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  1. More Photos Ottawa CityFolk welcomed a relatively short 50 minute set by Bahamas on a hot sunny, sunday afternoon where sunglasses were all the rage. Alfie Jurvanen, aka Bahamas, hosted the set offering some wonderfully light-hearted, humorous banter in between tunes that included introducing each band member by the flight number assigned to each of them while travelling to Ottawa earlier in the day. Bahamas drew an impressive, dancing crowd of 37,246 or less (rough guess) for the early-ish 5:30 set. Hopefully they will be back soon for a full show at one of the live music venues around town.
  2. An hour was way too short of a set time for Broken Social Scene to hit their stride at Ottawa CityFolk Festival. Coming off a tour with sets being over two hours in length, the pacing at CityFolk seemed rushed. BSS missed turning what could have been another outstanding show into a quick run through of some of their best material. When BSS are in full flight, they are a jet plane who’s wings are about to come off. There can be moments of sheer chaos, a tearing at the seams, where the music and the band can be falling apart, right up to a cliff’s edge, looking down, taking that last step over the edge to end up where the audience and band are pulled back from the precipice, and then every thing, music, band and audience turn into a celebration of joy and ecstasy. These moments of musical mayhem, come celebration are hard to find in todays musical landscapes. BSS have long been purveyors of risk taking where the potential is great gain, or great loss. It was not from lack of trying or lack of focus, but more of a running out of any more road to drive on. With expectations of band members ranging from a lean six piece to the ridiculous 19 that have graced the stage in the past. A cool 10 piece band emerged on the Great Lawn City Stage. Lead by BSS stalwart guitarists, Kevin Drew, Andrew Whiteman, and Brendan Canning, and supported on the back beat and rhythm machine duo of Charles Spearin and Justin Peroff, they promised that they “came here to rock their guts out (Kevin Drew)”. The female singers were the wild card for the show. Ultimately Amy Millan and fellow Stars and BSS early member Evan Cranley were in fine form. They were joined by new singer Ariel Engle, who with husband Andrew Whiteman (Apostle of Hustle, Bourbon Tabernacle Choir) are a folk duo AroarA. Both female singers suffered from being buried in the mix, and along with other sound issues, every thing seemed to get ironed out by the half way mark. The cacophony of aural riches continued with the addition of atwo piece horn section, and sometime additional drummers. Song high lights included 7/4 Shoreline, Stars and Sons, and the Cause=Time. at his last time through Toronto. A sign that BSS has reached far and wide. A memorable Stay Happy was sung by Ariel Engle, which appears on their latest Hugs and Thunder L.P. However, by the time BSS had to sign off on the show, they were just starting to leave the ground and soar. Hopefully BSS will pass back through Ottawa as they head out on a North American tour. Next time a longer set, smaller venue, and more risk and reward should be expected.
  3. More Photos Thursday night's final main stage show at Ottawa CityFolk festival featured singer-songwriter, musician, actor, record producer, documentary filmmaker Jack Johnson. While he's dipped his surfboard in quite a few modes of the entertainment industry, he's clearly most known as a performer. He spent the evening in complete control of the audience as they sang along to many of his tunes, with plenty of women declaring "We LOVE YOU JACK!" throughout. He isn't the most technically capable guitar player out there, but his licks are all very tasteful. His hooks are instantly compelling and a certain G-C-D 3 chord vamp in one of his songs led him into a predictable The Joker (Steve Miller Band) which also inspired a big sing-along. It was a surprisingly fun show for one who isn't even close to being a Jack Johnson fan as the smooth, tasteful sounds can do nothing but make one move and smile along with friends and strangers alike. The weather was perfect for JJ's brand of sounds. At 10:30 it was still 27C! The only thing missing was an actual beach and some tiki torches. Once again, CityFolk programmers put on a solid night of well-paired music on the main stage.
  4. More Photos Denver based Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats brought their soul and poured it all out on Thursday night at the Ottawa CityFolk Festival to a large crowd of music lovers and very long beer lines. It seems that this crew truly inspires a thirst for booze! Having a tall can of beer in both hands can make it difficult to show appreciation through applause, but one can always hoot and holler as an alternative. There was a very cool moment where Nathaniel directed the crowd to get down on the ground while finishing the set with S.O.B, which made for a very interesting interaction, and he completed this with a commanding "Alright rise up children". This was a great set to burn off the energy of those that stayed for Jack Johnson, and mellow out.
  5. More from Bill Burr Bill congratulated the crowd for "skating" their way to a "parking lot" to see him perform under the hot sun (his last visit here was in the winter and he commented in his podcast on how cool it was that the people of Ottawa go to work wearing skates along the canal). Of course he had to throw some hockey jabs out there and his disdain for the Habs overshadowed any cracks against the Senators. Around the 10 minute mark, Burr realized that he hadn't even started any of his material yet after just freeflowing up to this point, using inspiration from some of the audience. Bill politely reminded one guy who was capturing video with is phone from the front that he might like to put out another comedy special with material that isn't already all over youtube, while also surgically shaming him to bits. Another guy brought a homemade sign that read "Just Checking In On YAAAAA!!!" which is basically his podcast catchphrase at the top of each episode. While the sign was a funny lone prop in the crowd, Ol' Billy boy didn't hold back the jabs, while he was at least a little humoured over the fan effort. After entering into his material, he ran through current topical targets like Caitlyn Jenner, or his own personal life as a married guy, what he thinks of feminists and his take on racism. Anyone who might walk in on each of those bits, out of context, might walk away offended. Burr's material needs to be heard from start to finish. His views are usually a reflection of common ignorance, or general media perceptions on stereotypical behaviors. He makes fun of himself more than anyone else. It's really hard to describe, and it's much easier to direct attention towards one of his specials on Netflix, or even his podcast.
  6. Childish Gambino - Photo: Mike Bouchard More Photos By: Jay McConnery Photos: Mike Bouchard As the sun set on the final weekend of the 20th Anniversary Bluesfest blowout, and I considered the uncomfortable implications of Collective Soul’s suggestive anthem “ ,” endless mutating reflections and highlights bounced around my head like dried maize spinning in a hot kettle; a tired, disgusting old kettle, with growing cracks and tell-tale signs of irreversible scorching. Although, in principle, still functional. Thankfully, some of these aforementioned kernels were able to reach the required temperature to explode into realized ideas and mature into the seasoned, salty sweet nuggets we are able to enjoy together here. Others, of course, remain in undeveloped stasis, slipping forgotten between cracks of the fold out floor, into the flattened Bluesfest turf, where they will wait to be devoured by next spring’s flock of Canadian Geese. I think a few nuggets may also be only partially popped. To say, pulling together a final festival weekend wrap-up is a daunting, difficult task- especially sitting at my desk on Monday morning, considering the sheer number of artists and experiences that must be recalled - but even more so, synthesizing the successes and challenges of the festival brand into a delicious stick-worthy bag of throat clogging kettle corn delight. Anyway, I volunteered for this, so let’s get down to it. Friday began with a sun-soaked throwback, as an ocean of black shirts sang through Guns’n’Roses classics as led by the dextrous fret-work of the iconic Slash and his band, the Conspirators. Tending towards Quebecois, tattooed, and heavily bronzed, the audience suspended (some) reality to be all at once transported to a simpler time- 1990. Visions of hedonistic hairspray danced across the mind’s eye as security hosed down the overheating pit crowd in a scene reminiscent of rock videos from times gone by. Myles Kennedy did a great job as a different kind of mild-mannered Axl, and it was pretty hard to deny the fun atmosphere during their short set, which got double check marks as a cover band, and nostalgia act. Overall, I would say Slash’s volume could’ve been boosted a little during the raging solo portion of but it’s silly to complain now. Over on the Blacksheep Stage, Yung Lean created a futuristic and confusing digital soundscape with his twitching pubescent fingertips. His music is in large part a collage of bloops and bleeps, assembled in homage to his favourite video game effects and soundtracks. An interesting niche, I’d say. The sizeable audience seemed split between reverence and disdain for the young Swede’s creativity, likely clearly distinguished by those who shared his nostalgia for this particular vintage of games and sounds. I zipped back through the War Museum to check out . And it should definitely be noted that this inter-stage scuttling has been made exceptionally easy this year- specifically, by including the inside of the Museum as part of the official festival grounds. Additionally, by changing the festival layout to avoid bottleneck zones which plagued the last few years. It’s a huge improvement as far as crowd experience. Now if only they could have a small bike park and entrance at the west end. San Francisco’s Third Eye Blind followed on the Claridge Stage. They confessed to having joined the Big Shiny Bluesfest line-up as a one off, and as a result sounded a little under rehearsed. TEB was a huge hit machine in the late 90s and their following appears intact, as the crowd was vast and quick to forgive the band’s lack of polish, shouting out the familiar choruses and willingly gobbling up front man Jenkins’ stomach churning diatribe. I thought the performance improved over the course of the set, and was embarrassingly disappointed to have missed meth-anthem ‘Semi-Charmed Kinda Life,’ while checking out the odd smooth blues of Joe Nemeth, doo doo d’oh. The evening’s headline spot was split between the Barenaked Ladies on the Bell Stage and the phenomenal July Talk on the River Stage. The Steven Page-less BNL dismantled their huge audience with seasoned showmanship, impressively running through a catalogue that many of us know and love. It may not be my thing at the moment- but everyone’s had a soft spot for these sweethearts at some point, hell, I was even thinking of wearing my oversized ‘Gordon’ shirt to the gig. Interestingly, BNL were one of several main stage acts that felt it necessary to cover (in their case, in the form of song and dance medley) other current top 40 hits and/or artists. This tendency was a subject of discussion among festival pass holders, as it occurred during 5 separate headline sets on the same stage, including Snoop. Is it an exercise in cross-branding, a jab at how much other popular music sucks, or perhaps just a ‘thing’ I am unaware of? July Talk - photo: Mike Bouchard Instead, I spent the balance of time checking out July Talk. This was one of the most entertaining shows I witnessed at Bluesfest, as the band rocked a at Springsteen energy levels, with the captivating sexual sparring of the male/female vocalists guiding the audience’s attention through the performance. The aggressive raspy vocals of Peter Dreimanis blended with the playful, sensual timbre of Leah Fay’s voice in some kind of perfectly unpredictable saucy ‘mixture,’ and their exaggerated interaction complimented it perfectly. The tension is actually quite riveting- as they compete and outdo each other for the audience’s attention. The musicians walk a tightrope with extreme dynamics, accompanying audience participation and physical theatrics- and managed to impressively maintain the musicality throughout. Without doubt this band is destined for bigger audiences, and I’m sure the right song could see them on a main stage in no time. Saturday’s most discussed day sets were from Mr. Olsen-twin himself, Bob Saget, and the porta-potty rapping antics of Action Bronson. Work engagements forced me to miss the measure of the day, but I arrived in time to catch a taste of the ‘Nostalghia,’ who were by sake of name alone, an obvious shoe-in for this year’s festival. Then I checked out the latter half of Childish Gambino and made a quick visit to Thornetta Davis, struggling to connect to something musically as the growing legion of Snoop Dogg fans permeated the site with hormone-heavy energy. I did catch a few of my favourite Snoop cuts, but really, it’s just the same as it ever was- and I guess I’m less high. I felt perhaps I had hit my Bluesfest threshold as I was cussed out for shuffling through a group of Barhaaven hustlaz, when I stumbled upon the Mavericks on the River Stage. The Tex-Mex Spanish Americana vibe has been otherwise absent at this year’s festival, and it was a real treat to enjoy something you might not normally hear on the radio, The Mavericks. It was also wonderful to escape the teeming masses, which I’m increasingly reminded are not for me, especially if you are not traveling with the herd. Like the mutant neon-green Bluesfest ‘official’ swamp bugs that adhere to audience members’ hair and skin, the sticky gumbo of acoustic and brass instrumentation peppered with percussion and commanding vocals,(Raul Malo), latched onto my heart like a July May-fly. It also reminded me of the festival’s former tendency to highlight Latin Jazz, Cuban and African world music extensively, which I feel is another unfortunate trend in the festival’s programming. Their music felt like a northern cousin to the Gipsy Kings, and had the moderate audience smiling widely. From this set, I enjoyed the weirdo pirate rock of Dr. Hook featuring the eye-patch wearing Roy Sawyer, on the Black Sheep stage. Sawyer is not much of a singer, or performer, anymore- but it doesn’t matter. His band buttressed his performance with strong vocals, and enthusiastic delivery- and he is such a character with his baton and perpetually burning cigarette. The audience singalong of “Cover of the Rolling Stone” is one I’ll not soon forget. Nor will I forget the beautiful parkway bike ride east, underneath Parliament, and along the locks and canal to a friend’s place afterwards- what a beautiful city we have. Sunday couldn’t start and end soon enough for me, as physical exhaustion was beginning to take hold of my psyche. As a younger man, I was happy to spend the 11 days of Bluesfest burning the midnight oil- waltzing without problem through work and festie life . Now, I’ve found it must be managed more like a careful marathon. You need to sleep, eat well, exercise – in balance with festival attendance, otherwise, well, these reviews would be even grumpier. I arrived late Sunday afternoon in time to bounce between a couple of shows of interest. On the Black Sheep stage- I checked out the ‘Be In the Band, Instructors Showcase’ which featured a number of noteworthy local players and dedicated music teachers running through a well prepared set of covers. Watching the 5 guitar assault on ‘Whipping Post’ and ‘Rocking in the Free World’ was truly awesome, especially in that the players were on par with most others I had seen over the course of the festival, and in many ways the heart of Ottawa’s expanding community of musicians. I split my time with The Darcys over on the River Stage, who were an awesome treat. I undersood them to be a band who is dedicated to studio magic and execution, but the Darcys also very much deliver live. Their songs are slightly elusive, but soon hook you with great breaks, arrangements and a complex wall of sound approach in their instrumental climaxes which were no less than epic. They also performed some of their innovative adaptation of Steely Dan’s ‘Aja’ - most stirringly, a loving and respectful take on ‘Home at Last.’ I thought their grooves were deliberate and original- much like their onstage energy: definitely a band to check out. I followed the increasing humidity over to Moist, performing on the Bell Stage. It was interesting to see how well the band has aged. After things dried up a bit, we galloped over to see a bit of USS on River Stage, an odd trio of drummer, acoustic rhythm guitar and samples/dj/mc/hype-man who attacked their performance with an unmatched energy and intensity. They had a huge enthusiastic crowd, many donning their fashionable swag- and they didn’t disappoint, especially during their anticipated song ‘ ,’ which has often been heard on popular radio. There were several cartwheels, crowdsurfing, and I think a back flip- pretty impressive for a dude who looks to be about 35. The Sam Roberts Band followed on the Claridge Stage drawing an impressive crowd with the their modern classic Can-Rock. The band is made up of solid players, who take their show and performance seriously- and engage the audience frequently and respectfully. Not having a sense of their music previously, I did fall a little in love at the Wolfe Island festival a couple years back, and again really enjoyed their slightly tripped out groove rock again this day. They are probably one of the better charting bands in the country right now, and the addition of a sax player definitely upped the ante. And then Collective Soul- who opened with two originals, but quickly addressed the concerned faces in the audience by promising the rest of the set would be ‘the old stuff’. A perfect familiar and non-threatening set to cap off the Bluesfest weekend. It’s crazy how many I recognize, and how few of their lyrics I’ve bothered to learn. Uh huh, Yeah. Goddo and Elvin Bishop closed the other stages, but tired and blind with thickening eye crust, I hopped on my bike and bid Bluesfest adieu for another year. The festival is clearly a different beast than the one I got to know about 15 years ago. Unlike the whimsical mystery of new and undiscovered talent the lineup once provided, It is now programmed for maximum turnout, maximum efficiency, and maximum profit. A festival which has something for everyone, not just self-righteous music afficiandos (like me), but really everyone. It’s huge and teeming, and spectacular. It has increasingly re-written itself in recognition of culture trends, becoming one of the 10 biggest and most successful festivals in the world. It seems like everyone has got something to sell at Bluesfest- and if I was more of a venture capitalist, I might try out my concession ideas next year: Sugar Rope, or Irish Popsicles. Anyway, its rare an opportunity comes to crush success within the context of the arts, and function as a self- sufficient non-profit which donates extensively to important programs in Ottawa. I applaud Mr Monahan and his team, and thank him for considering the tastes of me and people like me when putting together the new and improved Folk Fest. Thanks for reading.
  7. Blondie - Photo: Mike Bouchard - at Ottawa Bluesfest By: Jay McConnery Perfect weather and sunny vibes greeted my arrival Thursday afternoon to Bluesfest. The sun roasting my pink crown as I happily sashayed through security with an unwieldy can-shaped bulge in my pants. My clandestine refreshment kept axels cool as I motored between stages, mechanically harvesting as much musical fruit as possible before Blondie was scheduled to perform an hour later. First up, I enjoyed the unique voice of Gary Brooker and his band Procol Harum, accompanied by the NAC orchestra on the Bell Stage: an elaborate production of thoughtful scoring and spectacular execution. The proceedings were masterfully guided by conductor David Firman, in close proximity and communication with Harum drummer Geoff Dunn. The pair navigated the prodigious collective like a bloated hover craft meandering carefully over hot lava, while Brooker’s trademark voice acted as rudder, in this oddly imagined vessel metaphor. In quieter sections, the music’s affect fell victim to the festival’s oft-cited sound bleed from the River Stage, yet generally the orchestra powerfully bolstered the compositions, much to the delight of Brooker and his band-mates, who grinned to each other throughout the performance. Highlights included the closing pair of tunes ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and ‘Conquistador’ – which are admittedly, the only tunes I was really sure I recognized. I also caught a few tunes from The Districts at the Barney Danson Theatre and was thoroughly impressed with their sweaty in your face rock-show. This incredibly young Pennsylvania band thrashed through some Americana tinted indie rock in front of a small crowd like they were playing for their lives, but weren’t too worried about it. Their compositions were unique, ragged, and exceptionally dynamic with impressive stops, howls and gritty delivery. I hope to catch this band again soon, because it’s clear they are already kicking a lot of ass. Careful not to miss the start of Blondie, I ran up into the pit of the Claridge stage and jockeyed for an atypically close spot. Being tall, I’m often either shamed aside, or discouraged from standing in certain places, but after a discussion about how large bearded men also have feelings, I befriending a group of middle-aged women who had brought their kids to check out Blondie- and allowed me to join their cross generational culture swap. Which I guess, really, is the crux of this whole thing anyway. My excitement was echoed by many, as I considered my childhood crush on Deborah Harry, and the unforgettable evening in 1979 when she appeared on the Muppet Show performing . On that same broadcast, she also performed ‘One Way or Another’ (which as a 3 year old was my favourite song, until I heard the Kink’s Superman Song) and much to my delight, they opened the show with this classic rocker. Harry, Chris Klein, and the guys performed well, taking my nostalgia train brightly through the past, looking pretty cool all the while. The set was peppered with newer unknown tracks, but their one-time vanguard themes of new wave, disco and rap, (now all entirely classic cannon), made up the majority of the show. Deborah Harry still has her knowing, mischievous glint, evident even behind her bleached hair and white glasses, as she pranced and twisted across the stage like everyone’s favourite eccentric aunt. Highlights of the set included ‘Rapture’, ‘Heart of Glass’ and ‘Hanging on the Phone,’ leaving this 70s kid satisfied and looking forward to some classic British Blues and some Indie rock. The Black Sheep stage was jammed for John Mayall, a legend of British Blues, and master bandleader. Mayall has mentored the majority of notable British rock guitarists, essentially giving legs to the British Invasion, and changing the face of rock forever. He’s a man who found his lot early in life, and still performs in the same basic context- dishing out contemporary renditions of classic American blues. His hot shot band of players was up to task last night, following Mayall’s brief direction and leadership towards hard rocking blues excursions. Although I am not typically interested in straight blues, I enjoyed this set and the pangy solos Mayall punched out on his eccentric guitar, but mostly the awe and respect on the faces of spectators. Over at the River Stage Young the Giant had another significant audience, and ended the evening jubilantly, while Perry the Band stunk it up on the main pitch.
  8. More Photos By: Jay McConnery Perfect, unusually temperate July weather greeted the teeming masses for Bluesfest’s annual hump-day spectacular, as the well-oiled festival continued crushing expectations and like so many over-priced hintonburgers. Far busier than I expected, the site filled steadily as Cypress Hill’s chronic disciples amassed at the Claridge Stage, and I took the opportunity to check out some new music over at the River Stage. The No BS! Brass Band was a surprisingly entertaining and accomplished 10 piece from Virginia- which dropped some funky originals, and contemporary interpretations of New Orleans Brass band music. An odd-looking rag-tag of trained musicians, the group worked through some funky arrangements with fast changes and super funky breaks from punk-styled drummer, and apparent band-leader, Lance Koehler. The band took turns passing the lead, and each member individually impressed, but again I felt Koeler’s tasty kit-work stole the show. It was a damn near perfect experience in the bright evening sun, until a slightly hesitant and bookish vocalist with an awkward hairline strode out for a tune with painfully repetitive lyric, initializing what my colleague referred to as ‘the Houseman effect’- wherein subpar, unwelcome, or slightly annoying vocals undermine the overall vibe or consistency of an otherwise instrumental/funk band’s performance (for a portion of the show). This wouldn’t be the only time this phenomenon played out over the course of the evening either, as fans of Trombone Shorty might agree. After a few minutes of grinning and bearing, it was back to the funk- and we were soon headed over to catch the opening of Hip-Hop- Heady Crop heroes, Cypress Hill. In the jovial crowd of current, former and future potheads, red security shirts circled like slobbering jackals as the fat beats and nasal vocal delivery of B-Real and Sen Dog inspired increasingly thick plumes of inspiration and cautious tomfoolery. The performance opened with some glaring sound issues which seemed to belie the essential upper low-end of live hip hop, creating an odd mix of extremes which initially made the set a little difficult to enjoy. It was thankfully remedied in time for ‘Insane in the Membrane,’ as the MCs stepped into full swing, puffing oversized doobies and praising the potency of Canadian bud. The group engaged the audience with typical call and response exercises, as well launching into a classic inter-crowd diss-off, which devolved comically. It was a fun set, which didn’t offer a lot of surprises or innovation, but delivered the classics in a smoked out environment, as the impressive crowd surely hoped. Though a separate musical era and vibe altogether from acts such as STYX or Foreigner, Cypress Hill was a booking which arguably fits firmly into the growing tendency towards nostalgia at the Bluesfest, as many among the audience appeared to be checking out their leafy passions of yesteryear. The rest of the evening was rather scattered for me, significantly spacy even, after the Cypress Hill experience. I did check out a portion of ‘Bombino’ on the Black Sheep,( the only outdoor alternative to Cypress Hill, for a full 45 minutes of the evening schedule!). As a result of what felt like a booking oversight, a fair number of people were subject to their set, which at times felt like Afrobeat on speed. Bombino certainly sounded great on their web and NPR clips, inspiring my visit, but seemed like a different, unrecognizable band on stage that night. It appeared that the drummer and rhythm guitar player were possibly new, definitely white, and maybe last minute replacements who didn’t quite have the intricacies of the rhythms entirely worked out. As a result, their overall sound could be described as confusing, especially with the donning of their uniform afghan scarfs and black terminator sunglasses. Their cacophony of rhythmic confusion had me camped-out early for Trombone Shorty, which is saying a lot, as the last time I had seen him thought was trombone shitty. It wasn’t long before Shorty’s band ‘Orleans Avenue’ came out full force on the River Stage, blasting tight aggressive party grooves, as Shorty danced across the stage leading the action with his impressive bone. It was quite enjoyable, but I meandered to the Killers, and soon after my search for vibe ended with Phantogram. Atmospheric, hip-hop inspired, ambient trip hop would be my best description of what unfolded on the Blacksheep stage- in what I would consider one of the better sets I’ve seen this so far this year. Recommended by a wise friend, this four-piece led by the guitar and key duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, dropped some engagingly moody pieces, with in combination with their dense brilliant arrangements and thoughtfully produced light show worked with bone-chilling effect. The beats were a mixture of programmed backing tracks and live kit drummer creating a potent, at times dizzying groove. Bathel’s vocals drift between trippy and dreamy and her pouty steel-toed stomp commanded the audience’s attention like so many lost children. The density of their arrangements and the crisp sound created an irresistible scene for this reviewer, one which easily eclipsed the rest of the evening. Phantogram were the first band of the day that felt relevant and original, and I really enjoyed the entire set- including some bargain bin stage theatrics which though lo-fi, were somehow quite impressive. I’m reminded consistently that the best and most satisfying experiences remain on the periphery.
  9. Josh Homme, QOTSA - Photo: Mike Bouchard More Photos By: Jay McConnery After the perfect weather of opening weekend, warm summer rain greeted Bluesfest patrons Tuesday evening, and surprisingly didn’t damper attendance or enthusiasm. At times torrential, the downpour delayed show-times and soaked thousands of rockers with often hilarious and/or unfortunate results. A different kind of wet t-shirt contest, you might say. I arrived over-prepared with rain gear, umbrella and gumboots enabling fast convenient positioning in the muddiest sections of the concert bowl, as well as glances of disdain from wet longhairs attempting to spark their damp smokes. Unfortunately missing Jenny Lewis and Brody Dalle, my evening shift began with STYX and their immaculate spectalica of fromage-a nostalgica, forcefully delivered without a sniff of irony, no matter what the liberal use of hairspray or masculine-purposed spandex attire might normally suggest. Unapologetically, they are STYX. STYX, featuring Gowan, (so ya know!), prove their credibility by delivering their numbers fast and hard, just like STYX likes it. Spread across the stage in well-choreographed interplay, the band deftly blasted through their notable catalogue with precision, highlighting their alarmingly well-maintained chops and seemingly immortal bouffant lids. Their visual production was slick, shiny, and careful to avoid extreme close-ups of the ageing band members. Instead, the sizeable screens focused on blinding, somewhat dated, accompanying imagery, like shifting patterns of digital primary colours, and images of some kind of confusing flag-waving patriotism. Anyway. Predictable highlights included ‘Lady,’ and the solo Gowan medley of hits which riffed on ‘Moonlight Desires,’ ‘Strange Animal,’ and ‘Live and Let Die.’ This sing-along culminated in the end of the rain showers and emergence of a huge rainbow across the festival sky which inspired many bright eyes and poor photographs. The set wrapped with a show-stopping ‘Come Sail Away’ which filled my sails taut with smiles, on course, across the bowl for Queens of the Stone Age. QOTSA emerged from the shadows of a backlit fizzling countdown to a lively set, opening with one-two punch of ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar’ and ‘No One Knows’, much to the young crowd’s delight. Performing as a 6 piece, the band delivered the best of their catalogue, with all the bells and whistles of the albums maintaining the raw emotive punch stoner rock requires to thrive in the live. Although the set drifted towards the flat-lands at times, the band kept the head-bobbing crowd stationary for their 70 minute set, even adding some new words to fan favourite ‘Feel Good Hit of The Summer’. Homme’s energy and voice started out spotty, but improved in collusion with the imbibition of his wide stiff drink. He remarked candidly at one point how impressed he was with the diversity of the day’s line up and mused that he thought that this, Bluesfest, is what a music festival should be- in reference to the diverse, if not random inclusivity of the programming. Like all of our uncomfortable cultural representations, I began to wonder if this festival really does tersely symbolize the fragmented artistic landscape and diversity of culture we enjoy/confound here in Canada, and especially Ottawa. Everyone has got something different in mind, and difference becomes homogeneity. As well, the reason some like it less, is often the same reason most like it more? Oh, Man. I pounded my beer and and shuffled through the war museum to check out the EDM night at the Blacksheep, and was surprised by the scant crowd of tanktops. I decided to go back and check out the opening of Foreigner, whose hits have filled radios for the last thirty years, against my better judgement. Every Foreigner track is immediately recognizable, although the same cannot be said for any single members of the group onstage- who look more like a parody. Ostensibly a cover band which covers material I’ve never really connected with, I hit the River stage to see Jake Bugg. Jake Bugg - Photo: Mike Bouchard Shaggy twenty year old Jake Bugg, is a well hyped Brit singer/songwriter, who again came highly recommended from several people, who had warned me to ‘see him while I can’. I immediately liked his simple black t-shirt style, basic rock trio set up, and the jangly tone of his resonant mahogany folk guitar. His songs were catchy, bearing the influence of Dylan and the Beatles unabashedly, and his voice reminiscent of a young Ray Davies- though without the grit and hardship. Or maybe a better comparison would be Deer Tick’s John McCauley without the perspective, heartache and booze. I enjoyed his set until his lyrics began to annoy- not surprising for a singer who is half my age, I just wasn’t buying it after a while. I left looking forward to a more promising tomorrow.
  10. St. Vincent - July 6, Ottawa Bluesfest - photo: Mike Bouchard More Photos By: Jay McConnery Summer breeze cooled the trademark dusty summer haze of Lebreton Flats, as Bluesfest wrapped its opening weekend with a musically overwhelming afternoon of typically incongruous scheduling relentlessly entertaining throngs of contented, weary Sunday revelers. Mayo soaked were savoured and the sugary grease of Beaver Tail sleeves licked, as gangs of celebratory seagulls dotted the dramatic sky scape of pink, idly-threatening clouds, as some phenomenally diverse music entertained the increasingly mixed social demographic of Ottawa’s biggest festival: The Festival of the Blues. Afternoon sets from Langhorne Slim and Caitlin Rose were discussed enthusiastically as crowds began to gather in earnest over the dinner hour for the musical meat of the day, one which I felt contradicts this year’s tendency to focus succinctly on the interests of a mass, culturally conservative audience. I settled in at the Claridge stage to check out the Drive By Truckers, enjoying a hot contraband banana from my pocket, sneering widely at the huge concession lines. The Truckers rolled out the loose southern rock as only they can, trading solos at the foot of the stage, and inviting the Texas horns out for a good portion of the set. They keep things informal and playful, and have built a dedicated following who expect this. I noticed the sound to be a little uneven, and was confused by the grinning two-step of the androgynous bass player. I was also increasingly intimidated by a burgeoning group of teenaged cowgirl clones who gathered around me in a storm of curls, beauty products and sexual confusion. They produced embroidered flasks from somewhere within the folds of their sundresses, dripping the boozy contents into their diet Pepsis and over their stiff new brown leather boots. Swarming the site like locusts, these hybridized Daisy Dukes seemed, to me, to represent a new Bluesfest archetype, fitting into the discourse of festival’s increasingly eclectic cast of stereotypes nicely alongside the recent addition of ‘EDM guy’ in 2011, ‘Hipster extreme’ (est. 2006), and ‘Rock-a-Billy man’ (from the way old school, primordial). Socio-Cultural reminiscing at the Blues fest is, of course, as natural and satisfying as complaining at Bluesfest. From the main festival bowl, I zipped over to the River Stage to check out the talented Ty Taylor lead his band like a fashionably young Al Green, engaging the crowd like a less young Michael Franti. Taylor ran every square inch of the pitch coming face to face with unexpecting audience members and staff, even climbing the lighting tower to the cameraman’s delight. The group was made up of immensely talented (and well dressed) players, who had no trouble getting the audience worked up like a well-shook bottle of hot ginger ale with their tight chops and dynamics. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, what (who?) allowed them to settle on the name ‘Vintage Trouble’- which quite frankly, I think sucks. They’ve opened for the Who- so I guess, it’s working. I figure they want people to know they are old school, and badass- but c’mon guys. As the catchy talent of the bandleader drew more spectators, I waltzed over to the Barney Danson Theatre to check out New Country Rehab who were stunning in their unified dynamic delivery. The group’s interplay and virtuous fiddle and guitar solos kept the audience rapt, though in trying to consume as much as possible (I think this might be the permanent theme now), I continued out to check out the weird Blaster blues of the Alvin Bros- and ultimately back to the River Stage for Mac DeMarco. Mac and his band dropped some awesome lo-fi stoner rock, with songs named after cigarettes, sleep and love. The band cracked me up with their slacker aesthetic and humour- discussing the colonial significance of festival sponsor RBC in pompous British accents. They also grinned through some original and somehow timeless numbers which drew from the best and worst of the 80s and 90s, underneath some of the most impressive flattened neon hats I’d seen since 1992. I definitely plan to get my hands on some recent material. Next up, while sadly missing Pokey Lafarge, The Violent Femmes, tore into their set with the two songs everyone wanted to hear, and then seemed to flounder in front of the enormous audience. Instead, I rushed to Black Sheep to check out the bulk of Shovels and Rope- a husband and wife duo from South Carolina who blew everyone’s socks clear off. Performing face to face in a rotating guitar and drums format- they reminded me of an organic diversified White Stripes, with Dolly Parton’s evil semi-twin in place of quiet Meg. They howled over incredibly thoughtful arrangements enbeefened by the addition of a keyboard in place of hi-hats for whoever sat in the drum throne. This duo had come highly recommended, and I really enjoyed their energetic set, as did most that were able to check it out. I decided to forego the new country (with a twist!!) of Lady Antebellum, after discovering that I knew their recent single. On the River Stage, St. Vincent held the crowd in the palm of her ivory-skinned hand dropping huge intricate riffs and performance theatrics in abundance. Rich with artistic intention and some hot backing tracks, long-legged Annie Clark dropped irresistible future-rock on the crowd slathered in her eclectic brand of guitar work, which is nothing short of awesome. Every aspect of her show exudes deliberation, and thoughtful planning, a quality surely driven home by her work with David Byrne, and as a result her performance was surreal and perfectly paced. All in all, an incredibly busy evening stuffed with talent, delight and not a drop of rain.
  11. More Photos Considering this arrangement that Jeff Tweedy put together that includes his son on drums is relatively new news, not many people knew what was in store for tonight at the Ottawa Bluesfest. The Chicago frontman and primary songwriter for Wilco made a rare stop in Ottawa to play the Blacksheep stage. This is THE most intimate outdoor stage of the Ottawa bluesfest. Revisiting the sound bleeding challenge, Tweedy was scheduled on Blacksheep Stage at the opposite side of the museum from A few minutes before Tweedy's setup was ready, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" was crawling over the museum so what was going to happen when Zedd turns his Macbook volume up during one of Tweedy's solo acoustic moments? This was another example of excellent planning. The museum is a great barrier to low end, because physics. It's made of concrete after all. Z barely made a dent in Tweedy's show, but Tweedy couldn't help but comment on the beats, or even try to play along. Aside from the light-hearted poking, it wasn't distracting at all. Tweedy, as graceful that he is, commented on Ottawa, declared his love for the Canadians in attendance and then described catching Journey on the way in by trying to sing what he'd heard. He continued to interact responding to requests during his solo acoustic segment and called out a heckler who was actually trying to be complementary about the US. The likely loaded dude was no match for Tweedy's onstage wit when the guy declared how great it is that the US now has free healthcare for all now. Tweedy corrected him "It's not FREE healthcare... you don't know what you're talking about.". Crowd laughs. Dude now has a story to tell his friends. The band that Tweedy has put together were supporting his upcoming album, Sue-key-ray. The tunes and sound was very reminiscent of the Wilco feel. This could be described as Wilco lite. These songs would fit well in any Wilco show and it will be interesting to hear how they extend them. The solo segment covered a few of Wilco's songs to unanimous joy and it ignited more audience interaction with some of the classic Wilco sing-alongs. Jesus etc., I am Trying to Break your Heart, I'm the Man Who Loves You were included in the 9 or 10 song mini-set. During this though, a pair of really bright white spotlights were blasting the audience. It left spots on retinas, even just looking at Tweedy. It was odd how they came on at this point and how they only appeared when cellphone screens lit up. They went off after the smartphone holders realized they couldn't capture anything in this light. It screws with the image. But...magically as phone screens popped back up, the lights re-ignited. Eventually they were just left on. This is a solid theory because camera phone usage limitation was being enforced by Tweedy, following Wilco's policies. Another photo/video discouraging conspiracy theory possibly employed by Wilcoworld was a video striped test pattern displayed behind the entire band. Those bands of cyan, magenta, red, green, blue, yellow tends to mess with a cellphones ability to adjust nicely so focused listening and engagement becomes the priority. The band returned to the stage to blow past the 10:45 posted finish time for a couple of more songs. Tweedy wondered if he should twist the title lyric of California Stars to be more canadian. The crowd agrees. Since it was the US independence day, why the hell not eh? He turned it into Can-a-dee-ah Stars, the audience joins in and he eventually reverts it back after not being able to keep a straight face while declaring he's temporarily forgotten the words after screwing with the lyrics. They finished at 11, and many people couldn't let go of a possible extra song or two even though the crew was already tearing down the gear. While a setlist isn't yet handy on the innernetz, there's a comparable setlist right here from a previous show.
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