First weekend of Bluesfest displayed flower power
The Bluesfest party kept going this over the weekend, with wall to wall performances, and minor absurdities all around. Even by the first hour, there was a lot on the go. With so much happening, it’s almost impossible to keep track of it all. Martyr’s bringing you highlights from the weekend though.
Silkken Laumann are already known as a force on the Ottawa electronic music scene. As the crowd gathered around The River Stage, it was hard to see what the fuss was all about. Then they started playing, and as one fan put it: “This is what robots hear when they do acid,” he said.
Which I have to assume is a positive thing. Their brand of psych-house isn’t for everyone, but it does draw you in and keep you there.
For those able to resist that magnetic force, there was another local band playing on The Blacksheep Stage, local blues-rockers Cold Capital.Raw vocal, and in your face guitar, this was a return to form of sorts. In one of the greater ironies of the festival, this was easily the first “Blues” performance at Bluesfest. As an older man declared to me, completely unprovoked on my part:
“I don’t get your generation, this is where the real music is. Where’d the instruments go, where’s the love?”
Indeed, watching a band of consummate blues-rockers do what they do best makes the listener a little nostalgic.
Meanwhile, in the Barney Danson auditorium, Angelique Francis was performing her unique brand of R&B/Reggae infused music.
“It’s really cool how she does all the instruments, guitar, stand-up bass, vocals” remarked on of the audience members as they shuffled out after her show.Heading back outside, you could see Darius Rucker (you may also remember him as Hootie, from Hootie and the Blowfish) beginning his solo country performance on the main Claridge Homes Stage. He’s by all accounts an excellent showman but there were two far more interesting acts occurring on the smaller Black Sheep, and River stages.
Harper and Midwest Kind are a band of old-school rockers from Australia- combining traditional and aboriginal sounds to create a hybrid that is just fantastic to listen to. The combination harmonica/didgeridoo is a unique thing to hear, especially in the context of Bluesfest. They’re clearly inspiring a new generation of Caucasians to think in a new direction, as an example exhibited to me in the crowd simply put it: “It’s making me want to care more about the natives, man. Care, and drink.”Meanwhile, over on The River Stage, producer Bonobo was blowing his audience’s collective mind with his mixes. This is an artist at the peak of his prime, and ready to take on the world.
By the end of Bonobo’s set, Journey had taken the stage on the Bell Stage, by the main entrance. They performed their hits valiantly, including “Wheel in the Sky” and “Don’t stop Believing”. But,some were less optimistic than others, “I stopped believing in Journey a long time ago.” Oh the humanity. For people like this fan, there was another interesting group performing on the Black Sheep Stage. Honey Island Swamp band was formed by exiles from Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. They’ve been described as playing “Bayou Americana”, with a mix of blazing guitar, mandolin, and four part vocal harmonies. They had a short but sweet set, but left a definite impression with the audience.
Over on The River Stage, iconic recording artists Sly& Robbie performed. To give some scope as to their talent, they have performed on over 200,000 songs. By all accounts this was an amazing show, but a skunky haze seemed to have overtaken most of the people I asked about it. Must have been fog or something.On The River Stage a legend in his own right, Jeff Tweedy put on an amazing show. Tweedy, as you may know, is a founding member of Wilco. He’s like a hipster messiah of sorts. To sum it up in the words of one his fans:
“JEFF TWEEDY PLEASE MARRY ME SO I CAN HAVE YOUR BABIES!” a statement which, no word of a lie, was followed by tears.
He played an amazing set, and was even accompanied by his son at one point.Leaving the grounds for the day, you could see water-bottles flying, as heavy bass reverberated. One of two things was happening. It was either the end of days, or Zedd was performing.
“I don’t know how you can get famous without making any of your own music” was one observation from the crowd.
This observation was soon drowned out by shouts of “woo!” so I guess we’ll never know.
Day two ended as it began, in a sea of noise and confusion, loving every minute of it.Weekends at Bluesfest are a little different. The festivities began on Saturday afternoon with the “ She’s the One Emerging Female Artist Competition, Presented by Jump! 106.9, a contest in which female artists between 16-19 compete for a cash prize and recording time in Los Angeles. It was a nice reminder of what the music industry is about, people living their dreams and taking chances. Unfortunately it was also four hours long, and there were a lot of other amazing things happening.
Old Stereo took the river Stage with their unique combination of soul/funk/pyrotechnics. “Something I wouldn’t forget if I wanted to,” was how a fan described it.
Meanwhile on the Claridge Homes Stage, up and coming song-writer Kalle Mattson performed to the biggest crowd of the afternoon. His show was described as “Like being able to see a piece of history.” But we all know hipsters are prone to hyperbole.The real surprise of the day was local R&Brass group, BlakDenim. They brought together heavy brass, powerful lyrics, and an amazing stage presence to dominate the Black Sheep Stage. Having opened for bands like Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, they could definitely be described as a niche band. The nine-members, including flute, tuba, and female vocals absolutely proved that theory wrong. The concert was tight, and the lyrics cut deep. Watching them, you can see a band who’s got nowhere to go but up.
Another notable act of the day were London Souls, who have a cool reinterpretation of the classic rock sound.But, let’s be honest, most people came to Bluesfest on Saturday for one reason, two words. Lady Gaga. Wandering into her crowd 30 minutes before show time, you could easily be fooled into thinking it was an ordinary crowd.
Upon further inspection, there are women with red-bull can curlers in their hair, and dresses made of caution tape. This is Gaga’s army of Little Monsters. “She gives us the courage to be ourselves,” a fan exclaimed to me.
And, really, how can you argue with that?
Whether you enjoy her music or not, as the confetti cannons fired over a crowd of 30,000 people, you could almost see the stresses of your day glittering towards the earth.Sunday was a little more relaxed than the rest of the weekend. People seemed t be recovering from the previous night. There was an interesting mix of local artists playing throughout the day notably, Ottawa’s own, Boyhood, a bizarre experimental pop project.
The two big draws of the day, undeniably, were The Violent Femmes, and Lady Antebellum. Fittingly enough each band’s fans sort of function as a ven-diagram- there’s some overlap (people who enjoy both) but for the most part, two different creatures.
Burnt-out Gen-xers mixed with hipsters in the Violent Femmes crowd, as they tore through old songs and a few new numbers. As a Canadian alternative music fan, this may have been the personal highlight of my career. They didn’t disappoint either, rocking through a phenomenal hour long set. The band’s stated goal is to rock harder than any other acoustic band, and they succeed time and time again.
The crowd for Lady Antebellum was slightly different. Tight jeans gave way to bandana shirts and cowboy hats. The mood, however, was no different. They’re known as consummate performers, and they didn’t disappoint one bit.