(photos: Mike Bouchard)
That's right folks, we're well into festival season now, and arguably the biggest of the O-Town fests got off to a nice, sweaty start last night.
Getting from work to the festival is sometimes a bit of a struggle, so the first thing we managed to catch was a short snipet of the Bahamas set. If you walked in when we did, you might not have recognized that it was Afie Jurvanen up on the Black Sheep Stage. Instead of his usual, laid back style of indie-rock, him + band were adding to the sweatfest with a bumping cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" Proving he's got confidence for days, next was a twangy, upbeat-take on Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" which the crowd seemed to really enjoy (something about that guitar riff gets people going). Unfortunately that's all we really got to sample, since it's a fest after all, and other stages were calling our name. Fortunately Bahamas is Canadian, and with any luck we'll catch their next Ottawa show.
Down a stage this year, strolling from the Black Sheep Stage to the River Stage you'll pass the "Red Bull Live" area, where you can lounge on bean bags whilst DJ's lull you into sound comas. Nice for those who like to take a load off, but over here we want the actual live music.
That's exactly what we got landing at The River Stage. As the crowd quietly waited for Austrailia's The Cat Empire, I overheard a lot of "who are these guys" and "I've never heard of them," despite the fact they've been around for 14 years. Then the silence was broken with a huge rendition of "Steal the Light" and there was nothing to be heard but solid trumpets, killer percussion and the stomp of dancing feet. Aussies are used to the heat, and the energy from front men Felix Riebl (persussion/vocals) and Harry James Angus (trumpet/vocals) manged to infect the whole crowd of heat-strucken Canadians before them. While most of the set consisted of funky-ska tunes perfect for a summer evening under a gorgeous sunset (this is the best part about the River Stage), the midway point got a little, uh, gypsy with songs like "The Wine Song." By this point the crowd was massive, many lured over by the trumpets no doubt, and dance circles erupted between strangers all across the lawn. Things I heard as we were leaving: "THAT WAS AMAZING!"
Which brings us to our Bell Stage headliner: The Black Keys. While many missed their performance last year after running home from the rain, those who stayed were blown away by the show. Needless to say, there was a lot of hype for this year, and it felt like EVERYONE at the festival had gathered infront of the stage. Opening the set with crowd pleaser "Howlin' for You" you'd think everyone would've been howling...but no such luck. Turns out sound quality was compromised depending on where you were standing, so people started howling "turn it up" and "louder." Again, no luck, and for many it sounded like a concert from tweaky iphone speakers. Those who could hear fine, got an amazing show (the set list was drawn primarily from their album El Camino), with an especially gorgeous rendition of "Little Black Submarines" partway through. Finishing with a studio perfect version of "Lonely Boy" even those in the poor sound section left smiling.
Many people who couldn't enjoy the show, left. Alex Clare's high energy show managed to take in a lot of those fans, and I heard many saying it was the highlight of their night. There's a good lesson festival goers: if you aren't enjoying a show, leave. It's a festival afterall, and there's always something else happening at another stage.
Here's a small snippet from the Empire Grill area at the right of the stage.