Another long day packed with audio stimuli began just after midday on Sunday, July 6, at Ottawa Bluesfest. Entering the gates, I B-lined it straight for the Bell Stage where I got set to catch my first local act of the festival, Steve Adamyk Band. As far as local punk goes, the Steve Adamyk Band are an Ottawa favourite for lots of reasons. They united from former Ottawa punk/hardcore bands (respectively) Million Dollar Marxists and Sedatives, and have released an impressive collection of material since coming together in 2010. Their 80’s-inspired “power pop with a punk edge” has made them a fixture in the Ottawa punk scene and on Ottawa Explosion Weekend, and now Bluesfest. Their sound is undeniably lovable, albeit not overly complex or novel, but is genuinely unpretentious and fun for all.
They opened their set with the two opening tracks “Not a Witness” (one of my personal favourites by SAB) and “Had a Heart Attack” off their latest record, Third, and also threw some older material such as “Not For Long”, “Speed it Up”, and “Landslide” throughout the performance. The band was full of energy and surely would have started a mosh pit had the few people in the crowd not been die-hard Wu-Tang fans (who were scheduled to play on the same stage later that evening). However, there were a few of us there who enjoyed every minute of their set, and were really happy just to see such a good local band on the big stage. I don’t think I’ve heard a bad song from these guys yet.
At this point, I felt a little frustrated that people weren’t showing up to support their local bands. I thought there would be some of the loyal followers in the scene there, but it seemed like there were three of us actually enjoying SAB. I think it’s great that Bluesfest allots space for local acts, but I just don’t understand why people wouldn’t show up for such a good band, especially if they paid for their full pass. In my experience, festivals are a great opportunity to surprise yourself by checking out acts that you may not be familiar with. Here’s a demonstration of how I felt:
Fans during Steve Adamyk Band’s set:
What fans SHOULD have been doing during Steve Adamyk Band’s set:
Afterwards, I wandered over to the Claridge Stage to see another local band called FEVERS. I’ve really enjoyed seeing this band grow since the first time I saw them at an acoustic ‘4in1’ Music Session in May of 2012. Their dark, synth-based elecro-pop music captured my attention right away when I began scouring the local music scene, and their upcoming album No Room For Light is a much-anticipated local release this summer (due out August 27th, 2013). Their set consisted of nearly all brand new material, except for their finale “Passion is Dead (Long Live Fashion)”. I hadn’t heard most of these songs before, but I can say that I was thoroughly impressed with the composition and diversity of the new tracks. Lead vocalist Sarah Bradley’s vocals were off the chart, as her confidence and comfort on stage seems to have grown significantly since last time I saw FEVERS live last year. I was really blown away by her performance at Ottawa Rock Lottery 5.o with local one-off supergroup Black Usher, as she didn’t shy away from complete vocal supremacy. In songs like “Monuments”, the power and beauty of her voice helped the audience connect with some of the newer material. The rest of the band also sounded great, as it was apparent that FEVERS had tightened up their new material in anticipation for this performance. At times, the sound seemed to be off kilter, but by no fault of the band. I have come to realize that this is a recurring problem this year at Bluesfest. I was extremely impressed by the band’s performance, and cannot wait for their album release party on August 24th. Oh yeah, there was a dude with a morph suit in front of me too, which looked something like this:
[bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=2993632122 size=small bgcol=333333 linkcol=0f91ff]
I took a little break in the afternoon due to torrential rain. After eating, changing clothes, and returning to LeBreton Flats, I caught up with my blogging compadre Eric Scharf for Everlast and then saw Wu-Tang (read his experience here). It was pretty cool hearing that raspy-ass voice of Everlast that everyone loves, and “What It’s Like” was one of the first tunes I learned on guitar. Part of me secretly wants to chain smoke until my voice sounds like his, but that’s probably not a great idea. Was really hoping to hear House of Pain renditions too, but maybe that was asking too much. He did play a really funky Johnny Cash cover of Folsom Prison, which he adapted really well with his band. Oh yeah, one other thing. Please don’t bring over-sized golf umbrellas to music festivals, because you will incite hatred in the hearts of true music fans who paid money to actually see the stage. Damn you big umbrella people. Damn you.
Wu-Tang was fucking awesome. We were throwing those “W’s” up like we just didn’t care. The whole clan was great, but Method Man absolutely stole the show. He was pumped up, and he definitely breathed new life into the crowd. One of the highlights was when he convinced fans to start a giant mosh pit during the song “Gravel Pit”, a request to which they quickly obliged. Wu’s DJ, Allah Mathematics, also showed off his skills by spinning and scratching vigourously, doing so behind his back and with his feet (no big deal). I had seen Wu-Tang once before in New York City at Rock The Bells hip-hop festival in 2007 and I can honestly say their set at Bluesfest was equally as memorable. They were playing all the songs we wanted to hear – C.R.E.A.M., Ain’t Nothin’ Ta Fuck Wit, Ice Cream, Gravel Pit, Triumph, and an ODB tribute Shimmy Shimmy Ya. I was thinking of Eric and his brother, who is a huge Wu-Tang fan but has recently suffered from debilitating vision problems, screaming “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ ta fuck wit” at the top of their lungs.
It is customary to make these hand signs at a Wu-Tang concert:
Nearing the end of the night, I had to decide whether to see Tegan and Sara at the main stage or stay at the River Stage to see Hannah Georgas and Diamond Rings. I chose the latter, and I don’t regret it at all. Hannah’s voice was impeccable, and the overall sound was excellent at this stage (finally). The instruments didn’t overpower her voice at all, nor were any of them difficult to hear. To my surprise, I looked to my right and saw Ottawa indie music legends Jim Bryson and Kathleen Edwards beside me enjoying Hannah’s set. Kathleen seemed to be enjoying herself by dancing to the music and sipping on a beer, not to mention with a beautiful sunset falling over the river. Hannah also captured the audience by performing a heart-wrenching ode to her father, who had passed away.
Last act of the night for me was Diamond Rings (read my 2012 interview with him here). Diamond Rings a.k.a John O’Regan is no stranger to Ottawa Bluesfest, having played in years past with D’Urbervilles and in 2011 touring off his first album Special Affections (2010). Coming off a pretty monumental performance at Ritual in December of last year, playing in front of an excitable and energetic crowd outdoors by the river seemed like a perfect follow-up. His crew of cool, shade-wearing bandmates came on stage and took their places, as a leather-vested Diamond Rings flew on stage singing “All the Time”. The crowd was ecstatic as he rolled into the next song, “Runaway Love”, which is one of my favourites by him. At one point, he jumped off the stage to come face to face with the crowd and nearly bailed on a tarp covering the front-of-stage speakers. Luckily, he is tall and nimble, and recovered with grace. He played older songs off Special Affections such as “Wait & See”, and “It’s Not My Party”, as well as newer material off Free Dimensional (2012) like “A to Z”, “Stand My Ground, and “I’m Just Me”. The night ended perfectly with O’Regan coming back on stage to play “All Yr Songs”, one of his most lovable tunes, by himself.
This packed day was probably the best experience I have had at Bluesfest since I started going about five years ago. Keep on rockin’ in the free world.