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Photo Courtesy of Mark Horton and Ottawa Bluesfest Change is inevitable and one must embrace it in order to keep moving forward. Bluesfest is a prime example of that ideology. 20 years have seen the location go from Lebreton to City Hall and back to Lebreton. No longer do we have 6 stages and we are now dealing with dead air rather than sound bleed, which was the biggest issue as far as I am concerned but it’s easy to get used to. Which do you prefer? Running from stage to stage like a jack rabbit or being like a lion after a satisfying meal? Both have their positive points. Recently, people wanting to sit down in lawn chairs are cordoned off far quite a ways back and that might be the single most important aspect adding to the experience. Purchasing a 3 day pass seemed perfect while essentially becoming a ‘buy 2 get one 1 free" deal. Capitalism begets the ideal of smart purchases and this one made sense because the Foo Fighters had a very high price point for their first show in Ottawa since 2008. They still sold out the venue which is a massive rarity. Stepping onto the grounds it was immediately clear that security had ramped up their efforts but that is now the norm with any large collection of individuals. Go to a Sens game or any concert at the Canadian Tire Center and you will find the same thing. Long lines while bags and pockets are checked along with metal detectors. These moments are no longer a stroll in the park so planning accordingly with a schedule of the bands you want to see are of the utmost importance. Photos Courtesy of Mark Horton and Ottawa Bluesfest The War On Drugs has been a band I have been dying to see so Friday July 6th was the first pick of the 3 days pass I held. Having missed them at Folkfest a few years ago it was an obvious choice. Their studio work is perfect, the song writing is praiseworthy and their style is comforting. The question remained; can they pull off what they do in the studio? The answer is a resounding yes. The biggest surprise was discovering that Adam Granduciel is a monster player as well as a solid front man, which ended up being a common theme amongst many of the acts gracing the stages. Much of the material in their hour long set was culled from their last two albums, Lost In The Dream and A Deeper Understanding. It’s easy to wonder what a full show from them must be like. Towards the tail end there was strong, yet intentional, feedback emanating from Adam’s guitar during Red Eyes when all of a sudden one of the stagehands let him know they only had 5 minutes left. Adam then changed guitars while stating "We were about to do Under The Pressure but we only have 5 minutes left. Here’s one that we don’t often do." They launched into Lost In The Dream which became immediately satisfying considering the expectations of what hadn't occurred. Photo courtesy of Scott Penner and Ottawa Bluesfest After that it was time to check out St Paul and the Broken Bones on the Claridge Stage but that was an exercise in futility. The tent was packed with people spilling out every which way but loose. As wonderful as that music is there was no way it was being felt in any meaningful way. There were too many conversations with people milling about and it became a waste of time. Making way towards the Blacksheep Stage I noticed there were people all the way at the back on the top of the hill. That alone was intriguing but once crested it became obvious why so many folk were seeing this band. Brockhampton were throwing down some serious hip hop. The energy level coming from the stage was palpable in a way you can only explain if you experience it. The crowd was much younger but were hopping in unison. Music is best when there is a collection of individuals all feeling the same thing and this was it. Theoretically that is why we keep going and this proved it. At a certain point when they mellowed out for a bit, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out Jethro Tull. My presence didn’t last very long because I kept wondering what I was missing on the Blacksheep stage so I ended up heading back that way. They were an absolutely perfect discovery and I look forward to seeing them again in the future. Photos Courtesy of Mark Horton and Ottawa Bluesfest The second choice of the 3 day pass was a no brainer. Being a huge fan of Dave Grohl’s song writing brought me on Tuesday July 10th and from the moment we arrived we knew we were in for a massive crowd. Getting there just after 6pm knowing there might be a lineup is one thing but getting there that early while witnessing such a sea of people is another. It was shocking. We figured out the quickest way to get in thanks to an amazing eye but things could have been so much worse. By the time we were getting scanned with metal detectors Greta Van Fleet were onstage with their heavily pulsating sound. The interest level in seeing them was quite astounding, however it was very difficult to get into their set thanks to it being so early and only an hour long. We had just enough time to get in, grab a beer, get a spot, coordinate with those coming and before we knew it the band only had 2 songs left. That was enough for us to know we will be keeping tabs on these kids. There was plenty of "Led Zeppelin-esque" talk amongst our crew with none of it being negative. They wear it like a badge of honour. At this point it was pretty much impossible to get anything from the concessions offered and if you didn’t have an insider you were going to deal with what had to be at least a 45 minute line. Thankfully the concert overlords graced our group so all we had to do was laugh at one another while waiting for the Foo Fighters. When they hit the stage they hit it running and opened with what I consider to be the best opening song almost any band does, All My Life. Learn To Fly followed and then The Pretender, which was the opener the last time the band was in town but it was time to move. By the time we found a more palpable spot, Dave Grohl had invited his daughter on stage to sing back up to The Sky Is A Neighbourhood which Is from their latest album Concrete and Gold. The singalong during My Hero was perfectly entertaining from our new vantage point. Not long after there was the inevitable drum solo. Taylor Hawkins is pretty much the human equivalent of Animal from the Muppets so it didn’t come off as incredibly cheesy but the majority of drum solos do showcase a solid level of talent. A particular section introducing the band members was really entertaining. Taylor sang Queen’s Under Pressure but the highlight had to be the Imagine/Jump mash-up. Picture the arrangement of John Lennon’s Imagine with the lyrics to Van Halen’s Jump. I couldn’t do it simply reading that line but the Foo Fighters put those puzzle pieces with perfect execution. It was musically geeky and comedic all at the same time. The rest of the show featured a few more heavy hitters like Monkey Wrench and Best Of You and shortly followed with Dirty Water from the new album. They came out for the encore and never let up, in fact one could suggest they went for it even harder and it would be hard to argue against that point. There were a couple of shout outs to Alanis Morrisette because Taylor Hawkins used to be the drummer in her band. Apparently she introduced him to Dave Grohl. You Outta Know offered a quick hello at the start of the encore followed by Big Me, Times Like These and finally Everlong. Just about as perfect as an encore one can envision. Photos Courtesy of Mark Horton and Ottawa Bluesfest Friday the 13th was the final pick of the 3 day pass and expectations were sky high. Sturgill Simpson on the City Stage followed by Beck. We got there really early again thanks to our Foo experience but this was vastly different. It felt like no one was there. You could go anywhere, order anything and be in the bathroom in a second. That’s what I always loved about Bluesfest so it was nice to feel like a return home. Having said that, it’s amazing so many people opted out of the music from this night because they opted out of a fantastic experience. The last time seeing Sturgill was during his Grammy winning Sailors Guide To Earth album tour. He had horns backing him as well as this insane lead guitar player named Laur Joamets and we wondered which band we would be seeing. Turns out it was the bass, drum and keyboard core of that band. For a brief moment I was disappointed but then a friend turned and said "Sturgill can rip it on guitar". Sure enough, that boy can play. He tore his country songs to shreds but they were no longer country. This was "the Allman Brothers minus one guitar player" as Todd put it. Strugill approaches his live songs much like Bob Dylan. If you think you only know it in one key then get ready. They will change the key and change the tempo to the point you might not know what song it is until they hit the chorus. He was destroying his Tele whenever that was in his hands and was easily the best guitar player I witnessed at Bluesfest. It’s simple to label him as a Waylon Jennings clone when you hear him sing but that is a disservice. Most of the songs came from A Sailor’s Guide To Earth and Metamodern Sounds In Country Music but there were at least a couple of songs that I had no idea whether he wrote them or covered them. Photos Courtesy of Mark Horton and Ottawa Bluesfest Everyone enjoyed Sturgill’s set so the break was welcomed as folks discussed what had just happened while feeling excited to see Beck. We all grew up on his music and the vast majority were finally seeing him live for the first time. What was it going to sound like? That was a predominate idea but when Beck finally took the stage and opened with Devil’s Haircut the City Stage turned everything into an old school dance party. Loser followed and bodily streams started flowing perfectly, complete with a mini sing-a-long. Que Onda Guero was up next and that’s the moment when it became obvious the bass player in this band was the real deal. His tone was perfectly aligned with our favorite bass players on this website, Phil Lesh and Mike Gordon. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he played a Modulus because he was throwing fastballs with his piece of wood while also creating an earthquake. The acoustic interlude dulled a few people who wanted the dance party to keep going but it gave others a chance to catch their breath. "Beck clearly went to Prince University" so when he dropped Raspberry Beret on the crowd, complete with a glowing purple light showcase, everything was lining up and shit got lit. The rest of the set was unfamiliar to our crew but no less harmonious. Make no mistake this was a really quick set with regards to time. I think it was no longer than an hour and a half. Where It’s At brought the dancers back in full force and then segued into a band introduction. During this medley we were privy to Miss You by the Rolling Stones, Cars by Gary Numan, Once In A Lifetime by the Talking Heads and In The Air tonight by Phil Collins along with at least 1 or 2 that are forgotten. Where It’s At came back around to complete the circle. Bluesfest was positively tremendous this year with one of the best lineups they have offered in quite some time. Local food vendors, plenty of amenities and a bevy of conscientious music lovers helped take things over the top. Experience has formed their logistical thinking and I look forward to seeing what next summer, and beyond ,has to offer.