RBC Bluesfest’s 20th year in Ottawa errupts
There are four stages on the grounds, as well as a theater for more intimate performances. Between stages, they have a DJ playing in an area known as The Fort. From the moment you come in, to the moment you leave its non-stop music, and there’s something for everyone.
The festival kicked off in style, with Detroit rapper Danny Brown on one of the two main stages, The Claridge Homes Stage.
Brown is known for being unique, in both style and delivery. He’s been described my MTV as being “one of rap’s most unique figures in recent memory. Needless to say, expectations were high when he took the stage.
After a five minute musical introduction, Brown took to the stage like a fireball. The crowd loved him and it set a high-water mark for the rest of the festival.
“I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing on a Thursday night!” A woman in the crowd yelled, and I thought to myself “…right?!”As you walked further away from the main stage and the bass started to fade, you could hear the sounds of whiskey-soaked country. If not at Bluesfest, you’d think you’d passed out and woke up in Nashville.
Fiftymen, a five piece band from Ottawa, were burning up the River Stage with their brand of country. The band ripped through songs from their new self-titled album. Even though the crowd was noticeably smaller than that of the main-stage, the boys still managed to get it moving.
Walking away from the River Stage towards the Blacksheep Stage, you could see another local band, Amos the Transparent, beginning to set up for their time. Entering the museum, there was a buzz around the Barney Danson Theatre, the indoor auditorium. Entering the auditorium, it was plain to see what the buzz was about.
James Leclaire is from the Ottawa valley, and he sings with a mix of Bob Dylan and Steve Earle. It’s a phenomenal mix of country/folk/blues. Noteably the song “Back to the Wind” is lyricially packed, and musically charged. Despite the harder-edge of his music, Leclaire may have the distinction of being one of the nicest performers at Bluesfest.Leaving the auditorium and heading back to towards The Black Sheep Stage, you saw Amos the Transparent in full swing. From the moment you arrive, it’s almost impossible not to have somebody say you should be watching this band. They’re a band from Ottawa who have a unique style of music that’s gained considerable commercial traction. Or as one of their fans puts it:
“They may be the most talented people ever to pick up instruments.”
Throughout their set, the band doesn’t seem to let their legions down. Their unique pop-rock sound is undeniably catchy.
Wandering away from The Blacksheep Stage, towards the other side of the grounds you could catch Cabaal, spinning his unusual beats at the DJ booth known as The Fort. His sound has been described as “eating a bowl of Sugar Crisp in a worm-hole” and that’s probably the best description. Spacey, and heavily drum and bass influenced.
Floating away from Cabaal’s music experiment, you could hear Dean Brody performing on The Bell Stage, and Shane Dwight playing on the River Stage.For those unfamiliar, Dean Brody is a country musician while Shane Dwight is a very well respected guitarist who’s played with Stevie Ray Vaughn. Hearing both simultaneously is a definitely a strange thing to have to wrap your head around.
The majority of the crowd split towards Dean Brody, while the older more experienced crowd took in Shane Dwight.
Meanwhile, back in the Barney Danson theatre, Hull, Que. experimental-pop group Scattered Clouds were taking the stage. Their performance was alternately described as
“Joy Division on cough syrup” and “an interesting piece of performance art”.
They clearly weren’t for everybody, but the lower key performance proved a nice break for people.At this point in the night, the audience really began to split. Calgary twins, Tegan and Sara took to the Claridge Homes Stage, while DJ/Producer RL Grime took the Black Sheep Stage and songstress Beth Hart took the River Stage.
The difference between these shows is like visiting different planets.
At the Tegan and Sara stage, the duo put on an amazing show that was described by one person in the crowd with sort of a mixed review.
“They weren’t quite as good as last year, but still amazing. It’s always good to see the girls”
For their part, Tegan and Sara were friendly as always, bantering with the audience and giving a full set for over an hour.
Beth Hart’s story is an incredible one in itself. She was on the cusp of a promising musical career in the late 90’s. However due to substance abuse her career was derailed. She’s now releasing a new album entitled Redemption, and her performance is a reflection of that spirit. Raw and uncompromising, it’s good to see her back in full form.By far, the wildest set of the night was on The Black Sheep Stage, with producer RL Grime. As he laid into his brand of “trap” music, the water bottles began flying. It was an orgy of water droplets and hands flailing around. Mothers and children walked quickly away from the stage, hoping for the safety of another blues-band. This was clearly the stage where people came to party, hard.
The party didn’t stop at The Blacksheep stage, either. Montreal dub-step duo Adventure Club took to the stage and kept the kids rolling.
For those of us wishing to “come down” a bit in our night, Noah Gundersen and his sister Abby took the stage in the Barney Danson theatre. It was a beautiful contrast to hear a simple two piece band playing what Gundersen describes as “sad bastard music”.Gundersen’s real talent is that he draws you in by not being imposing. He simply plays guitar and sings, his sister accompanies on violin. What comes out are honest ballads delivered with humility. Some of the more intoxicated guests in the theatre were less than enthused.
“What even is this, anyway?” asked one particular scholar, to nobody in particular.
Despite these interruptions, the Gundersens played on, and the results were brilliant. It’s plain to see why he’s beginning to see commercial success, with his songs being featured on shows like Sons of Anarchy.
Leaving the Gundersens, and heading back out towards the stages, you could hear Gary Clark JR on the River Stage. Clark, as you may know, is the first artist to receive Grammy nominations for both Rock and R&B in the same year. He’s a man who possesses an amazing talent to create. As he tore through his set a sense of wonder came over the crowd. As a girl in a cowboy hat put it
“I came here to see Blake Shelton, but I don’t know if I can ever leave this stage.”Clark JR famously played a guitar duel with Joe Walsh, and although there was none of that on this particular night, the performance with still phenomenal.
On the Bell Stage, Blake Shelton drew the biggest crowd of the night with his hits. His crowd was a little bit older, their jeans a little less tight. And the water stayed in its respective bottles.
Bluesfest is a lot to take in, and if you attempt to do it all, you’ll fail miserably. There is so much talent, so much food, and so much more beer.
It should be noted, that even with all these indulgences, people seemed to get along for the most part. As the crowd filed out on that first night, only one thing seemed out of place.
A young gentleman was seated on the curb with his hands behind his back and two officers standing behind him.
“I’m not trying to cause problems, I just want to party, you know what I mean?” He slurred out in his own defense.
It’s a harmless way to let off steam, a festival like this. Waiting at the bus-stop at the end of the day, a very sun-burnt man summed up the sentiment exactly.
“This day has been the longest week of my life.”