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  1. Review: Jay McConnery Photos: Mike Bouchard (more photos) Craig Finn - The Hold Steady Thursday night continued this year's trend of idealistic weather for the Ottawa Bluesfest, and except for the smokey brushfire scent colouring the air with a splash of uncertain danger, most revelers were looking pretty sunny and laid back for this evening's line up. As it tends to do, real life took priority- leaving me a little late off the mark this evening, but I cycled down in time for the first portions of Sam Roberts Band and the Hold Steady. The Hold Steady has always been a bit of a mystery to me, but I think I may be finally figuring it out. A lot of music fans that I respect hold them in a very dear place, and when watching the performance tonight, it's definitely clear to me that they are a fantastic rock band and that front man Craig Finn is surely one of the more animated and entertaining vocalists on the festival circuit. Clearly his influences are vast, but the working man's spoken delivery always seems to remind me of Springsteen, which is fitting as the lyrical aspect of the band is what has always stood out to me with Finn's words painting very familiar pictures of parties and situations of young adult life with his exaggerated delivery and slam-style riffing on certain phrases, really driving home the imagery and context of his tales. Some of these lyrics originally whispered or co-spoken into my ear by an enthusiastic fan are now familiar. However, I think that his vocal style may be the very element that gets to me in the live setting, where it kind of feels like Finn is pleading to get his story across. I think I just need to spend more time getting to know the lyrics. The positive message is certainly present and I'll catch them anytime they are in town- because they deliver in a live setting. Sam Roberts - The Sam Roberts Band I strolled the grounds and through the museum to catch Sam Roberts Band who was playing to an enormous crowd on the Claridge stage. Sam and his band are a little too good looking for me to get excited about, but I have to admit that over the last decade or so they have become a hell of a live band, and probably one of Canada's best and most endearing straight up rock outfits. I caught a few newer tunes that I wasn't familiar with, but the energy that erupted with their hits like 'Where have all the good people gone' is undeniable. It's fantastic to see them making forays into the US but I can't help but wonder if they'll be destined to follow in the footsteps of the Tragically Hip with a very comfortable domestic career, or perhaps if their wider appeal (looks) will allow them some more action South of the Border. I got up close for John Mellencamp, and he and his band emerged with a fantastic stage set featuring barn style Christmas lights, and some stark southern kitchen imagery as a back drop. The band dressed in formal black southern minstrel style attire and performed in a soulfully slowed down manner, even offering a stripped down version of the band to begin the show. It was pretty vibey watching the drummer play on a stand-up kit, locked in with the upright bass player- resulting in some very fat low end frequencies that were kind of making me feel dizzy. The use of accordian and fiddle in his last few records has always been a flavour I've dug, and it works so well over all his material. John left the Mellencamp and went back to his Cougar days for solo renditions of 'Jack and Diane' and 'Small Town' on his beat up old Martin. He is one entertainer that has totally retained his raspy, rough and soulful voice over his many years of service- and it seems to be because he has found a pattern that works for him: smoke>heart attack (repeat). The crowd was very laid back and comfortable for this evenings set, much more reminecint of a typical Bluesfest crowd. In fact it was exactly like a normal Bluesfest crowd. Doobies were being past around with disregard, and cougars were spilling beers and smoking cheap cigarettes, people were smiling. I caught the vibe bug and headed over to Sheepdogs to wind down the night. Ewan Currie - The Sheepdogs Sheepdogs look like they are from 1972! They also sound like they would've fit in perfectly to that ideal timeframe of rock and roll magic- and judging from their bursting at the seams River Stage crowd, the rock n roll lovers of Ottawa agree. The band played their songs with great confidence (compared to their last Bluesfest gig especially)- rocking out a little harder than I would've expected and even doing some jamming (!). I don't know that their songs could be as good if it was actually 1972, and they didn't have all that historical rock to draw upon in their writing, but I will tip my hat to them for doing the right thing at the wrong time. Perhaps if they were born in another time, they would've been the Guess Who. Or maybe they would be to the Guess Who, what the Monkees where to the Beatles. If they don't already, think they should all live on a grassy commune and make some really good records before becoming a cult and imploding. Checked out some Blues on the Black Sheep stage with Sugar Ray and his band- soloist Michael 'Mudcat' Ward drew me in with his tasy soloing, but frightened my off with his quivery vocals. I ended the night by checking in on the Electro stage where a good sized crowd raged to DJ Arty. They were employing some speaker stacks towards the museum giving a great surround sound. The music seemed like bubblegum house to me, although it looked like everyone there was having a really great time. Check it out. I hope you have a better understanding.
  2. Review: Jay McConnery Photos: Mike Bouchard (see more Bluesfest on Flickr) Carlin Nicholson with Zeus - Ottawa Bluesfest The Ottawa Bluesfest is fantastic for illustrating cliches of everyday folly through it's microcosmic experience. Murphy's Law will drop it's hammer on you at some point, you can be sure. Last beer of the night? You will spill it. The truth won't be told by those in the know, monkey see- monkey do, and either there is nothing going on anywhere or everything is happening all at once. It sort of felt like everything was happening all at once tonight. This Bluesfest's Tuesday line-up was, imo, the only unmissable day of the entire festival, which predictably resulted in a dilemma of where and how to split time, and in what sized portions. One piece of the proverbial pie that was not getting split up, or even shared with my invisible friend, was the 6:00-7:00pm slot where Toronto's mighty Zeus held dinner hour court at the sun-shiney Electro stage. Making the best of their confusing stage and time slot (ahead of two hip hop groups), Zeus delivered a strong set which ebbed and flowed between some of their big riff tunes and their equally awesome moody lilting songs- showing the range of their catalogue, and that they can make it all work magically in a live setting. Looking quite comfortable on an already busy stage crammed with gear, the mustached Zeus gentlemen exchanged instruments and vocal duties as casually as handing off the wheel to a trusted road buddy halfway between Erie and Pittsburgh. The three vocalists each provide their own distinct flair to their songs, but somehow they all sound exactly like Zeus songs- and not to be forgotten, the drummer Robbie Drake keeps the tempo big and deliberate, occasionally flaring when the opportunity arises in more open sections. I think he may be one of my favourite current touring drummers. Closing the show with their new single, the catchy and perfectly-written 'Are you Gonna Waste My Time', Zeus left the stage to giddy cheers (from me), surely to return to a much larger crowd. Then, nothing happened, except A$AP Rocky on the mainstage. This was confusingly bad. As I popped on my phone to see what was polluting the airwaves, I checked out the bio on the Bluesfest site, and learned that he not only has recently moved to New Jersey- but also got his GED! Good for him, I guess. We took in a few tracks from Chali 2na and concluded that he definitley has one of those voices that works perfectly for hip hop or public announcing. After a bit of a wait, we went over to wait for Lauryn Hill. Then we waited some more... Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha Chas - Ottawa Bluesfest We relaxed, cautiously, and as my insides begged me to move on to another stage, I calmed myself with thoughts of how great Lauryn was in Sister Act. Man, she surprised everyone with that voice, even that old stogey Mother Superior, Remember!? Remember the Fugees? They were good too. Then we waited some more and her colleague "DJ Distracto" as he might be called, came out to keep us busy for a while, occupying time while Lauryn cried and smashed furniture, or snorted heroin off of a midget's forehead, or performed mime routines for school children, or whatever happens backstage. I'm sure on paper, it's a pretty high profile gig for him. Essentially, he is Lauryn Hill's Hype man, but after about 30 minutes of pre-show, he seemed to me like the most unlucky man in show business. As the time ticked away, and DJ appeared increasingly apologetic, and as the crowd began to turn, the drummer reluctantly joined him on stage, giving the impression that a show was actually going to be taking place at some point, but after a few drawn out drum breaks and probably the 14th 'Ah-Taa-Whaa!!! Make some nooooize!' - it was clear the crowd was finally sick of the diva bullshit and started to move into position for Snoop who was scheduled to begin on the mainstage 35 minutes later, and that was when she finally emerged. How dramatic! Looking a little jumpy and confused, and singing rather disjointedly, it only took a dissapointing rendition of 'Everything is Everything' (I think that's what it was) to make me wish I'd caught more of Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas... A fucking Zydeco band! (Of which I should admit, I only caught 30 seconds of as I fled the mainstage area, but I'm sure they are great, in fact, they sounded as good or better than any zydeco band, ever.) Derek Trucks - Ottawa Bluesfest Then it was pie splitting time. Tedeschi Trucks Band kicked things off at 9pm on the River stage with some great modern Southern Rock Soul, double drummer wide fat-ness, featuring the best parts of the Allman Brothers band- Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge. Susan Tedeschi's is throaty with incredible range, as in she manages to Kim Carnes it without getting all Bette Davis. In short, a superb voice to lead this spectacular band through much of their new release 'Revelator' all the way through to an energetic rendition of Sly and the Family Stone's 'Higher' to close things out; as well as provide Derek Trucks a vehicle to blow minds with his unreal abilities on the slide/lead guitar. Trucks is no longer just a wonderkid, he is a super tasty, mature soloist elegantly leading the group through the instrumental passages of the show spinning melodies out of thin air. It was hard to leave this fantastic scene at the River Stage, but I had to check out two more stages. Oliver Mtukudzi and his band was a favourite at several of the earlier downtown editions of Bluesfest- often getting the crowd out of their shoes and dancing to his Zimbabwean World beat jazz at the green grassy confines of the origianl Black Sheep Stage. It felt a little bit thin compared to those carefree days, perhaps he had some new musicians with him that didn't fill out the music as well as his previous group, perhaps he was as tired as he looked. Regardless, as charming and impressive as he was on his guitar, he didn't manage to hold my attention more than a couple of happy upbeat head-bobbers. Susan Tedeschi - Ottawa Bluesfest I did return to catch more of Tedeschi Trucks, but admittedly, I spent the majority of my time checking out Deltron 3030- Dan the Automator, Del tha Funky Homosapian and Kid Koala, joined by a full band, a youth orchestra and choir on the Electro Stage which felt to be some of the most musically interesting hip hop I've ever seen- with some great projected imagery giving the performance a truly moody and futuristic vibe. I am a fan of Kid Koala's early records as well as Lovage and some other collaborations featuring some of these artists- but I am not familiar with Deltron 3030, so I checked this show out reccommendation, and I am now looking forward to also checking the releases out. The musical arrangements were phenomenal, big and undeniable. Kid Koala is still cool as hell to watch after all these years, and a great overhead camera afforded us the luxury to really see his hands fly. Also really enjoyed the vocal delivery, and actually feel interested enough to check out some hip hop for the first time in a long time.
  3. Review: Jay McConnery Photos: Mike Bouchard Fishbone - Ottawa Bluesfest More photos on flickr The Ottawa Bluesfest re-opened its doors this evening to another sprawlingly diverse line-up (some would argue ridiculously so) ushered in with the usual pre-requisite online excitement, rule-changing announcements, back-talk and blah blah blahs. The opening night perimeter did not feature the usual electric mayhem of festivals past, and as I strolled up to the main gate- it seemed that technology was in fact improving the entry process as we gained access quite speedy and orderly.. Stepping onto the main concert pitch to the quirky old school synth psych of Tangerine Dream, I noticed the stage profiles did seem a little bit subdued compared to last year's imploding mega stage, and the angle of the main stage was adjusted to face more Easterly, down river, towards the rock-heavy hamlets of Vanier and Orleans, rather than directly North to mid-town Hull. And almost as if the call had been heeded, there was a bit of a younger, unfamiliar, french-er demographic skipping to the stages, or offering abundant assistance as blue-shirted volunteers. The Melvins - Ottawa Bluesfest My first stop of the night was to catch the Melvins on the Electro-stage. Touring as a scaled back three piece, short a drummer and guitarist though featuring upright bass- they held a large cross section of Ottawa's rock musician community rapt. Buzz Osborne never fails to intrigue listener or viewer with his exceptionally tight sludge-rock delivery and Sideshow Bob like spewing tower of grey frizzy hair; further accomplishing this tonight with the help of a lovely purple wizard's mu-mu. I am not that familiar with the band's catalogue, but certainly respect their contribution as inspiration to some of the more important bands of my generation. I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw at the Electro Stage and moseyed to the new site of the Black Sheep (the old home of the Hard Rock) to catch Akron/Family. Performing as a three piece, to a very small crowd the band worked through a series of very different song types and arrangements showing the abilities of the member on different instruments- showing off some pretty tasty harmony chops. I have seen them play with 7 and 10 members on stage, so was quite surprised to see only the three core members this time around. They began a number from 'Love is Simple' with a call to the audience to offer their favourite bird noises, and with an urgently violent 'Co-co-li-qwa!' I ventured to the River Stage to the opening of Fishbone's set. Grace Potter - Ottawa Bluesfest Fishbone has visited Ottawa a few times over the years usually at tiny venues like Zaphod's or Porter Hall. Gaining their popularity in the late 80s with killer releases 'Truth and Soul' and 'Reality of my Surroundings' and a couple feature spots on the first few Lollapalooza tours; Fishbone has been a working-man's funk-punk traveling freakshow for almost three decades and are still not totally basking in the glory they deserve. To be fair, this may be due to front man Angelo Moore being slightly psychotic, but frankly, that is also what makes him one of the finest, most fascinating on-stage personas and all around musicians I've even witnessed. Fully dramatizing each lyric with reactive 'Huh!s' and accompanying horn-lines on saxophones of every conceivable size and shape- while singing, slapping his theremin and scatting just makes him pretty much my favourite performer to watch. A new 'Anvil' type documentary 'Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone' has been released and I hope the band is able to keep things on an upward swing as they ride the momentum of it's release. It seemed as though they weren't having a perfect show this evening, but I think they definitely made some new fans with their energetic funk punk. Billy Bragg - Ottawa Bluesfest Way over yonder at the Mainstage, Tiesto lit up the night sky with a wash of colours, decibals and mediocrity. I strolled up to make sure I got a glimpse, and yes, the production value for one of the world's most popular DJ's was not surprisingly, very high. Just like the majority of the young people reacting to the predictable swells and bass drops vibrating the entire core of the city. Far be it from me to judge how kids spend a Wednesday, I went back to the Electro Stage to catch some of Vermont's Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. They kicked ass like a road worn rock band should. Lots of great tones from all the players using cool vintage gear, soaring vocals from Grace and some all-round good rock'n'roll - which is seemingly in pretty short order this year. The band played their tunes with conviction and really drove the groove hard and deep. It was difficult to leave, but I had to see some of Billy Bragg before calling it a night. Billy was typically fighty, and hilarious. More talkative than he's been known to be, he gave us all some great thoughts to take home, as well as some perfectly crafted protest songs to sing as we went.
  4. Written by: Jay McConnery Photos by: Mike Bouchard Perry Ferrel and Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction at Ottawa Bluesfest 7-16-2011 The final weekend of Bluesfest 2011 delivered a cavalcade of dynamic headlining appearances; Jane's Addiction who left the crowd of late 30-something Lollapaloozers gasping for air as Perry and the fellas smoked through a near-perfect set of their peak era's timelessly bookmarked hits, Blue Rodeo who skillfully delivered true Canadiana more succintly than a syringe of maple syrup injected directly into the sphincters of the stumbly yet appreciative crowd, and the surprise headliner late Sunday afternoon- this crazy bitch known as Mother (Fucking) Nature, who arrived without a moment's notice and left a crowd of 12-day festival 'veterans' soaked, frightened with disbelief and many thankful they were still alive. Surely, anyone reading this has seen the footage, or heard about the freak storm that ended Bluesfest about 4 hours early on Sunday night, but if not, allow me: A few songs into Cheap Trick's mainstage set, at about 7:10pm Sunday, right after a most engaging and rocking rendition of 'I Want you to Want me', some very dark clouds began to blow in from the Quebecoisie North, at a worrying speed. Concert goers (including myself) were busy taking pictures as it rolled in, as it was truly unusually dark and bared down with a hilariously accurate baring. Temperatures had been stifflingly hot all day, and I think we all expected to enjoy a bit of a cool shower together and further the mood of celebration already in place with the amazing lineup of music the night held for us. Standing in the festival plaza, watching Cheap Trick work through the next song, the wind suddenly picked up to an intensity like I have never before witnessed in this city; signs anchored with huge cement blocks began to blow over, the banners along each side of the stage were flapping like loose unmanned sails, dust came up in a huge blinding cloud and all at once the front of house speakers went down. The band had just put their instruments down and began to leave the stage, as it was obviously no longer safe, when I turned to my wife and said- 'We should get into the beer tent, this might be a pretty crazy downpour..' and as we turned that way, the intensity notched up again and the collective confusion and panic of the crowd became tangiable. The wind was whipping in what felt like increasing gusts, and all of a sudden the mouth of the beer tent didn't feel like a safe place to be. The flaps of the tent began to whip ferociously as I pulled my wife forward to ask if we should retreat to the War Museum- when all of a sudden we both turned to witness the MBNA stage teeter, totter and then blow over onto itself and all the production to it's rear. It was literally a huff, a puff and then the titanic sized stage went over like a house of cards. Knowing a little bit about the number of people associated with stage production, the number of family and fans likely watching from the sidelines and the volunteers milling about- I feared the worst. This made the imagery even more awful, and implanted one visual clip that will stick with me forever.. We shared a quick glance of 'Holy Shit!', grabbed hands and ran for the museum parking garage at full tilt. Admittedly, it was handy to have an actual bunker (within a monument designed to look like one) to flee to in this situation. Inside the muggy confines of the parking garage, we stood in disbelief as throngs of fans strolled in, obviously unaware of what had just happened, screaming 'wooo' or 'partee' or just laughing about the soaking. I met one gentleman who seemed concerned, so we shared our experiences and as I described to him what I had seen, and the likelihood that someone may very well be seriously injured, he said- "Joe Satriani will be on the other stage though, right?" Wow, buddy... We kept to ourselves or in company of other friends who might be more aware of what just 'went down' (too soon?), and the implications that it might have for the lives of actual humans. Uncertainty was certainly the most overwhelming reaction, knowing nothing, and being unable, or perhaps incapable of helping. As the storm slowed, we left the bunker to see volunteer staff scurrying about carrying tills full of cash, worried parents scanning the crowd for their children, security freaking out or lazily texting and senior staff shouting that it was all over in an attempt to evacuate the park. We were clumsily directed East, but managed to head out the West exit towards our bikes and were shocked by the damage. Everything without weight was completely blown around, perimeter fences collapsed, tables and chairs all over, some vending stations mutilated, basically just crap strewn everywhere. We walked up to the exit and saw the the remnants of the MBNA stage leaning backwards onto the parkway, surrounded by firetrucks and ambulances. I stood there for a moment trying to imagine how it could've possibly come down like that, and saw a musician I know sitting in the drivers seat of his truck, with his family, probably doing the same. We exchanged a glance and I knew immediately the best place to be was safe at home. The emergency personnel was on the scene, and it was time to let them sort things out- and get out of the way. Biking home through the lightening was nowhere near as scary, even with the power out in our neighbourhood until Monday evening. It was later the next day, with great relief that many of us learned no one was seriously injured through a tweet from the Bluesfest brass. Thank G-O-D! Focusing on the weekend's performers will be difficult for anyone that was there Sunday night, because that was the show of life my friend, and nothing else holds a candle. In so many ways this was such an unfortunate, but somehow fittingly epic end to a monumental, galvanizing, yet very memorable and obviously incredibly well-attended Bluesfest. There were a lot of adjustments this year- many of which resulted in anger or frustration. Some seemed unavoidable the first couple of days, but as the festival went on, there were definitely moments where I had the strange feeling that we were all taking part in a colossal test of basic human intelligence, and many of us were flat-out failing. Although the new layout admittedly presented challenges with seemingly reduced sanitation services and possibly an increased focus on the bottom-line- with every change there was an opportunity to 'beat the line', usually by taking a few extra paces, or by just looking around and using your brain a little. Bottle necks were easily predicted and avoided, beer was easily snuck in (if that's your thing, you skid), , close comfortable vantage points available and often empty at several stages and all concert pitches were easily traversed with only a few real 'lawn chair' moments. Isn't this all we could've ever hoped for? No, the line-up wasn't perfect, and didn't really make sense with the Vegas theme, or at all for that matter- but do you really care? I don't! It was something to discuss, and argue about. I suppose, but the festival once again provided an undeniably incredible amount of entertainment value for ticket holders (especially full pass holders) and a fantastic opportunity to really catch up with friends, spending quality time as only your friend-family can do when given this amazing opportunity to be together everyday for 2 weeks.. What else could ever give us this excuse, as we all slowly morph into boring regulars? Thanks again Bluesfest- I'm already looking forward to next year!
  5. Written by: Jay McConnery LA-33 at Ottawa Bluesfest - Photo by: Andrew Carver Lineup wise, Thursday night at Bluesfest rolled in like a parched tumbleweed after the glorious rock show wetness of the night before had all but dried up, giving many regulars a good excuse to take a night off. Scanning the program earlier in the day, I was admittedly close to bailing as well, but knowing these dark horse days at Bluesfest can often be the talk of the festival, with an unknown act delivering a break-out performance that people discuss for eternity, we gobbled some hastily rolled burritos and hit the Parkway on our bikes with no express expectations, except for the expectation that I would eventually be right that it was a good idea to head down. Well, I wouldn't say it was the dark horse night, but on that confusing scale it was at the very least a well-tanned donkey. Maybe with some sunburnt pale spots. It was with indifference that I learned Theory of a Deadman would not be preforming due to illness- but I was happy to hear Hamilton's Arkells were given their time slot, and could see they were ready for the opportunity. They played to a great crowd and sounded like they've found the sweet spot in reeling in their enthusiasm but still hitting the energy levels they are known for. I really like their sound, but craved the sparse atmosphere of the periphery, so we continued on to check out the smaller stages and began by spending a few minutes checking out Girls with Guitars on the Hard Rock Stage, playing some pretty simple blues with dexterity and a lot of potential. They looked great on stage, which is obviously the first rule of girl-rock, and displayed some impressive chops as well. Hopefully they can keep at it and maybe choose a better name, because there were some moments that sounded pretty big. Over to National Bank, where we enjoyed the last portion of Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys, jamming some very vampy and borderline sloppy zydeco blues with that great accordion and washboard sound. The guitar playing swamp-master kept things together, and over the course of a few tunes, I came to like their jangly style. When this wrapped up, there was nothing playing on any stage for about 15 minutes, which was kind of weird, so we committed to the first few songs of Billy Talent by waiting around at the MBNA stage. With a name lifted from one of Canada's finest rock'n'roll movies, Hard Core Logo; Mississauga's Billy Talent took the stage and busted into one of their riff driven heavy-ish anthems that had fists pumping and the kids screaming. These guys have been on the scene for over a decade and a half, and have developed a huge following across Canada- so I thought I should give them a chance. First off, I think singer Ben Kowalewicz sounds and acts a lot like Johnny Rotten on stage. He doesn't have the same range, but does the higher range stuff quite well and even uses some similar expressions in his delivery.. Maybe they were watching 'Rock'n'Roll Swindle' before the show in the tour bus, who knows. Also, the guitarist with incredibly high hair, steps very adeptly between the busy lead riffs and singing backup. I can say for sure, that their music is not for me, and it doesn't have any elements of intrigue for me at this stage in my life- but I respect their very tight playing and the maximum output delivery they were dishing out. The Tea Party were also underway, so we drifted through conflicting sound bleed over to the Subway stage greeted by well known tune 'The Bazaar' which sums up their style quite well- modern psychedelic riff rock heavily influenced by classic rock. You can tell that Jeff Martin likes Jim Morrison and Jimmy Page a lot, and who doesn't right!? We watched a few tunes, noting one of the biggest Subway stage audiences we'd seen yet, and skipped over to Hard Rock to check out Tim Robbins and his band. He was obviously not happy about the tremendous sound bleed coming his way from the Tea Party, and not only mentioned it, but also did a headband of contempt which seemed to take the audience off guard. Tim broke into his song (reading lyrics from a music stand) and although the band was quite good, his singing voice was only okay- on par with the other Hollywood Stars who have decided to be rock stars too. Using his thespian training, he did manage to command some attention and in retrospect actually delivered some pretty interesting lyrics in his songs; but it felt more like people were there to celebrity-watch rather than enjoy music. Did you hear he and Susan Saran don broke up? OMG! Seriously, I didn't know. I actually had a lot of fun screaming "Bloodsucker Proxy" ! "Bull Durham" ! "ANDY DUFRENSE"!!! The highlight of the night was 'LA-33' on the National Bank Stage- giving it the long lost feeling like the Black sheep Stage of years past. This Colombian Salsa group is considered the best in their country and often tour the jazzfest summer circuit, skipping Ottawa. Their fans seized the opportunity to see them in town and were out tonight, thankful with chants of 'Co-lom-bia!' and ready to dance! Straight out of Bogota, this may have been the tightest Salsa music I've seen in my life- a 14 piece band complete with a World class Salsa duo spinning and stepping on stage had this enthusiastic portion of Ottawa's Latino community out dancing to the Salsa, Mambo and funky Boogaloo grooves. I am enjoying Salsa and Latin Jazz more and more through further exposure, and one day I will be able to dance salsa steps- perhaps the lazy man version, but I will get those steps down. Trying tonight was a whole lot of fun, and I'm always impressed by a well practised Salsa duo on the dance floor, and there were many smiling faces having the time of their lives showing off their stuff.
  6. Written by: Jay McConnery Photos by: Mike Bouchard It's difficult to sit down and reflect so quickly on something that is still ringing through my ears and bones like this. I feel like my concert pants are bursting at the seams and my belt leather is groaning against my heaving belly as if I have just devoured the perfect medium rare Sirloin Tip steak with a nice creamy garlic mash, a tasty salad and a frosty stein of the good stuff.. and I don't really want to talk about it. Or maybe it was a Tofu steak, it doesn't matter! I just want to keep this feeling for as long as I can. Should I go back and think about how delicious it was, and how much fun it was to chew and swallow? In a minute, maybe, but not yet. For now, I'm definitely able to return to the beginning and re-evaluate how one of the more sublime weeknights of Bluesfest kicked off. For me, and many others who actually arrived on time for the logistically difficult 6:15pm start time, Trampled by Turtles were the perfect way to start the proceedings with fast, interesting and precise modern bluegrass. They have been making a name for themselves on the American Bluesgrass circuit for some time showing up at prestigious festivals by way of their old school chops and forward thinking song writing and arrangements. They can fiddle with the best of them, but can also bring the house down with perfect songs, like their closing number 'Wait So Long', that could easily slip into the repretoire of a hugely popular band like the Avett Brothers. I cursed myself (Damn you, McConnery!) for missing the first half of the set and definitely hope to catch them again sometime soon. Once TBT wrapped (to a very impressive crowd for the time slot), we headed up over the hill to the National Bank Stage to check out Imaginary Cities from Winnipeg, who were last through Ottawa in the Spring, opening for the Pixies. I liked the sugary samples I had heard in duo format but was happy to hear they were performing with a full band, half of whom seemed to be celebrating their birthday today. Songwriting duo of Rusty and Marti have written some very lovely songs, folk rock at heart but turned up in energy level live, the songs possess more of a ghost rock vibe, which kept me tuned in for most of their set. Marti Sarbit who preforms in a totally natural and unpretentious way onstage, has a classic voice, but is also unplaceably reminicent of several current front women- the closest comparison I heard was a cross between Amy Winehouse and Kim Deal. I also heard Nina Simone and Jenn Grant... but I heard quite a few, and I'm still not sure- maybe its just her. They played a very cool, even slower, arrangement of Cake's song Mexico, complete with the great horn solo played note for note perfect, on the moog. My Morning Jacket - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-13-2011 There was a bit of a gap for me between Imaginary Cities and the evening's headliner. I visited the Dirtbombs twice- and it wasn't up my alley this evening. You gotta figure Dirtbombs are going to be more effective in closed spaces, and I just felt like the music was moving very slowly in direction and I never really understand the 2 drummers playing the exact same beat thing either. I imagine when it's working, it would help create a full deliberate sound from stage, but tonight it just acentuated my disinterest. Metric was doing their thing over on the Claridge Stage which I decided to skip entirely, 'cause there is always next year, and I even caught a little more Blues from Smoking Joe Kubek and Bnois King. They sounded a little more traditional and wore white, perhaps to stay cool in the evening sun, but again, I can't imagine someone who cares this little about the Blues writing about something called Bluesfest, so I won't pretend. To be fair, at this point I was completely distracted and ready to get a good spot for mainstage headliners, My Morning Jacket. My Morning Jacket - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-13-2011 We popped over to the festival plaza to find Metric had ended their set early, and much to my delight, the evening (and perhaps in the minds of some, the festival's) main event band, My Morning Jacket, were starting early at 9pm. As they emerged to open the show, we easily galloped up to within 50 feet of the stage with beer in hand and felt the tremendous bass vibrations greet our jubilation and shake our insides like baby rattles. I asked my wife if we should retreat further back to get some earplugs, and she wisely said, 'Nah, we'll get used to it!'. We did, and the band played music that truly deserved to be listened to at damaging decible levels, riding that intangiable vibe beam that Rock n Roll music delivered imbeccably can sometimes do, so we soaked in as much of it as we could. I should admit, this was my first MMJ show, and after following the group's releases for the last 8 or so years, I really can't believe it really took me this long to see them live, so with all sincerity, thanks for that Bluesfest! With a stage flanked by two chillin' black bears (one in a poncho, one in a summer dress) and a huge green cycloptic eye backdrop, they played with the heart of a modern Crazy Horse, and only Neil Young would be a fair comparison for a multi-threat multi-beast songwriter/singer/jammin' guitar player as diverse and talented as Jim James. The man can sing just about however he wants, and it always ends up sounding just like him. The band played with endless energy, as one, ebbing and flowing, with groove and feel, through all the tunes you'd hope to hear and some new ones that I look forward to getting to know. Energy levels were off the charts at certain moments, with beautifully crescendo-ing solos and interplay colliding in peak fashion under the watchful eye of drummer Patrick Hallahan who could always bring things home magnificently, or kick off the next number hugely, without missing a beat. Leaning heavily towards 'It Still Moves' and 'Z' tracks- it felt like we were being treated to a greatest hits show, complete with antics- Jim James' towel head vampire, and evidence of their musical proficiency- keeping it together when an offtime loop was stuck at loud volume until a tech figured out the source and turned it off. So yeah, all in all, it was exactly like a big delicious satisfying meal. Yeah.
  7. Written By: Jay McConnery Photos By: Dave Barrett John Fogarty - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-12-2011 Booking a festival like Bluesfest must be a lot like loading a shot-gun, taking a hundred paces back, pulling the trigger and trudging forward nervously with fluttering heart as excitement builds to see what has hit the target. Invites and offers must blast off from the Bluesfest offices on Catherine Street like endless roman candles destined for the hottest touring acts, with the highest of hopes. It's almost impossible to imagine it... over 250 acts. On average, as we all know with shotguns, most of the pellets aren't going to hit the bulls-eye, but thankfully some will- and it's hard to imagine any more of a bulls-eye booking for organizers than John Fogerty and his band, who rocked an enthusiastic Ottawa crowd on this Tuesday night like it was New Year's Eve in Las Vegas. Delivering the gamut of CCR classics and Fogerty solo hits, the easy going crowd this evening was very much focused in one place and it was easy to see why, when you are literally bombarded with hit, after hit, after hit of timeless rock'n'roll magic. Some might say the same could be achieved by spinning a Greatest Hits disc with some headphones, but the real difference is; that the Fogerty Band was relentlessly rocking. No two second pauses, man! Fogerty really took the reigns on lead guitar while engaging the audience continually through his obvious appreciation of our excitement and love of his songs and music. I literally tried to leave three times, but was stopped in my tracks by songs like 'Fortunate Son' and 'Bad Moon Rising'. Backed by a great band of musicians, most notably Joe Satriani clone Kenny Aronoff on the drums- the show had a very rocking vibe accentuated by Kenny's double kick fills and harder rock tendencies. The show was also visually fun to watch, sounded great and felt like a true main-stage performance. The only drawback of this set was I could only manage to catch three tracks from Baloji's set on the National Bank Stage, that featured musicians from Konono no.1, who kept a deep pocket rhythm of African Grooves for Baloji's French language rhymes. There were only a handful of people there and from what I heard, it may have been the best set no one saw. Baloji - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-12-2011 We arrived a few hours earlier to a different scene. Canadian rockers Three Days Grace were holding court on the Claridge Stage, and confidently rocking socks. I had been warned previously that they were a Nickelback clone, and until hearing them, I thought this band was actually going to be Theory of a Deadman. Turns out Three Days Grace doesn't sound like Nickelback as much as they could, but they do have a slick polished sound, fiery pyrotechnics and maybe one poodle haircut which are similarities to the Canadian supergroup as well as their obvious popularity, evidenced by a rapt audience. I wasn't interested however, and made my way to meander between the side stages in search of KettleKorn guy. Kettle-Korn! Here is where we drift into the intact papery perimeter of the original bulls-eye target, that feels like its got substantially fewer pellet holes, with maybe a couple poked in at the last minute with a pencil. Dana Fuchs - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-12-2011 Dana Fuchs had the largest crowd at the Subway stage and was definitely 'throwing down' heavy blues rock in the spirit of Janis Joplin. Her voice at times felt like a clone of the tragic songstress, including her inflections and improvisational scat stylings. Thankfully, the tight-jeaned squats, bosom thrusts and crotch flair work kept things light for those afraid of ghosts. Her band delivered heartfelt originals and a tight rendition of 'Helter Skelter' with patience and precision, while Dana writhed on the stage monitors, seemingly placing the previously enthusiastic gentlemen in the front row under her spell. I'm sure the good people at Southern Comfort will be following her career closely. Andrew Jr. Boy Jones - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-12-2011 Ian Kelly, meanwhile, on the Hard Rock stage had one of the more polished sounding groups I'd heard so far this festival. Even though the talent is certainly there, the songs were inconceivably poppy for most, and especially me, who lasted only a few minutes before trudging over the hill and planting myself at the National Bank Stage for some...*gasp*... blues!! Andrew Jr Boy Jones had a tight blues combo ripping through solos and riffs, keeping the audience moving or at least shuffling. Sharing the stage with horns, and a fantastic female lead, Andrew Jr. led his group through some of the only blues I'm likely to see all festival, and I'm okay admitting that. I had full intention of spending some time with Buck 65, but I only caught a few moments between Fogerty hits. All in all, an amazing way to spend a Tuesday night. As soon as the festival starts to feel like it's going on forever, you take a look at things and notice you are closing in on the end way quicker than you thought, so remember: we still have 5 days of music to enjoy before detox begins! .......And My Morning Jacket is playing tonight!!
  8. Written By: Jay McConnery Photos By: Mike Bouchard The Black Keys - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-8-2011 The week-end days bring out the best in the Bluesfest experience, as you can feel the machine firing on all cylinders and revellers can fully submit without thoughts of the next morning. Instead of wrestling with transportation logistics, keeping an eye on the dreaded clock, or mulling details of an early morning meeting, there is only the here and now on which to focus all your leisure attention, which really makes all the difference in live music. Friday night blew in a huge crowd and proportionally out of control beer lines; legions of younger fans checked out 'Rise Against' and fans of the heavy blues duo 'The Black Keys' anticipated their headlining set keeping the festival plaza rippling with electricity. I looked forward to a peak at Wanda Jackson, but I felt 'Hey Rosetta!' was the place to be as the group's samples were among the most intriguing I'd heard, and I felt they were poised to deliver something amazing. Unfortunately, Friday also blew in a freak storm with a very high winds and sideways rain, that had all stages shut down for a good portion of the night. Thankfully there was no shortage of cover in the War Museum, or in some of the various tents onsite, and folks were able to safely wait out the weather. It was a lengthy break though, and volunteers became the festival's front-line as the wet throngs inquired if there was any word as to whether the night had been called off, or if hope remained. As the clock approached the final hour of the evening there was still no information to share, however they had been instructed to stop scanning tickets, which led them to assume the night was over. By this point, half the crowd had left anyway, so I admittedly hopped on my bike towards home- and it was just about the half way mark where I heard enthusiastic cheering, and the raunchy blues riffs of the Black Keys emerging. It would've been a great opportunity for them to come out and own the night, and from all reports the duo stepped up and delivered a great, but short set. Oh well, can't win em all I suppose. The Peter Elkas Band - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-9-2011 In contrast, Saturday was one of those perfect weather days that felt a bit like a dream. Hazy clouds, or some very artistic and hopefully not poisonous chem-trails painted the sky, adding to the vibe as we enjoyed a mid-afternoon arrival and stroll among the stages. We ducked into a busy Barney Danson theatre to check out the Peter Elkas Band. Backed by 3/4 of the locally legendary Burt Neilson Band, as well as a saxophone player, Elkas shared some tracks from his new record 'Repeat Offender' which felt in step with his soulful Motown tendencies. There was also a healthy helping of E-Street vibe and knowing of Elkas' love of the Boss, it made sense hearing the straight rock beats and rhythmic piano stylings fit into his original sound. The theatre certainly has it's pros and cons from the perspective of both the performer or the audience, but the band kept us engaged with their tasteful playing and spot on harmonies. Another highlight was a great version of Otis Redding's 'I Can't Turn You Loose'. Hopefully one day we'll see them playing on a big stage, out in the sun while enjoying beer. From the confines of the theatre, we walked back outdoors and over to the Subway stage to check out 5x BMA nominee MICHAEL POWERS. Now, I've never been nominated for a Blues Music Award- but I bet if I had been, or ever am, I wouldn't demand that that information appear along side my name every time it is written, uttered or pondered. He definitely played the blues, but I actually can't remember one interesting thing about his music, because I spent all my time imagining the decision making process that led to his multiple nominations becoming his title, if not his name. Also, why in CAPS, MICHAEL? Is this how you get attention in the world of the Blues? Enough about 5x BMA nominee MICHEAL POWERS, but hopefully next year 1x JAMMY AWARDS nominee NERO will be invited to re-unite for a high paid set at the festival. Erykah Badhu's delayed start led to setting up semi-permanent camp at the Subway stage, which resulted in being treated to the electro Latino vibes of the Spam Allstars. Keeping things rolling through the late afternoon warmth, the grooves were danceable and highlighted by some fantastic percussive work. DJ le Spam's base tracks are heavy and he is as energetic as they come behind his decks. Saturday was a big night of music as far as headliners go, with M. Ward, the Tragically Hip and Shpongle all going head to head. I started out at the Hip, and couldn't help but be impressed with their musical tightness and iconic stage presence. This is really one of Canada's best-ever bands, and by the size of the crowd, the people know this. The band played with virtuous-tic purpose and was totally on point for everything I witnessed. Gord Downie started with his antics early, offering as he typically does, an entirely improvised one-man mime show featuring hundreds of characters in interpretational scenarios, while simultaneously singing the hits. I think his method of engagement is superbly original, and still draws me in after twenty years seeing them live. However, I miss the days when you could actually count on him to sing a few songs with that unique tambre, instead of scream everything, off-kilter of the original vocal patterns. M. Ward was a quick stop, as I was quite keen to spend some time with Shpongle.. and Simon Posford did not dissappoint. With a long set of psci-trance delivered from atop a white pyramid with face melting projections, visual effects and enough smoke'n'mirrors to entertain even the most sober of witnesses there was no leaving. The scene was also very sparse and friendly, and I find as I get a little older, atmostphere can sometimes be equally as important as the music. Saturday ended dancing among friends and making plans for go for a few drinks and keep the festival magic alive. Peter Frampton - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-10-2011 Sunday was one of the festival's big programming days, and the only way to approach these conflict ridden days is to submit to the flow. We arrived to Peter Frampton rocking the mainstage with an outstanding group of players. Dancing through the classics of 'Frampton Comes Alive' was never more fun, but his acoustic portion was a little on the sleepy side, so after filling up on the hits, we zipped over to the National Bank stage to check out 'Neon Indian'. Sadly, this set was re-scheduled to an earlier start and we missed it entirely. That's okay- the Funky Meters are playing just over the hill! Amazing to watch these legends playing music that has been so influential for so many. George Porter Jr. is a monster of a bass player, and drummer Russell Batiste Jr. plays with such groove, that it appered the entire drum riser was in danger of collapsing-- in fact, cymbals were falling off, microphones were toppling, and the whole kit was quivering like a jellow salad. It was actually making me a little anxious to see- but he never missed a beat and the band kept the whole crowd transfixed and grooving. I would've taken in the whole thing, but one of my childhood favourites, Huey Lewis and the News, were about to kick off at the Claridge stage. Connected with friends and dug into a set peppered with hits, but made up mostly of new 'Soulsville' material. There were a few glaring emissions, (Hip to be square? Stuck with you?) but it was a real nice time.. although things got a little uncomfortable when Huey sang about being a '60 minute man', and gesturing suggestively, igniting further discussion of his rumoured prowess. Committing to this set was tough, because it meant missing Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Yukon Blonde entirely, both whom I was excited to see on the roster. One more point for nostalgia, I suppose. Huey Lewis and the News - Ottawa Bluesfest 5-10-2011 The last slot of the night was split between Leon Russell, lighting up the stage with his huge white beard and attire like the ghost of country Christmas past, A Perfect Circle and Dumpstaphunk. Leon Russell has played with everyone and seemed to be sampling all their catalogues for this performance. Soaring pedal steel and mandolin complimented his piano work and Willy Nelson-like vocals, through awesome arrangements of tunes like 'Wild Horses' and 'I've Just Seen a Face'. Definitely a personality that I'd like to learn a little more about. Took a quick visit to see 'A Perfect Circle', and although I didn't stay long, the tight crispness of the music intrigued me to explore their catalogue as well. They played a dark version of 'Imagine' as I jogged over to Dumpstaphunk to check out some great funk. I stopped along the way at the western porta-potties and took 'A Perfect Dump'. Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk is a perfect festival set experience- funky to the core and loaded with talent. Also a great way to end the weekend, dancing amongst great friends. A short bike-ride home and I'm ready for a day off. Sleep well.
  9. Written by: Jay McConnery David Clayton Thomas - Ottawa Bluesfest - Photo by Peter Waiser Smelling like the odour of RibFest, impregnated Tim's mini-donut shack, and gave birth to something delicious with stale draught beer oozing from its pores, big fat Bluesfest, bloated with everyone we know, greeted us for a third night in a row. After zig-zaging through the infuriating mousetrap that awaits ticket holders at the Main Gate, were able to walk around, catch our breathe and get down to some music-loving! A little late off the mark, we arrived in time to catch the beginning of Girl Talk- a very popular mash-up DJ, who had a bouncing gang of very enthusiastic kids onstage encouraging him as he swayed shirtless between his two laptops. There were some flashing screens, as well as some well timed confetti cannons erupting dramatically in time with samples from songs of yesteryear that can't help but get you moving, or at least tug your soul strings a bit. The cynic in me is quick to think that he is simply talented at beat matching, using lots of great music very effectively- and although that is a big part of why it works- there is also a well designed show and obvious passion behind the performance. I just hope one day all wedding DJs are this good and these songs can be enjoyed with the whole family, in a poorly decorated gym, while creepy old Uncle Mookie watches from the shadows, motionless. Next up for us was the Sheep Dogs, who were one of my more anticipated acts of the weekend. I thought their new record 'Learn and Burn' and video clips on their site sounded great and I really like their brand of California (via Saskatchewan) Classic rock, but it felt like things weren't clicking on stage. The mix was definitely off, most notably during several of the guitar solos through their set-closing cover of Neil Young's 'Down By the River' and then confusion bubbled up again when singer Ewan Currie attempted to engage the audience in some misplaced call and response, which obviously wasn't tried tested and true.. luckily they brought it back and rocked to finish. There were definitley some good moments of playing and Currie's voice sounds undoubtabley like a young David Crosby with vibrato to match, I hope to catch them in the future, perhaps in a sweaty tavern. After catching up with with friends, we walked over by the Hard Rock stage and caught the opening track of David Clayton-Thomas' show, which thankfully was 'Painted Pony'. What a kick-ass tune. Definitely an old school Sinatra performance vibe from the former front man, with a huge talented band to match. I will use this as an opportunity to remind myself watch the Yonge Street Rock'n'Roll documentary as soon as I have a chance. The headliners of the night were and Stephen Marley (yes- he is related!). I first saw Steve Miller back at Lansdowne Park in the early 90s, on a bill with Extreme, Brian Adams, Sass Jordan and Furnaceface, and was just recently reminded of the painfully tight white bicyclye shorts he wore for that set accented by a baggy black t-shirt. Maybe sharing the stage with such edgy contemporaries drove him to out-extreme Extreme? Thankfully, we've both grown a little older and Steve (wearing pants) stepped onto the stage to run through all the songs that everyone knows and loves. There is something comforting turning around and seeing a police officer mouthing the words to 'Take the Money and Run' or having a drunken 50 year old woman notice me singing along, and ask if my dad played this for me when I was a kid (he did) and that my dad must be cool (up for debate). Nostalgia can be fun, and it's a big part of the Bluesfest experience on a lot of levels. Steve's band may not be the best he's had on the road, but it doesn't matter and everyone there had a great time enjoying a rock'n'roll icon with friends. Over to , we were treated to some great renditions of Bob Marley classics and some not too shabby originals either. I was tempted to pick up a 6-pack of 'Marley's Mellow Mood" (juice?) and do it right, but I was already feeling pretty mellow and thankful.
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