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Ottawa Bluesfest - Blueslog Part 2


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Blueslog Part 2

Ottawa Bluesfest - 2006 - Ottawa, ON

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by: Todd Snelgrove

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Ani DiFranco

photo: Mike Bouchard

Blueslog, part II

Holy wow, these festival things can be hard on a guy. For some reason I feel about eight years older than I did at last years' Bluesfest. Maybe it's got something to do with this big heavy lawnchair I'm hauling around this year.

I tried like crazy to get down to the site for the opening of the gates but didn't get there until early into Jamie Lidell's set. He was really good but his band sucked. More to the point, the computer that he was using as backup music kept cacking out on him, producing a high squeal that was exactly the pitch that causes my brain to grind against my skull in such a fashion as to make the world remarkably intolerable. I found a stage that was between acts, put my head between my ankles and wept myself back to a semblance of sanity.

It's too bad, I heard the rest of Lidell's set was great.

Caught as much of the Detroit Women as I could and parked my carcass at the front of the Black Sheep Stage in anticipation of ukulele phenom Jake Shimabukuro, which proved to be another mistake. I mean, this guy is a damn fine uke player, a nice thoughtful writer, and a hell of an arranger, but I found him impossible to watch. While he flawlessly tore through piece after piece of gorgeous music he over-emoted to the point of nausea. Eyes tightly clamped shut and head shaking from side to side towards heaven at every trilled note; it's obvious this guy spent some time busking for tourist dollars back home in Hawaii. Lose the shtick man, you don't need it whatsoever. When I looked away it was brilliant, just like the GE Smith years on SNL.

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Ani DiFranco came out on the Main Stage with just her guitar and a double-bass player and played a great set. I find her music well suited to sparse instrumentation, there's room for introspection in her thoughtful pieces and enough clarity to really hear her play on the more rocking songs. Up next was Michael Franti and Spearhead, and say what you want to, it's a great feel-good dance-a-thon and the man is singing about all the right things. He makes me want to give him a big old bearhug.

I made a point of bouncing over to Solomon Burke at the MBNA Stage and what I saw surprised me. This legend is a big, big man, maybe 500lbs or so, and he sings from an enormous throne (yes, a throne) wearing a black sequin tuxedo. It was not unlike watching Jabba the Hutt sing at a wedding. He is a legend however, and he can still sing. He had the Detroit Women on stage with him and he put on a good quality Vegas-type show, which is generally all that is expected of most performers of that era. Made another bounce to the remarkably commercially successful African group Amadou & Mariam over at Black Sheep, who were great; for some I sure it was the set of the festival. I felt drawn back to the Main Stage to continue in the How You Feelin' drinking game. I must admit, Michael Franti took it easy on us, but he still belted out his favourite catchphrase enough times to make me nice and wobbly on my way home.

On Monday I only made it onsite in time to bounce back and forth between Sam Roberts and Rickie Lee Jones. Sam might just be the Next Big Thing. He's a good looking guy with a kickass band and they pump out some great arena-rock anthems. The new album is solid and these guys might just cost a hell of a lot more money to bring back next year. Rickie Lee Jones wasn't arena-anything. Oh, if only Bluesfest had a Smoky Nightclub Stage for sets like these. She was great, and if she did show her age a little bit it didn't interfere with the intensity and honesty that she put behind each note she sang. It's nice to see someone that could be tired out playing with such exuberance. She did end her set a little early blaming the rain, though not until after finally giving the audience her signature song, Chuck E's In Love, a tune she wrote when she was dating the great Tom Waits.

The rain did get pretty intense but it was pretty close to closing time anyway. At least the weather is being somewhat reasonable so far this year.

Tuesday was another late start for me, and again I just bounced between two stages. I started with Mofro, playing their second ever Ottawa show, the first being their set at last year's Bluesfest. These guys sound to me like the Allmans without the screaming guitars, and I like them a lot. This was their first of two sets at the festival this year, and though it started out a little slow by the end it was a raging swirl of southern sounds that was virtually hypnotizing.

In between I spent some time at the Black Sheep Stage hanging out with everyone I knew, all of which seemed to be enjoying Son Volt. I had a hard time paying attention to the band because my body was racked with urges to go back to Mofro. Eventually I gave in and left my friends and went back to the Blues ‘Til Dusk Stage and got myself virtually hypnotized.

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