and a distinct flow. He’s a real-deal emcee and he displays that talent every show he plays. He’s the kind of artist that has something to say, and when he performs he makes sure to deliver that message to audiences.
Another year, another RBC Ottawa Bluesfest announcement – and it came a little bit earlier than expected this year. The festival will be happening July 7 – 17 at the usual LeBreton Flats location, just before two other giant music festivals take place in Toronto and Montreal – WAYHOME & Osheaga, respectively. The Bluesfest organizers have chosen a diverse group of artists this year (around 75 in total with more likely to come), including big names such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Billy Idol, Duran Duran, John Fogerty, and Brad Paisley. However, the talent sure goes a lot deeper than that. We’ve included the full lineup with some videos of artists you may or may not know for you to check out below.
What do you think of this year’s Bluesfest lineup?
For ticket information and purchasing, click here.
– JULY 7 –
SUITS ‘N TOQUES
LOST TO THE RIVER
THE FLAVA FACTORY
BOY & BEAR BOY & BEAR
THE HEAD AND THE HEART
PETER BJORN AND JOHN
– JULY 8 –
FIRE ANTLERS FIRE ANTLERS
THE LUCAS HANEMAN EXPRESS
THE HEAVY MEDICINE BAND
THE FLAVA FACTORY
HARRISON SWEETTASTE KENNEDY
COEUR DE PIRATE
BEN HARPER & THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS
THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH
ALL-STAR BLUES REVUE HOSTED BY THE SPLIT WITH SPECIAL GUESTS
NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS
– JULY 9 –
YOUTH OTTAWA SHOWCASE
SHE’S THE ONE
TREASURE DUB QUARTET
THE FLAVA FACTORY
THE LONDON SOULS
BSOMA AMATEUR COMEDY NIGHT – WINNER
ALL-STAR BLUES REVUE HOSTED BY THE SPLIT WITH SPECIAL GUESTS
– JULY 10 –
GRAND RIVER RAMBLERS
YOUTH OTTAWA SHOWCASE
THE RAMBLIN’ VALLEY BAND
THE JIMMY TRI-TONE BAND
CARSON DOWNEY BAND
THE TEXAS HORNS
– JULY 13 –
SAMANTHA MARTIN & DELTA SUGAR
HALF MOON RUN
– JULY 14 –
THE JESSE GREENE BAND
THE PAUL DESLAURIERS BAND
CASHTRO CROSBY & DJ MES
ALL-STAR BLUES REVUE HOSTED BY MONKEYJUNK WITH SPECIAL GUESTS
CHAMPION AND HIS G-STRINGS
– JULY 15 –
THE CHOCOLATE HOT POCKETS
JACK DE KEYZER
STEVE ADAMYK BAND
THE RED RAILS
ALL-STAR BLUES REVUE HOSTED BY MONKEYJUNK WITH SPECIAL GUESTS –
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
– JULY 16 –
THE RIFLE & THE WRITER
YOUTH OTTAWA SHOWCASE
PITH AND THE PARENCHYMAS
THE FLAVA FACTORY
THE WICKED MERCY
KENNY “BLUES BOSS” WAYNE
THE PAPER KITES
THE FLAVA FACTORY
DURAN DURAN: PAPER GODS TOUR
ALL-STAR BLUES REVUE HOSTED BY MONKEYJUNK WITH SPECIAL GUESTS
– JULY 17 –
YOUTH OTTAWA SHOWCASE
THE FLAVA FACTORY
BLUESFEST COMMUNITY CHOIR
BLUES IN THE SCHOOLS SHOWCASE
THE SLOW CENTURY
BE IN THE BAND SHOWCASE
AMOS THE TRANSPARENT
BARRY AND THE BLASTERS
MONDAY I RETIRE
ROCK U SHOWCASE
SCARY BEAR SOUNDTRACK
BE IN THE BAND INSTRUCTORS’ PRESENTATION
ALL-STAR BLUES REVUE HOSTED BY MONKEYJUNK WITH SPECIAL GUESTS
Unlike the majority of indie bands in Ottawa making high-energy rock music, Saint Clare is a group comprised of seven members of various ages, musical backgrounds, and talents. At first look, one might be taken aback by this unorthodox fusion of musicians—who knows where they found each other and how they came together? But if there’s one thing that Saint Clare has surely achieved in its short existence (est. 2013) it’s honing each and every member’s skill set and developing a truly unique sound to call their own.
The band’s 2013 Half Holy EP was their first attempt at making music together. Very rarely does a band release a debut album, in this case a four-track EP, and make it so clear what it is they’re going for. The layered and intricate instrumentation, high-energy orchestral nuances, and Matthew Saint Clare’s unhinged vocals that can only be compared to those of Frank Black of The Pixies. All of this melds into the distinctive sounds that Saint Clare create together. However motley a crew they may seem, their heterogeneity makes for a potent combination when such strong band chemistry exists.
“My first cassette tape was Born in the USA, my aunt gave it to me,” explains Matthew Saint Clare. “One day when I was like four I was jumping on my bed and playing air guitar on a tennis racket and I woke my sister up and my dad was pissed so he took the tape and crushed it in front of my sad childish eyes. These songs are the result of that.”
Saint Clare’s new album, the five-track Moving On EP, is the logical next step for the band. Recorded and mixed by Jerrett Bartlett at Music for Cats Studio in Ottawa, they take all the aspects that made Half Holy as strong as it was and refined them. Songs such as “East Ending” and “Stranger Than Fiction” utilize the full arsenal of the band and are melodic yet powerful, and as in-your-face as one might expect. There’s a tempered edginess that comes across in these tracks that make the songs less gritty as their Half Holy counterparts, yet the fuzz-pop underpinnings remain intact. It’s the robust kind of rock that you want to hear on the radio, unsanitized and unwavering to the zeitgeist of the day yet accessible to a wide audience of music appreciators.
The mini rock-orchestra still remains intact on this album, and Morgan Grant’s saxophone and Nick DiSaverio’s trombone explode with the same fervour as Dan Devries’ drums or the pervasive guitar parts. However, the Moving On EP is more restrained than their previous work. It contains a few more atmospheric, slowed down songs that demonstrate another side to the band. The title track begins with a twangy, folk-inspired sound and crescendos as the rest of the band jumps in. Another interesting departure was the song “Hang Gliding,” which was sung by guitarist Richard Jeffrey with backing vocals provided by keys player Casey Comeau. Jeffrey, although a different age and voice than Matthew Saint Clare, channels the same energy and style as he does, making his lead vocals on the track a refreshing and appealing change of pace.
The Killers performs live at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Photo: Mark Horton, RBC Bluesfest Press Images
Last night RBC Bluesfest featured some killer indie-rock, nostalgic hip-hop, local punk rock, and filthy, x-rated rap… At least’s that I saw.
The headliners for the evening were The Killers. One of the biggest names in the radio rock world, the boys from Las Vegas put on a stellar show. They rocked out all the hits tens of thousands of their fans wanted to hear, threw in a cover of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” had a ton of energy and a ridiculous light show. I wouldn’t call myself a Killers fan, I can listen to them and bob along. But when they play it is infectious. You can’t help but sing-a-long, as it turns out you know way more songs than you think. Brandon Flower is charismatic pretty-boy with a great voice and an excellent showman. Killers shows feel like a party, and who doesn’t want to party with thousands of other people all singing with you?
During The Killers set I took a walk to check out Phantogram. I am very glad I did. The duo from New York, a four-piece when performing live, make great mix of sounds I can only describe as dream-pop or electronica-inspired atmospheric rock. Another great feature of the band are the complementing male and female vocals. It is very catchy, dancy and fun. I only stayed for a few songs but they had a pretty solid crowd and I would certainly check them out again.
Cypress Hill performs live at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Photo: Mark Horton, RBC Bluesfest Press Images
Behind a constant cloud of haze, Cypress Hill, took many of us back in time. The band that sky rocketed to international fame after their second album, Black Sunday, was amped and more than ready to share their diehard dedication to a certain herb with everyone. Sen Dog and B-Real ran all over the place, joked around, were great with the crowd and looked like they were having a blast. Their setlist was almost as good as how most people felt during the show. “Hand on the Pump,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Get’em Up,” “How I Could Just Kill a Man,” “Dr. Green Thumb,” “Insane in the Brain” and “Rock Superstar,” were all performed to the crowd who loved it. The moments that best exemplifies the entire event is when B-Real, joint in mouth, asked “Hey, all you stoners, where the weed at?” and within seconds a huge puff of smoke appeared above the crowd. The band then launched into the stoner anthem “Inhale, Exhale.” Most people there will be able to see they saw Cypress Hill, but who knows how many will remember it?
As per every Bluesfest day, there is that time in limbo. You might be meeting up or waiting for friends, getting food, needing shade, needing to sit — what have you. It is usually at this time that I will see bands but don’t fully capture their performance. I heard Holy Ghost! playing their 80s-style synth dance pop before Cypress Hill. Also got to check out The Districts for a bit, they were really rocking and it was great background music. Lucky for me I will have a shot to see them again tonight and hopefully pay a little more attention.
The very young crowd upfront for Tyler, The Creator live at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Photo: Mark Horton, RBC Bluesfest Press Images
I remember a few years ago when a bunch of friends were gushing over Tyler, The Creator and recommending him to me. With that in mind I made it a point to check him out. This may have been the mistake of the festival. For someone who clearly has so much talent and is paired with such sick beats thanks to his stellar DJ, it is disappointing how shameful his lyrical content is. With thousands of teens and young adults packed at the stage (as per the image), Tyler was spewing non-stop x-rated misogynistic lyrics. I’m (sort of) young and hip enough that I’m not trashing hip-hop or rap like an old guy or an ignoramus. I was simply disgusted by watching the future of this city singing along to songs glorifying sexual violence and heavy drug use. I don’t know what he is creating exactly, but I would really like to return it to sender.
While watching Tyler, The Creator, sadly somehow, I forgot that one of my favourite local acts Average Times were playing. Fortunately I remembered early enough to scoot over to the River Stage and catch about five songs. I got right up front to headbang and sing. The crowd was sparse, but people were cheering and bobbing along. The garage rockers saved me from the disappointment of watching Tyler, The Creator with bitchin’ tunes like “Summer Nights” and “She Knows.” Thank you Average Times for never letting us down.
The magical and whimsical St. Vincent headlined another amazing night at Bluesfest.
I have seen St. Vincent twice before, once as part of a cover show where she covered Black Star (minds melted) and another time with David Byrne, so I was rather excited to watch her be herself. Let me tell you, my excitement was well deserved. St. Vincent can do no wrong, nothing. A perfect example was how she could play “Cheerleader,” up on what appeared like lit up steps putting her on a pedestal. Her angelic voice winning over the hearts of everyone there, but if for some reason that was not enough, she then later got down and approached the crowd. This is when Annie Clark displayed that she is much more than a pretty face and a pretty voice, but a rocker. She began to shred on her guitar as she leaned on the crowd and bouncers a like. From song to song you never know what you will get as she bends genres and amazes vocally and musically.
Before I fell into a trance at St. Vincent, I nearly lost my voice singing with the Violent Femmes. The only time I saw the Violent Femmes, and maybe the last time they played Ottawa was at The Ex in 1998… I was 11 and my little brother was six. My brother Philip hated the show back then and wanted to leave the entire time. Now 16 years later, my brother and I teamed up to see them again to see the Violent Femmes except this time we sang (screamed) every single word. Much to the delight of everyone, the band played their debut self-titled album from start to finish, a dream come true to be honest. There was something just so amazing of knowing what the next song would be and being so excited every time. Lead singer Gordon Gano did very little talking between songs, but supplied us with a few gems. After “To the Kill” he asked, “does anyone think that sounds like a Gordon Lightfoot song? After all these years of playing it just kind of hit me that it might.” Once the self-tilted tracks were complete, the bands played the song I wanted most, their country horror story, “Country Deathsong.” I would have been completely OK with them walking off then. They had blown me away with a perfect set list, had horns join for some songs, Brian Ritchie absolutely killed it on bass as per usual and the new drummer Brian Viglione often looked like an interpretive dance during the set as he plays the drums standing up. But what is a reunion show without taking it to the next level? The Violent Femmes concluded with “I Dig The Black Girls,” during which Vigilione had everyone in awe with his drum solo, and “American Music.”
One of the few scheduling conflicts for me on this day was Mac DeMarco starting at 7:30 with Violent Femmes hitting the stage at 8. Thus I could only watch the first little bit of this 24-year-old rising star. We got there early and I am glad we did as I got to see a very DeMarco moment. As they finalized their sound check, Mac put a smoke in his mouth and then asked the people in the front row for a lighter. He is such a people person, less a performer and more of a friend you just want to have around your campfire over a couple of beers. I feel like he befriends everyone in his crowd, every show. But I would never discredit how entertaining he is. In the first song of the evening, “Salad Days,” a rock n roll song as he put it, he couldn’t help himself but work his way down from The River stage and onto the barrier to get closer to the crowd. The few songs I caught were great and I must make time to see a full Mac DeMarco set sooner than later, and so should you.
Matt Patton of the band Drive-By Truckers performed at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday July 7, 2014. Photo: Marc Desrosier, RBC Bluesfest Press Images
The day was full of pop-country acts that are really not my cup of tea. One country act I did catch was Drive-By Truckers. They are a refreshing band with some pretty solid talent and good storytelling in a genre that is sadly lacking these days. They also have the happiest bass player in the entire industry. Sporting a bob cut like 60s British pop stars and smiling from ear to ear the entire set, his happiness was contagious. The band put on a pretty good show around supper time and I really like the contrast between the two singers’ voices. The songs that really caught my attention were “Shit Shots Count” and “Mercy Buckets.”
With a little lull in the action and not knowing any bands playing at the time I picked the one with the most intriguing name, Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar. I certainly picked very well as the band’s gypsy rock styling from Germany had me dancing and cheering. The rest of the crowd took a little convincing, “I think you might need to do drugs or drink more or something,” said Shantel. “We expected dancing, not camping (referring to people in camping chairs)… We wanted to see hyperactive people but we only see people.” Equipped with two trombones, guitar, bass, keys, drums and a whole lot of energy the band slowly won everyone over. The turning point was their ultra-dancy jump in the air song “Disko Partizani.” After that every time they asked people to sing along or jump, they got what they asked for from at least 10 to 12 rows of people. This crowd participation spawned a really cool moment later on when the drummer left his kit and got everyone in the crowd to get real low and had them all stay there until the slow song picked up and everyone leaped into action. It was a beautiful moment for a band playing in front of mostly all new fans, including this guy. I am so excited for Gogol Bordello on Thursday now.
The other conflict in my day was between local talent Tindervox and out-of-town pop-punkers Joyce Manor. I split it in half, starting with Tindervox. When preparing my local preview piece I checked out Tindervox kind of liked their sound. But after seeing them live, they won me over. From the opening track “Be My Baby,” it was clear that I was not attending a typical show that the Barney Danson Theatre hosts. Tindervox were the most boisterous and distortion heavy act I have ever seen in the theater. Watching the lead singer/guitarist going back and forth to her amp shaking it for that little extra distortion was great. Hopefully next time I will be able to catch more than 15-20 minutes. With three songs done I scooted back outside to the Blacksheep Stage for Joyce Manor. The four-piece from California look like a bunch of teenagers or in their early 20s, but don’t let that stop you. They are about to release their third album and make amazingly catchy songs. The songs that really had me going were “Constant Headache,” “Leather Jacket” and “Heart Tattoo.” Joyce Manor may take home the crown of most songs per minute as they blasted through a ton of quick short songs. Check these guys out for sure and convince an Ottawa promoter to bring them back for a real full set.
Getting my day started was local act Boyhood. It was very strange for me to see this often eerie-sounding band I normally see in dark and dimly-it bars play under the blistering 2pm sun, and I was not alone. After a few songs lead singer Caylie Runciman said “There is something wrong about playing at two in the afternoon when it’s not during Ottawa Explosion.” Watching Boyhood was a great way to start the day as there were so many friends also in attendance to support them. Also nice to see was the amount of younger people dancing and up at the barrier. I think Boyhood also made some new fans, the free t-shirt toss probably didn’t hurt.
The longest day of Bluesfest 2014 so far began with hardly a cloud in the sky, and the sun beating down on many soon-to-be-burnt-to-a-crisp bodies. I wrote about this last year, but I was a little bummed to see that more people didn’t come out to see some of the local artists earlier in the day – especially since it was sold out for Lady Gaga later on. However, a nice little crowd gathered for Kalle Mattson in the early afternoon at the Claridge Homes Stage.
Kalle Mattson has had a great year so far – he released an acclaimed album that garnered a 7.6/10 on Pitchfork (not an easy feat!), a few European tours, a nomination for the Polaris Music Prize long list, article written by yours truly for Mixtape Magazine, and now playing the big stage at Bluesfest. He played many songs from his new record Someday, the Moon Will Be Gold such as “An American Dream,” as well as my personal favourite, “Darkness.” The depth of his most recent work clearly translates live, as his vocals go from whisper to crescendo with his band staying strong behind him. Kyle Woods’ drumming keeps the emotional expulsion in time, but also adds to softer and often heart-clenching moments. The performance resonated amongst those listening intently, and although it wasn’t as filled with people as we would have liked, the audience showed their support and were thoroughly entertained throughout.
Blakdemin playing on the Black Sheep Stage at RBC Bluesfest 2014. Photo: Matías Muñoz
I missed the last bit of Kalle’s set to check out Blakdenim, a relatively new and exciting hip hop/soul/jazz group here in Ottawa. This nine-piece outfit combines impressive instrumental arrangements, vocal hooks, technically strong rapping, a DJ on the decks, a brass section, percussionists, and backing vocals to give a full and soulful sound to their music. I was not too familiar with their music before this set since I had never caught them live, but I’d heard a lot of great things about this band over the last year. They are a must-see band here in Ottawa, as they break down barriers not only with their genre-spanning style, but with politically charged and socially conscious lyricism. The performance was briefly halted when some lady working for the festival came on stage right before their last song, took one of the stage mics and asked someone with a certain licence place number to come see her immediately. The MC, Precise Kenny Creole, then grabbed the mic and said, “You also have to buy our album too, whoever you are.” It definitely relieved the awkwardness of her interrupting the set. They played a lot of really great songs including a dope funky cover of “So Fresh, So Clean” by Outkast, but my favourite track was “Horticulture” off their new album VANGARD(EN) which you can listen to here.
I also got to check out a bit of The Digs, who are a “neo-soul” group who have a weekly funk night at The Drake in Toronto. Although I didn’t see much of their set, it was obvious that everyone on stage loved playing music together. They did their own interpretation of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” which caught many people’s attention, and it’s the reason I was pulled into their tractor beam while walking by. Kids and moms were dancing their hearts out up until the minute the band left the stage.
One of the acts I was looking forward to most today was Black Joe Lewis, who played at the Bell Stage. Formerly known as Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, our man Joe decided to lose the adorable name for his backing band and deliver that in-your-face, bluesy garage rock sound on his new record Electric Slave. His music at times reminds me of some gritty and raw combination of early Black Keys and White Stripes. While still a newcomer to his music, I’ve really gotten into this latest album of his in the last little while. Yup, it’s the kind of album that can only be listened to at a grossly inappropriate volume. My favourite song is “Skulldiggin,” which is all-out distorted, raw blues rock. Yes, there were a lot of elaborately dressed Lady Gaga fanatics bored out of their minds listening to iPods during his set, but a few of them were bobbing their heads. Not bad for a group of hardcore Gaga fans who showed up four hours before her set to stake their claim to a close spot…
Last for me, but not least, was Matt Andersen & the Mellotones. Once again, I had seen a few videos of this guy playing solo but had never familiarized myself with his music very much. I was pretty impressed by what I had seen in the past, but always just assumed that he was just a viral video craze not unlike the story of Gotye – a talented artist who was bound to be estranged by the very people to whom he owed his fame. However, I was seriously mistaken.
This hefty fellow from New Brunswick absolutely stole the show (at least until Lady Gaga wore an octopus dress). While his version of blues rock is a little too clean for my taste, there is no debating that this man belongs on stage. With nine guys behind him backing him up, his booming voice filled Lebreton Flats and definitely caught people’s attention as they began to flood in for latter acts of the day. I really enjoyed his song “My Last Day,” which is inspired by musicians who have passed away and is about what he would do if it were his last day on earth. But the absolute high point for me was his version of Joe Cocker’s version of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Let’s just say it was the closest I’ll probably ever come to experiencing Woodstock ’69, as Matt harnessed the spirit of Cocker’s groundbreaking performance.
Although I was disappointed that I had to miss Andrew Bird, it was another day of discovering great new music and enjoying the summer sun at one of the biggest weekends of the year in Ottawa.
The first day of RBC Ottawa Bluesfest began much like it has in previous years – a flood of humans hoarding towards Lebreton Flats to feast on the biggest festival of the year in Ottawa. The clouds were ominous and it had rained intermittently throughout the day, so many were surely nervous about the prospect of getting poured on all night (especially since it was pretty chilly out). But that didn’t stop the hoard. With the Claridge Homes Stage now at the far end of the flats taking up the space where the entrance normally is, the lineup was an absolute nightmare. *TIP* – GET TO BLUESFEST EARLY. SEE LOCAL ACTS. BEAT HELLISH LINES. But concert-goers were in good spirits and mother nature was cooperating as the festivities got under way.
Let me make an observation about this year’s festival. The sheer number of people on the grounds is staggering. I’m saying this as a good thing, mostly. I am starting to get the feeling that Bluesfest is outgrowing the space at Lebreton Flats. And as exciting as it is to see our little city have one of the best music festivals in the world, the bottlenecks are getting worse, beer lines are a bummer, and the hoard at the entrance was jaw-dropping. More than ever before, I looked out into the crowd and realized that the pants Bluesfest used to wear simply don’t fit any more. Not a bad problem to have I suppose.
Amos the Transparent on Day 1 of RBC Ottawa Bluesfest 2014. Photo: Matías Muñoz
I missed Danny Brown because of work, and the world did not end. But I was lucky to catch most of Amos the Transparent‘s set at the Black Sheep Stage as I wormed my way through the crowds. They played some great songs from their catalogue, including one of the catchiest tunes ever written in Ottawa, “Says the Spark” off 2011’s Goodnight My Dear, I’m Falling Apart (download it free here). Amos is releasing their new concept album This Cold Escape later this year, and I was lucky enough to catch up with Dan Hay a few months back to talk a bit more about it. With all the mystery surrounding their new release, it was a treat to hear new tunes like “This Cold Escape” and “Death & Uncertainty.” With Jonathan Chandler’s rich beard in full force, the band dominated the stage and played to their strengths to old fans and new listeners in the crowd. It was nice to see some of the younger high school kids getting into it as well, as Amos has been a staple here in Ottawa for years. The band’s newest member Olenka was on point with her vocals, meshing with the rest of the band really well and demonstrating that a little chemistry can go a long way. Once again, Amos proved why they are one of the leading bands to come out of Ottawa.
Tegan and Sara performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 3, 2014. Photo: Mark Horton, RBC Bluesfest Press Images
Once again I slithered through the crowd, past some bright pink urinals, past delicious smells from the food vendors, past a few asshole lawn chairs in the middle of the busiest thoroughfares between stages, over a few high school kids inexplicably laying down, and so forth. When I made it to the Claridge Homes Stage for Tegan and Sara, they had already opened with their song “You Drove Me Wild”… at least I think that was the first song. I have never been one of those Tegan and Sara super fans. I was never super excited to see them live or be on top of new releases from them over the years. I was just never that excited. But now it was my turn to finally see them live. I tend to reserve my final opinions about a band until I see them live in order to get a real idea of what they’re all about.
I was really impressed with their stage setup, the lights, and the sound of the whole performance. I liked that they took the time to talk to the crowd in between songs, messing around and having fun. There was no pretension or sense of “we’re doing you a favour by being here” that sometimes happens at these types of festivals. They were cool, laid back, and extremely entertaining.
Earlier on in the set, one of the ladies mentioned that Ottawa Bluesfest 2013 was their best show last year, and that this year’s crowd had a lot to live up to. The audience responded with a wave of cheers and applause, making sure that Tegan and Sara enjoyed themselves this time around. With the clouds parting and the beautiful orange and purple colours beaming from the west, Tegan and Sara played great songs one after the other. One of my favourites was “Walking With a Ghost” off their 2007 album So Jealous. They told us that they were going to play a few older songs, that one included, from back in the day – joking around that maybe they would even dig into their demos from 1998. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but their set was stuffed with fun, upbeat tunes as well as a few slower, more serious ones. I realized how good these ladies were the moment I looked around and saw kids, teenagers, 20-somethings, middle-aged men, mothers, and grandmas all singing the hook to the song “I Was a Fool” together.
They ended with the international mega-hit song “Closer” and everyone went wild. I have to admit, it’s one hell of a fun and catchy song. Now that I’ve finally seen Tegan and Sara live, I can honestly say I appreciate their music much more. I had never given them a fair chance, but their charming antics on stage along with their incredible performance made me realize why they are as big as they are. They’re hard workers and it shows. I think that this goes to show the importance of live music to a band’s career – there has to be a separation between what happens in the studio and what happens on stage. If a group can captivate an audience on stage without simply trying to reproduce their studio sound (i.e. incorporating other ‘entertaining’ elements) then that, to me, is the sign of true artists. Tegan and Sara wrapped up the night for me, as I didn’t stick around for Blake Shelton. Why? Because a) don’t get me started on country music, and b) The Voice is the epitome of what is wrong with the music industry today.
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips performs at Bluesfest in 2011. Photo by Patrick Doyle/Ottawa Bluesfest/Canadian Press
Life is pretty hectic in Showboxland with festival season in full swing. So for this week’s Throwback Thursday let me take you back to Bluesfest 2011, to an article I wrote but that was never published. It was also included in my first email to Matias when I was applying to become a writer with Showbox. Here is my Flaming Lips experience.
Multi-coloured air raid sirens, smoke machines, huge balloons, confetti canons, rainbow covered gear, lead singer Wayne Coyne in a bubble walking over the crowd and a ton of people on stage dressed up as the cast of the Wizard of Oz, and that was just during the first song, “Warm Mountain.” (video below)
What can I say, it was a Flaming Lips show!
And just when you were thinking, what will these guys do next, they bring out a 12-foot tall inflatable man with a star head and a walrus man mascot to dance with the Dorothys, tin men, lions and scarecrows during “Vaseline.”
Coyne, who is always very vocal and always wanting more from the crowd and always wanting to be one with the his audience, explained why the band wrote “The Yeah Yeah Yeah song.”
“This song is so old it was written because we were frustrated at our former [US] President Bush,” said Coyne. “We often sing and write songs mostly about things you can’t control, but singing about it makes it less scary and you feel like you have more power. When people sing together we get a sense of all being one, we want to be one, we will sing together now to be one.”
Throughout the set, one of the members of the stage crew, hurled large balloons full of confetti at Coyne, who exploded it with the neck of his guitar. It was like watching a recreational soft ball league, but with way more confetti.
Just before the band launched into “Is David Bowie Dying?” Coyne said he had something very important to explain to the crowd. “This next song, Steven [Drozd] will not be playing his guitar, he will not be playing the keys, he will be playing his cell phone. I just don’t want you to think he is checking his ever growing Twitter account during the song.”
Coyne continued to interact with the crowd asking who was smoking “the pot,” then added “oh it must be the dudes from Edward Sharpe smoking all that.” Edward Sharpe had played earlier that day.
The Flaming Lips later launched into my favourite song “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2,” and the crowd erupted and sang along as they had been all show. Coyne stopped the song before the final chorus and had everyone turn around and look at the sunset, adding “Let’s make this a psychedelic Canadian summer sunset.”
Unfortunately all shows must come to an end, but it being the Flaming Lips you knew they were going to go out with a bang. Playing the very popular “Do You Realize?” they began to unload the confetti cannons on queue with every time Coyne sang the words “do you realize?” and to top it off there were fireworks going off overhead. Pretty epic to say the least!