RBC Bluesfest Day 1: Amos the Transparent + Tegan and Sara

Bluesfest aerial view

Photo: John McQuarrie, RBC Bluesfest Press Images

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.

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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.

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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.