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Blues Log 07132008


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Ottawa Bluesfest


Stardate 071308

Live Music Review

Review By: Velvet

Robert Randolph - Ottawa Bluesfest 07-13-2008

Robert Randolph

courtesy of Tripper (bvt) on Flickr

No log for yesterday as I was in Rochester getting my Phil. I heard it rained here though, so there ya go.

The last day of Bluesfest for me was rife with scheduling snafus and perfect timing. I got there for what I thought was gonna be most of Canned Heat but they had changed slots and I went over to the Blacksheep Stage where Anders Osborne was late getting on, affording me the opportunity to catch his whole set.

I had no idea what to expect and was surprised to find how well Osborne’s set segued me from my adventures in Rochester. Groovy and jammy, spacey and interesting, he warmed us up with a long instrumental that pulled wonderful solos out of both Anders and his sax player. When he began to sing he seemed to channel Van Morrison’s phrasing with a Dylanesque lyrical sensibility, all the while underlain with wonderfully understated guitar playing. I thought his set was terrific, so much so that I put off catching the beginning of Redd Volkaert’s set.

I had once stumbled upon Redd Volkaert in a grungy little bbq joint in Texas on a strange night and his playing sent me through the roof (metaphorically speaking). This Canadian made his career in the south playing with Merle Haggard and others and man, can he play the guitar. He’s got the chickin’ pickin’ twang down, and he’s exceptionally humble about his skills. I was thrilled to see him scheduled for two sets at the festival, and missing yesterday’s I was hankering to catch as much as I could of today’s. Though he was scheduled for a 7pm set, we made it for what turned out to be his last tune, a killer cover of Jessica, and he left the stage at 7:30. He must have started early but I was happy to hear the song I heard.

A sojourn over to the main stage for a bite to eat and a sit-down and I was settled just in time to hear Canned Heat play Goin’ Up Country. Finished up my fish ‘n chips while they kicked out another jam and made my way back to the River Stage for Robert Randolph. Now here’s a man that has a good time when he plays. Randolph was manic from the get-go, wrenching blazing riffs out of the musical world’s slide-rule with apparent ease and obvious glee. The pedal steel is a relative anomaly in rock, and likely part of the reason is the concentration and finesse considered necessary to play the instrument well. Nobody told Robert Randolph. His persistent upbeat presence eventually got the whole place up on their feet, no mean feat given the history of Bluesfest, and he kept the party blaring for a solid hour, along the way paying tribute to both Jimi Hendrix and Bo Diddley. Just a fantastic pile of music from a relentlessly energetic performer.

Here it was, time for the last set of this years’ Bluesfest, and I had no idea where to go. I opted to pull a circular in-and-out mission, forsaking my new love of full sets in view of the head-scratching options. While waiting for Donna Summers’ late start I watched a presentation onstage as one of the founding members of the Bluesfest organization was stepping down. He was presented with a lanyard that represented a lifetime all-access pass to Bluesfest. Sweet. Gotta get my hands on one of those. Fifteen minutes late The Queen Of Disco appeared onstage atop a wide staircase to the music of Beethoven’s Fifth. As the music morphed into Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra three male dancers in band uniforms pretended to herald the queen onstage with old-style regal horns and choreographed silliness. Looked a bit out of shape and bored, Summer did her Vegas thing and the crowd ate it up. Say what you will about this tradition of closing with disco night, but people love it, and they come out in droves. I stuck around for the first three songs, all of which I recognized as in my youth I owned several Donna Summer albums (of my own volition, I might add), but decided to start the circuit.

Over at the Blacksheep Stage Bachir Attar failed to hold my interest. Basically a percussion group from Morocco, if they had no competition I would happily enjoy a set of theirs, but this was not that time. Given that Donna Summers’ late start had thrown a wrench into my timetable, I left in short order.

Over at the Roots Stage Tony D was doin’ it up closing out the Bluesfest, a tradition that was swayed from only once I believe. With uber-talented harmonica whiz Steve Marriner on bass (!) and the Texas Horns honking behind him Tony was proving that he is what he is – a total pro bluesman with an enormous amount of talent. I was really hoping that I would be lucky enough to see Redd or Randolph sit in but I didn’t and I couldn’t stay there – the beer tent only had Coors Light. I did stick around for about twenty minutes, and I’ll bet it was the best music happening at the fest at that moment.

Over at the River Stage I got a beer just as Don McLean was in the middle of singing his other hit, Vincent. It’s a classic, and it was boring as hell as he strummed at about 46bpm in front of his band as they silently looked on, as I suppose they do every night of their lives. And then he went right into American Pie. Okay, forget the overplay for a moment and see if you can realize that it’s actually a damn fine song. Personally it was a thrill for me to hear the song played live by the man himself, as I feel a bit of kinship with him with regard to American Pie. As a guitar teacher for well over a decade now I think I’ve made almost as much money off that song as he did. We all sang along and had a great old time and of course he milked it and milked it again as we tried to stream out to hear the end of Donna Summer’s set, caught in a flow of traffic that stands as the most crowded I’ve been at the fest this year.

On a lark I watched Donna go through Works Hard For Her Money and a Bad Girls/Hot Stuff medley from outside the venue where the fence-standers stand. Turns out those freeloaders are getting a pretty good view. I actually quite enjoyed the end of the set as nostalgia pulled me right to my glue-eating days back in Grade 4.

In the end, another triumph for all those involved in the Bluesfest this year. There were many improvements and the lineup was beyond reproach. Tradition holds that I list all the acts I managed to see this year here and I’ll do that now:

The Tragically Hip

Corb Lund


Steely Dan

Snoop Dogg

Widespread Panic

James Taylor

Brian Wilson

Tony D

Donna Summer

TV on the Radio

Lucinda Williams

Infected Mushroom


Anders Osborne

Canned Heat

Dave Bidini Band

Orchestra Baobab

Justin Rutledge

NQ Arbuckle

Luke Doucet

Chuck Prophet

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80

Red Volkaert with Cindy Cashdollar

Bachir Attar


Johnny Winter


Robert Randolph

Allen Toussaint

Krueger Brothers

Adrian Belew

Zappa Plays Zappa

That 1 Guy

Shelby Lynne

Ray Davies

Don McLean

That’s what, 37 bands? And lazy me missed two days. What a great, great time. Now what am I gonna do for the next 355 days?

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