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Ottawa Bluesfest 2008 Primer


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Ottawa Bluesfest 2008 Primer

by: Todd Snelgrove


As the rumours flew around prior to the upcoming Ottawa Bluesfest it was clear that our little festival is unquestionably world class. Online speculation into this year’s potential lineup showed that anything was possible – if they were on tour, the Bluesfest could put in a realistic bid. When the official announcement was made we saw that while some of the big name money acts had eluded the Ottawa bids we are left with a consistent series of top-notch entertainers stretched over what will prove to be a mighty eleven days.

The big opener this year will be The Tragically Hip. Some may be quick to bemoan the semi-regular inclusion of this quintessential Canrock beer band, but it should be pointed out that they are touring their strongest album in over a decade, and they have brought their live show back to the high standards they once held. This should prove to be the best Hip performance the Ottawa Bluesfest will see. For those with more sober tastes, the first night holds other options such as Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Cassandra Wilson, and TV On The Radio just to name a few.

Now, with an opening night like that, you know you’re in for a good time.


The opening weekend of the Bluesfest features a myriad of must-see headliners. Feist is back for what will likely be her best-attended set in Bluesfest history. Also on slate for the weekend are 70’s FM darlings Steely Dan and jamband giants Widespread Panic, both of whom you won’t see in Ottawa again for a long time. Songwriting genius Lucinda Williams plays on Saturday while The Wailers, Johnny Winter, and Primus will be there on Sunday.

Of course that’s just a smattering of the sounds available on the opening weekend of Bluesfest. Meander around the six stages and you’ll have the opportunity to catch a whirlwind of talent like Dweezil’s homage to his father Zappa Plays Zappa, Adrian Belew, and Swiss bluegrass monsters The Kruger Brothers back to back on the newly reintroduced Roots Stage. The Blacksheep Stage is another triumph this year, counting Luke Doucet, Elliot Brood, James Blood Ulmer, The Weakerthans and The Dave Bidini Band among their offerings this opening weekend. The beautiful River Stage will be back again, and that’s where you’ll find acts like Richard Thompson, Sonny Landreth, and Wintersleep on your wander-about.

An easily overlooked portion of the Ottawa Bluesfest is the indoor shows at Barney Danson Theatre. If you see something you like get in line early, the seating is very limited. Over the weekend you can catch intimate sets by Jack de Keyser, Chuck Prophet, Samuel James, or even see Dave Bidini doing a book reading. The Barney Danson Theatre will be hosting shows throughout the festival and is well worth hitting up.


During the week the festival scales back a bit with shows beginning at 6pm. The talent is still there though! While many might deem Fergie skippable, James Taylor, Dr. John, Black Crowes, Matthew Good and his Band, Brian Wilson, and Boz Skaggs will make for a fun week of headliners. Avoid the masses and hit up smaller stages for Harry Manx with Kevin Breit, CALEXICO, The John Henrys, Stars, Tokyo Police Club, That 1 Guy, and The Plain White T’s (dare you to get Hey There Delilah out of your head after their set). With the festival settled in to their great location on LeBreton Flats it should prove to be a great week of music under the summer sky.

The final weekend could be a festival in itself. Three more days of eclectic bookings, from The Kinks’ Ray Davies and Canned Heat to Grammy winners Wyclef Jean and Joan Armatrading. Great Big Sea and Metric go head-to-head on Friday night while disco diva Donna Summer’s Bad Girls will battle for the nostalgia crowd with Don McLean’s American Pie. The Sam Roberts Band and pedal steel wizard Robert Randolph both make welcome returns to the festival for the final weekend. There will be Grammy winning gospel with Shirley Caesar and blues with Red Volkaert and L’il Ed And The Blues Imperials. Mofro is back and so is Hamell On Trial, both acts that have garnered many a fan at past Bluesfests.

All in all well over 200 bands await your listening pleasure, nestled into one of the prettiest spots in the downtown core of our nation’s capitol. Eleven days of world class entertainment beginning July 3rd, and all for under $200. I’m already excited about next year.

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