Bluesfest day 10: B.B. King Retains his crown as the King of Blues


Anyone who thought Saturday was rough, would have died Sunday. It was the hottest day of the year so far, and it marked a scorching hot conclusion to Bluesfest.

What helps in this kind of heat? “Lemonade,” of course, which is the song John Carroll and The Epic Proportions opened up with. Maybe they were trying to project some refreshments on us as they played at 1:45 under the blistering sun. Readers know I have drank John Carroll’s kool-aid. I love his sound and on-stage banter.  He once again delivered. “If you like smoking and drinking, this song is for you. If you like smoking and drinking at 1 PM, this song is really for you,” and they played “Everybody Smokes in Hell.” They always impress me just a little more, and this time it was the amazing lap-steel guitar playing of Fred Guignon that did it.

After retreating to the shade for a bit and hydrating (yes, I drank water mom) it was time to re-emerge and head to the Bell Stage for more local content. Miss Polygamy played some rock with steady blues and folk sound. My favourite song they performed was “Cocaine Kisses.”  They also made me laugh pretty hard when the singer said, “In case you did not know we are Skrillex, I just grew the rest of my hair out.” Another great element of their set was the involvement of many local musicians that joined them, including a banjo player and a violinist.

It was once again time for the shade.  The prime location was the tree covered hills just left of the walkway when heading towards the Black Sheep Stage.  There was only one little bummer about this location.  On this day in particular, it was the “Blues in the School” showcases. Now I am not putting these kids down because it takes a lot of courage for a high school kid to get on stage in front of a Bluesfest crowd but some songs were, shall I say, hard to listen to.  The one shout out I have to make though is to the kids who did the U2 cover of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” that was very well done.

Still hankered down in the shade, I could hear the smooth sensual blues of King King grooving at the River Stage. I wish I had I not been so much in survival mode and had checked them out a little more, but from what I could hear they were awesome.  I really liked their jam “What Am I Supposed To Do.” King King are a must listen for real fans of the blues.

With the distortion blaring, Alice in Chains were rocking out to thousands of adoring fans. Opening with ”Dem Bones,” it was chilling how much William DuVall sounds like Layne Staley (the original singer). I closed my eyes and felt teleported back to the 90’s. The band had no idea what to expect from Ottawa at 5 pm.  I am pretty sure DuVall mentioned how hot it was between every song, capped with him saying it is a ”hot son of a bitch today.”  I can’t blame him, I think my sweat was sweating at this point. I really liked the heavy riffs of the new single, ”Stone” off their latest album. But of course I am a fan of the older stuff, and hearing ”Man in a Box” and ”Rooster” live had me wishing for a grunge revival.

William DuVall (right) and Mike Inez (left) of Alice in Chains performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 14th, 2013 ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO/Mark Horton
William DuVall (right) and Mike Inez (left) of Alice in Chains performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 14th, 2013 ~ RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO/Mark Horton

The next person on my list was Serena Ryder. I haven’t listened to much of her music, other than her hit ”Merry-go-round.” I found her to be very fun and inspirational live. Her songs range from happy tracks with a ton of energy to  melancholy jazzy blues, such as ”For You.” Her voice in ”For You” brought chills down my spine and made me feel like this is the closest I will ever get to seeing Amy Winehouse live. Serena Ryder is a very thankful person who has suffered through years of clinical depression. She found what she needed though. ”Music is the best medicine to overcome anything,” she said before playing the great ”Mary Go Round.” I can relate 100% with that sentiment.  I can only hope that more and more people with positive messages and such a beautiful voice make it popular.

It was now time for the king.  B.B. King took to the Claridge Stage and the biggest crowd ever at a side stage flocked to see him. It was pandemonium between all the lawn chair people (I HATE YOU) and the thousands upon thousands of people standing. Sitting on his chair, I am not sure who the show was really for. I think the show was more for his entertainment than ours. The 87-year-old, he reminded us of his age often, was all smiles and laughter all set. He was constantly chatting with audience members and handing guitar picks to bouncers to distribute. When he wasn’t chatting, him and his excellent backing band, played some beauty blues songs.  He may not be as technical as he once was (he is 87 for God’s sake) but the man puts on a show.  With Dog Blood anxiously waiting to take over the main stage, B.B. King kept on playing. He played more than 15 minutes over his time, and when his stage crew tried to convince him to get off stage he said, ”Don’t rush an old man!” I am sure most people in attendance would have loved for B.B. to play all night, alas that was not the case.

Dog Blood were tasked with closing out Bluesfest this year.  Yeah, you read correctly–not the king of blues, but two DJs, Skrillex and Boys Noize. I enjoy dubstep when done well, so I decided to give them a chance, even though Los Lobos were playing on the River Stage. It was not long before I found their repetitive dance music, lacklustre light show and complete lack of dub boring. Maybe I am finally getting old, but I left and was much happier at Los Lobos.

Escaping the noise to be rewarded with Latino infused blues rock was one of the better decisions I made all festival. Los Lobos were great. I loved the very bluesy song ”That Train Don’t Stop Here.” There was a good mix of English songs and Spanish songs. The Latin flare had me dancing up a storm, my hips could not lie. Unfortunately, Los Lobos were being Skrillexed. Being Skrillexed is when the obnoxious bass and over the top sounds from an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) set drowns out your sound. The guys of Los Lobos were clearly frustrated, adding after one song, ”What is that noise?” None the less they played an excellent set where the sax man blew me away. At another point, during one song they called up two members of Los Lonely Boys to have four guitarists, two full drum kits, one bass and one sax on stage. The frustration of being Skrillexed got to them though and they ended their set rather early with no encore. They did finish with ”La Bamba” which is always fun.  The last thing they told us was ”Be careful leaving, over there they are all on ecstasy.”

So that is it. Eleven days, ten of them with shows, countless artists, many late nights, torrential rain and scalding heat, I survived my first time blogging every day of Bluesfest.  All I have to say is next year can’t come soon enough!  Keep an eye out for my Bluesfest wrap-up piece with some lists of my favourite things and least favourite of the festival.  Also be sure to check out the Bluesfest review on Lunch Out Loud Ottawa, where Matias, Ellie Laberge, Aeden Helmer and myself sat down with Nick Bachusky.

On a personal note…this is my 50th post since joining Ottawa Showbox in February. I look very much forward to hitting 100!