Ottawa Bluesfest 2007 Primer
It's nearing that time of year again. Now that the shorts are on, the barbeque is fired up and NHL Playoffs are unfortunately over for Ottawa, it's time to start getting excited for the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest . And what a festival we have in store this year! With almost 175 performers scheduled over an unprecedented twelve days it could get a little hairy out there, but fear not. I have done the research, listened to a myriad of mp3's, and present to you now this print-friendly guide to help you move through the music with merely a modicum of misgivings.
First up let me mention the new site. The Ottawa Bluesfest is returning to the LeBreton Flats after three years at City Hall. It's testament to the high quality of organization that while many bemoaned the move to City Hall, within the festival's short stay there they made the site work so well that many are now concerned that the former grounds will come up short. To give the city and the festival organizers the credit they deserve, when the ground was broken for the War Museum LeBreton Flats was landscaped with festivals in mind, and I suspect most festival patrons will find the new/old site ideal. This year there will be two main stages facing one another (the Rogers and MBNA stages), with the smaller, somewhat secluded River Stage behind Rogers, while the ever-popular Blacksheep Stage is behind the War Museum itself. Presumably, to access the Blacksheep Stage one would either follow the path that goes over the museum or go through the building itself. Which brings us to a tidy little addition to the Bluesfest this year – an indoor stage! There will be shows regularly going on in the Barney Danson Theatre, and with a capacity of 250 it should add some much-needed intimacy to the festival. One downside to the new site will be the lack of surrounding off-site restaurants, so stock up on Dirienzo sandwiches on your way or brace yourself for onsite catering for twelve days straight.
For those of you near the downtown area during the day, the Bluesfest is once again hosting the Rideau Centre Acoustic Series at noon on the Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays of the festival. Both weekends are the same, with Drew Nelson on the Fridays, Mannie Makris And The Polaras on the Saturdays and James Cohen on the Sundays. It's a really nice stage up there on the roof, and maybe a nice way to while away your lunch break.
Right, now here's the day-by-day:
Wednesday, July 4 th
Van The ManWhen the festival lineup was announced eyebrows went up all over the city. There was no denying that this year the festival organizers had outdone themselves and aside from booking a stellar lineup they had even added an extra day to make this an eleven day festival. That made it all the more surprising when they announced they'd be adding a heavy hitter like Van Morrison to the roster, adding yet another extra day to the Ottawa Bluesfest.
note: As Van Morrison was added to the lineup after tickets went on sale, you should be warned to check you festival pass closely. If you purchased your tickets early there's a chance you have an 11-day pass (good for July 5 th through July 15 th ), in which case you'll have to pay extra to get onto the grounds Wednesday night. If you have one of the newer 12-day passes (July4th-July 15 th ) you're all set. Some people are grumbling about this, but before you get your hacky-sack tied up in a knot, look at it from the organizers viewpoint. Now I don't know, but I assume the deal went down something like this: They tried to book Van, and didn't hear back in time. Under the gun they announced the lineup (sans Van) and started selling tickets. Then the phone rings and Morrison is in. Now the festival has another artist to pay, and has to incur the expenses of a whole extra day onsite, with no opportunity to raise ticket prices accordingly as they are already on sale. With no other options, the organizers tack on an extra fee. Essentially they have given the public the option as to whether or not to add Van Morrison to their own personal festival. If you wanna see him, you can, if you don't, you don't have to cough up the dollars.
That said if you do go for the Van Morrison show it looks like you won't be seeing much more than Van. The only other act scheduled for Wednesday so far is Cuban guitarist Elmer Ferrer , who will be playing at least two other sets throughout the festival this year.
Thursday, July 5 th
Bob DylanAlrighty, now it's time for the Bluesfest proper to begin. First up is Ottawa's own As The Poets Affirm on the Rogers Stage at 6pm. A seven-piece contemporary ensemble that includes clarinets and ‘cellos and the like, this is a band worth seeing. It will be interesting to hear how they take to the big stage. When they're done, turn and face the other direction and you'll find Jimmie Vaughan playing at you from the MBNA Stage. Jimmie gained notoriety from his time with The Fabulous Thunderbirds and his stint as brother to Stevie Ray Vaughan and is a blues guitarist of impeccable quality.
Following Mr. Vaughan the easy choice is to stay put and rotate yet again, for on the Rogers Stage City And Colour will be performing. This is the side project of Dallas Green, from Alexisonfire . Acoustic-ish and much more subdued than his main gig, this might be a good warmup for the evening's main act. However if you're looking for some balls-to-the-wall rock and roll you might want to check out the River Stage for Radio-Birdman . This Australian act delivers straight-up rock for the undiscerning listener; beers in the belly and hands in the air.
The evening ends with the great Bob Dylan on the MBNA Stage at 9pm.
Friday, July 6 th
Bela Fleck and the FlecktonesGotta love these Bluesfest guys giving so much stage time to local acts. What a great opportunity for both the bands and the fans alike. Here's your chance to find the bands you'll be seeing in the dead of winter for $6. The fest starts at 6pm on Friday and your first choice will be between three Ottawa area groups. If you are into traditional African rhythms you can check out JOKKO on the River Stage, while local songwriter Mark Wilson (not our Mark Wilson) and his band Last Dinosaur will be over at the Blacksheep Stage, though likely the funnest way to start the day will be with Reverb Syndicate on the Rogers Stage. Instrumental surf-rock drenched (of course) in reverb, these guys will kick off the weekend in crispy fashion.
Did you know that Gary U.S. Bonds once toured with The Beatles as a co-headliner? Well, that's enough for me, but if you need more the guy is a near-legendary blues performer who won the 2005 W.C. Handy blues award for best comeback album of the year. He's one of those ‘happy blues' guys, so you won't get too down. If you want your blues a bit more traditional sounding, then ironically Samuel James will be delivering at the Barney Danson Theatre. Still in his twenties, James plays the real deal; pure sounding blues that has the rare character of sounding fresh. If blues ain't your thing (are you sure you're at the right festival?), local favorites Soul Jazz Orchestra plays the River Stage while Montreal-born dj Rise Ashen will be spinning on the Blacksheep Stage.
Of course you don't need me to tell you to get yer ass over to the Rogers Stage by 8pm to catch Bela Fleck and the Flecktones ! Though Bela played the jazz festival a while back it's been too long since the Flecktones have descended upon our fair city and assaulted us with their virtuosity. Woooooo-ten. As you wander away from the Rogers Stage with your brain handed to you in a bathtub you might encounter Afro-beat star Femi Kuti at the River Stage, or even Chicago blues pianist David Maxwell (who has played with everyone from Freddie King and James Cotton to Jimmy Rogers and Bonnie Raitt) in the Barney Danson Theatre, but you'll all likely end up at the Blacksheep Stage for Kid Koala , and really I can't blame you. For my money if your gonna see a dj you might as well see this guy, he's consistently interesting, accessible and entertaining. You can leave your soothers at home and you'll still wanna dance.
Honestly though, I think I'll be closing out the night with George Thorogood & The Destroyers . Turn down the think and crank up the rock! The guy notoriously never reinvents himself (if you like the key of G this is the place for you!), but I tell ya he's recorded some of the best beer-soaked down-and-dirty rock anthems there is, and if I had acid washed jeans I'd wear ‘em to the show. Plus I wanna see a biker in a lawnchair.
Saturday, July 7 th
With the weekend ahead of you pacing will be the key. Shows go all day on Saturdays and Sundays, so chow down a hearty breakfast (or brunch if you drank too much at George Thorogood last night) and get yourself to the Bluesfest site early. Local flamenco star James Cohen starts the weekend off on the River Stage at quarter after one. James is a familiar face at Bluesfest and rightfully so; this guy can really play, so if you're into flamenco stuff check him out.
Next up one might be tempted to hit the Rogers Stage for a little funk. Don't. Bomb Squad is an American R&B nonet that features American Idol finalist Brenna Gethers, and as such they lack just as much soul as you would expect them to. Instead do yourself a favour and check out ukulele virtuoso James Hill over at the Blacksheep Stage. No, this is not the same ukulele virtuoso as last year so don't expect vomitous over-emoting, but I have heard James play a few times and he really is quite astonishing.
If you caught Harry Manx's final set at Bluesfest last year you'll probably recall that his young and very talented harmonica player stole the show. With a recently released solo album, Ottawa's own ‘South Side' Steve Marriner is slated for his own set on the MBNA Stage at 3pm. This guy plays his heart out and should put on a great set. That said, there is a special treat over at the River Stage at the same time. Burnside Style is a blues project involving three of R.L. Burnside's sons, two of which were members of the North Mississippi All Stars, so if you were a fan you might want to check them out. Up next it seems wherever you wander outside you'll find nothing but straight up blues. Likely your best option will be at the River Stage with acclaimed British guitarist Matt Schofield backed up by his superb organ trio. If the weather is looking bleak there is a non-blues option in the Barney Danson Theatre. Male Nurse is a solo project from Davey Q of the Million Dollar Marxists. He claims to write quirky, funny songs, but as he doesn't have a website listed we'll have to take him at his word.
Manu ChaoThe days get long don't they? Maybe it's time to grab a few beers and a patch of grass at the Blacksheep Stage. Break out your Dirienzo lunch and check out Bob Schneider . This Austin, Texas native used to front The Ugly Americans, who toured with Dave Matthews and the H.O.R.D.E. fest back in the day. Now a solo act, Bob should prove to be an engaging and entertaining backdrop to your nice Bluesfest picnic lunch. You might wanna spend some of your digestion time mulling over your next couple of hours of music, for the choices are wide and varied. The theatre offers another opportunity to catch young blues guitarist Samuel James, followed by a set from Ottawa slam poetry guru and former Marijuana Party candidate John Akpata . I don't suppose anything will pull fans of Kingston artist and former Weeping Tile member Sarah Harmer from the MBNA Stage at 7pm, and those compelled to express how they're feeling will doubtlessly be eagerly awaiting Michael Franti & Spearhead on the Rogers Stage. Fans of Roots/R&B and/or that little green Line 6 DL4 looping pedal that is sooooo in vogue these days might wanna catch Mihirangi on the Blacksheep Stage. She is a solo singer/beatboxer/guitarer who constructs layers of sound with her little effects pedals much in the style of Keller Williams, though her target soundscapes run along a different plane altogether. Finally, I think you'll find me at the River Stage checking out Mute Math , an up-and-coming New Orleans-based retro-rock outfit who will arrive at the Bluesfest fresh from their gig at Bonnaroo and an impressive European tour.
Closing out the Saturday is the return of the Power Hour with Tony D . The Power Hour is an invitation for festival musicians to sit in with Ottawa's premier blues guitarist. Last year Tony tore up the Blues ‘Til Dusk Stage almost nightly to the delight of thousands. This year the Power Hour happens three times. Make sure you catch at least one. Maybe not this one though because…
…I'm sure a lot of people will show up at the MBNA Stage for Manu Chao , and with good reason. An eclectic world music artist, Manu Chao has been experiencing exponential popularity as of late. The Spanish artist has spent the last 15 years touring all over the world and has consistently sponged his surroundings into a myriad of creative musical settings. His take on Mana Negra's King Of Bongo is unstoppably catchy with its ultra-relaxed vocals interspersed perfectly and cheesy video game-sounding keyboard track. However, word is that if you are even slightly interested in traditional African music (the momma of the blues, as it were) you must finish off your day at the Blacksheep Stage for Toumani Diabate. This Malian group is highly respected and is considered by hardcore fans to be one of the must-see African groups touring today. They bring along wacky traditional instruments and play them at a prodigal level, weaving tunes that bridge cultures and transcend age barriers. This will be a great wind-down under the stars to close out your long musical Saturday. What a day, huh?!? Now go home, get some sleep, wake up, come back.
Sunday, July 8 th
Sunday starts once again with local talent; frankly, Sunday is loaded with local talent. The music kicks off at 1:15 at the River Stage with Sarah Hallman , a young singer/songwriter who recently released her debut cd. About a half-hour into her set I recommend you take yourself to the Blacksheep Stage for Silver Creek , another Ottawa act, this one fronted by Shawn Tavenier. They bill themselves as southern rock and they sure seem to have a Black Crowes thing about them. If they ain't your thing then no worries, the Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo is everybody's thing on a sunny afternoon, and they will be making asses shake with their zydeboogie at the Rogers Stage.
At 3pm Tony D will be hosting a Power Hour at the MBNA Stage. This might be a good opportunity to check him out, with the most promising alternative being My Dad vs. Yours at the Blacksheep Stage. Again from Ottawa, they are an interesting rock band that has been working hard to get their name out around town and are probably the most unique sounding band you'll have heard so far today.
Really though, if you drank too much yesterday and just plum tuckered yourself out at the fest, don't feel too bad if you sleep in and linger over brunch. Just make sure you get onsite by 4pm for Leo Kottke . Among the world's most highly regarded fingerstyle guitar players, Kottke of course made a splash with the patchouli crowd through his work with Mike Gordon. Rest assured he's plenty good on his own and he is a great addition to the Bluesfest this year. Get down to the Rogers Stage and pay homage. And don't worry about missing Joel Plaskett Emergency in the Barney Danson Theatre, they're up again at 7pm.
The White StripesNext go see Spiral Beach at the Blacksheep Stage. They're something like new New Wave, and they're pretty neat. Leave it to the good old Blacksheep Stage to program so many cool bands; the bar-owning world needs more guys like Paul Symes. As always, it looks like the Blacksheep Stage should be your default stage again this year – if nothing is looking too promising, head here. Fittingly, Spiral Beach is followed on the Blacksheep Stage by another creative and interesting act in Ohbijou , but personally I think Ukrania looks too promising. Okay, I'm a sucker for this kinda stuff, but if you meander over to the River Stage as Spiral Beach nears the end of their set, you'll hear a three-guitar rock band that plays Ukrainian music. Big distorted rock that will make you want to dance like those dudes on the Tetris screen, all arms-crossed and leg-kicking-like. I think it will be a hopa-hopa good time.
If you missed their set in the theatre earlier in the day next up will be your other opportunity to catch Joel Plaskett Emergency. Hailing from Halifax, these guys have been working hard moving up the ranks of North America's (okay, Canada's) rock scene, and they are currently holding steady at the ‘bubbling under' stage. One more push in the right direction and these guys might just be in the big game. Rock and roll without the bullshit at the MBNA Stage.
If you liked (or missed) Bob Schneider's set yesterday you can check him out again at the Blacksheep Stage while you wait for the evening's headlining act to start, or you can catch that beatbox/looping guitar playing lady from yesterday, Mihirangi, in the theatre.
Though I'm pissed at Jack White for blatantly ripping off Joe Jackson's fantastic ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him' in The Raconteurs ‘Steady As She Goes', you gotta admire The White Stripes for coming through with their pledge to play all the Canadian provinces and territories on this tour. But then, they were always really good at marketing. All in all it's yet another coup for the Bluesfest to have them headlining, though if you need an option there's a great one. Hawksley Workman is a guy who writes like David Bowie, sings like Freddie Mercury and looks like Edward Scissorhands and he'll be on the Blacksheep Stage against the Stripes. And a worthy opponent he is too; the man oozes talent and he's a superb showman with a yadda-yadda-yadda...we all know we'll be at the White Stripes.
Monday, July 9 th
Though nothing sucks more than being at work on Monday morning after a great weekend, at least you can plug in and kill the start of your day by reading the Blueslogs on the Sanctuary. I don't get to read Blueslogs, I gotta write ‘em. But then I suppose I don't have to work on Monday mornings either. Fair enough.
Guitar enthusiasts take note: This is your night, and while I urge you to get onsite in time for the first set of the evening I can't really recommend a particular stage to go to as all the options sound great. You got Cuban phenom Elmer Ferrer on the Rogers Stage, who you'll remember from Wednesday night following Van Morrison, or from one of his many sets at Bluesfests past. In the Barney Danson Theatre there's a Cape Breton guitarist with the unlikely name of John Campbelljohn . He's a talented steel string, Dobro, and lap steel blues player and well worth seeing. I tell ya though, there's this seventeen year-old kid playing the River Stage and he is smokin'. His name is Ricky Paquette . He's from Gatineau and he can play his ass off. The songs sound interesting if mostly blues/rock derivative, and he's got a good band behind him too. The River Stage might be the spot to be.
Buddy GuyAnd the spot to stay too. Fiona Boyes is a really good guitar player from Australia and she'll be up next fronting her band The Fortune Tellers. Fiona is a Telecaster player and she's got that blues twang down. She's the hot thing Down Under right now, winning all kinds of awards and such and should put on a fine set.
Next up in the evening's guitarstravaganza is Jonny Lang on the Rogers Stage. The guy has been a famous guitar player since he was about six months old so you don't need me to tell you about him. If you want to keep the six-string fiesta going you can finish up the night with Buddy Guy . Here's another guy that you don't need me to tell you about, but I do know one story about him you might not know: Back around 1965 or so Buddy Guy blew a speaker in his practice amp. He kept playing and was amazed at the screechy distorted noises his guitar was making. Delighted, he went to his manager's office with the amp and played him the new sounds he had just discovered, exclaiming excitedly that he wanted to record his whole new album with the amp. The manager listened to his charge and promptly kicked him out, telling Buddy he was being crazy. Lo and behold, just a few months later the Rolling Stones released ‘(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' making history as the first use of distorted electric guitar, and sparked a timbral revolution. Guy's manager call's him in to the office and insists that Buddy kick him in the ass for being such a fool. That piece of rock history is famously lampooned by Paul Schaffer's character Artie Fufkin in This Is Spinal Tap.
Anyways, if it turns out you're tired of great guitar players by now and want to close out the night with something a little different, well, there's Hedley on the MBNA Stage. They're popular amongst the junior-high Simple Plan/Sum 41 crowd, but I think if you're of legal drinking age or above you might be better suited to check out Final Fantasy at the Blacksheep Stage. Winner of the inaugural Polaris Music Prize (worth $20,000!) and occasional member of Arcade Fire, Final Fantasy is Owen Pallett on solo fiddle and he is amazing. He absolutely blew me away at his last Bluesfest performance and I highly recommend this set.
Tuesday, July 10 th
moe.Okay, this will be really, really easy. Go to the really big field for moe. Cool. Dance around and stuff. Drink beer and smoke bowls. When they're done, turn around. Randy Newman will be playing from the other direction. He'll play lots of songs you've heard a million times and never knew who wrote them. Keep partying; it'll be cool in a funny kind of way. When he stops turn around again (sometimes just the turning around can be fun, huh?) and you'll see something reeaallly freaky. That's George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars . Weird, eh? Don't worry, just drink some more beers, they're gonna make you wanna dance again like you were a few hours ago. What was that for again? Oh yeah, moe. Dude, was that a sick set or what? Anyone wanna go to Hull or somethin'? What, I missed Los Lobos !?! Aw man, those dudes were awesome, ‘member La Bamba and sh!t? Damn. Can we stop for somethin' to eat on the way?
Wednesday, July 11 th
Though the temptation may be strong to support the home team by kicking off hump day with a set by local rockers LURE or Ottawa-based African guitar master and Juno Award winner Mighty Popo , one would be excused if they were drawn to something called the Guitar Explosion at the Rogers Stage. This will be a convergence of three pickers, each of whom is dazzling in his own right. Trevor Finlay, Paul Delauriers, and Johnny Flash promise to deliver the finest in pentatonic overload for your listening pleasure to get you started on your evening.
Steve MillerGrady is up next on the MBNA Stage. These guys will kick your ears right in the balls. It's southern metal blues played by three tall Texans hell bent on rock and roll stardom. Check it out and then stay put, ‘cuz Cat Power is up next right behind you on the Rogers Stage. Mesmerizing her way on to the world stage with intense songwriting and delicate arrangements, Chan Marshall may be on her way to stardom. Steal someone's lawnchair, relax and follow her into dreamland. Overlapping Grady and Cat Power is a really unique and happening guitar player from NYC playing in the Barney Danson Theatre who might be worth stealing away for. His name is Hugh Pool and he heads up the cleverly monikered Hugh Pool Band .
Now, before the Steve Miller Band hits the MBNA Stage (and fan or not, you really should go see Steve Miller. He's a really great performer and he's got so much more to offer than just the hits. He'll play ‘em, but he'll win over the naysayers with his other material too. Go. You'll see.) you got a half-hour to see Todd Snider play in the theatre. The guy is great with a capital great. This Texan sings the catchiest and funniest songs you'll hear all week long and he draws each and every listener in the house right in to the tunes leaving them hanging on every verse. He's on John Prine's label and it shows. A few years back he played at the GCTC and sold 200 cd's. The GCTC holds 265 people and it was an opening set. He'll leave you rapt. Todd Snider also plays on Tuesday at 7:45, but I wasn't gonna try and convince you people to leave moe. for his set.
So, as mentioned I think you should end the night at the MBNA Stage for the Steve Miller Band. But if you have some long implanted bias against him there's an Inuit throat singer playing the Blacksheep Stage at 9:30 who goes by her middle name, which is Tagaq . She's collaborated with the likes of Bjork and the Kronos Quartet and might be really interesting. But I still think you should go see Steve Miller.
Thursday, July 12 th
If for no other reason than as an homage to the now defunct Bluesfest Cuban Stage, I recommend you start off the evening's festivities at the Rogers Stage with Caridad Cruz . A former resident of Havana now finding her home in Ottawa, Caridad is a salsa singer with an international band. If the sun is shining I suggest you pack in a thermos full of daiquiris.
Next, trade in your daiquiri for a martini and weave your way over to the MBNA Stage. There you'll find James Hunter , a British singer who has been taken under the wing of this years' festival add-on, Van Morrison. It's easy to see why too. Hunter certainly is reminiscent of the great Van, if in a less gritty manner. Resting somewhere between soul and lounge with tight horn arrangements all ‘round, James Hunter and his well-dressed band will lead you through the easy listening side of groove.
Moving back to the blues, at 8pm two solid options face fans of the mighty I IV V chord progression. Veteran Bluesfest goers have had the opportunity to see the Robert Cray Band before, and if you liked him them, it's unlikely that things have changed. Cray is one of the standard names that gets featured in at least one guitar magazine a month, he's been at it for almost thirty years with eighteen albums to his credit and along the way he has gained a sound reputation as one of the current torchbearers of blues guitar. Alternatively, on the River Stage you can check out Lucky Peterson and special guests. Here's a guy who started gigging at age three, recorded his first album at five (which was produced by Willie Dixon), and performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, among many other high-profile appearances. No word yet on who the special guests might be, but Lucky is certainly a man who has dedicated his whole life to the blues, a feat for which alone he deserves respect. Given that he has toured with B.B. King and was a featured soloist with Bobby ‘Blue' Bland it's no surprise that his music is really happening too.
Blue RodeoNow what would the Ottawa Bluesfest be without a set by Canadian heroes Blue Rodeo ? Whatever – to me a Blue Rodeo set is like Phish playing a 75 minute version of ‘Waste'; you'll find me on permanent bathroom break. I know lots of people don't agree. If you're one of them you can catch the band at the MBNA Stage at 9:30. Thankfully, there are other options. Another staple at the Bluesfest since selling 1,000 cd's at his first year here, Xavier Rudd will be doing his thing on the River Stage at 9:30. His thing is indeed his thing. A solo multi-instrumentalist performer, Xavier utilizes guitar, bass, percussion, vocals, and his absolutely eerie skill on didgeridoo to wow audiences with an Australian pop/trad sensibility that is all his own. If you've never seen Xavier, definitely take the opportunity. If you are looking to hear something new, you can close out the evening with Ndidi Onukwulu at the Blacksheep Stage. Ndidi is a Nigerian blues singer based out of Toronto who is fortunate enough to have Madagascar Slim in the band as her permanent guitarist. Ndidi has her own take on the blues, though the expected blatant African influences are missing. Instead she utilizes her well-trained voice to lift her melodies out of the fray of clich� blues and into a sound of her own. Her acapella take on the Rolling Stones' ‘This Could Be The Last Time' is positively ethereal. If you can bring yourself to give the other headliners a miss, then this is the stage for you.
Okay folks, the weekend is almost upon us. Bite the bullet and buckle in, we got three more days to go until it's all up for another year.
Friday, July 13 th
Oh lucky day!
It's Friday night, and if you've been taking it easy at the Bluesfest all week because of employment concerns, tonight you have no excuse. Get there early and belly up to the beer tent, it's time to tie one on!
Edie BrickellTwo good choices start the weekend off. I know I'll be at the Rogers Stage at 6pm for Gogol Bordello . These guys started off as a traditional gypsy band for Russian weddings in NYC and evolved into a frenetic gypsy-punk outfit complete with fiddle and accordion. I have a feeling that a few beer tent trips will make this a really fun set. If drunken Ukrainian music just doesn't do it for you then I suggest you hit up the River Stage for The Love Machine . Another of the plethora of Ottawa bands given a slot this year, The Love Machine plays catchy, hooky pop/rock stuff and should make an adequate backdrop for the priming hour.
Up next get your ass over to the MBNA Stage for The Cat Empire at 7pm. Not to be confused with Cat Power from Wednesday night, these guys will not make you wanna steal someone's lawnchair. The Cat Empire is a frantic Australian rock band that will convert you to their church of vibe. These guys kick it out hard; they play real rock and roll for the discriminating dancing fool and should not be missed.
MetricAt 8pm is a set I'm really looking forward to. As a long time fan of both Edie Brickell and her band The New Bohemians I welcome this opportunity. Going back almost twenty years, Edie has written some sublime stuff that she sings in that unmistakable voice of hers. I like that you can tell she's smiling when she sings. She has recorded with Jerry Garcia and been married to Paul Simon, and her band forged one of the more creative pop sounds on the radio for a few years. They'll be on the Rogers Stage supporting their new album at 8pm. I'll be the guy trying to sneak backstage. Unfortunately, the scheduling is such that I'm set up to miss old-school indie rockers Built To Spill on the River Stage, but such is my lot. I'm betting the band won't miss me, as there are sure to be many eager fans in attendance to witness the driving rock of Doug Martsch and his group.
Okay, if you got with the program you should be at least slightly staggering by now. Depending on your age bracket you might look down drunkenly on your Bluesfest program and mumble something about having to see either INXS or Ten Years After . However, affording a moment of lucidity might remind you that these heavy hitters from different realms are both performing without their main man. INXS is of course missing the late Michael Hutchence (famously replaced on one of those reality shows) while Ten Years After now perform without the great Alvin Lee. Either set would be akin to seeing The Pretenders without Chrissie Hynde or The Doors without Jim Morrison. Best to drag your sotten self over to the River Stage for some current vitality in the form of Metric . Stars of last years' Dog Day Afternoon at the Bluesfest, Metric is on their way somewhere big and they should be serving up some tasty post-rock under the stars to close out this Friday the thirteenth.
Time to cab it home and rest up for the marathon final weekend of Bluesfest.
Saturday, July 14 th
If you've garnered any demons along the way at Bluesfest this year, you'll have your chance to purge all day today at the Blacksheep Stage. It's all God all the time from noon until night sponsored by the folks at Compassion In Jesus Name. The styles will range from choral to hip-hop to easy-listening to rap. You never know, these folks may be on to something. Drop by and maybe you'll see the light.
For us heathens the day starts at 1:30 with Rick Fines on the River Stage. Rick Fines has logged a zillion kilometres back and forth across the Trans-Canada Highway with his guitar and will one day reach legendary status in this country. He's a great picker and a dedicated musical educator and with the Ottawa River lapping the shore behind you this might just be a great place to segue yourself into the day. Or perhaps you'd like something more ephemeral?
I just love this description of Melissa McLelland , who will perform on the Rogers Stage at 2pm:
With her latest album, 'Thumbelina's O ne Night Stand' , Melissa McClelland has risen as the avant-garde mistress of inner pop noire. Sometimes purgatorial, other times ephemeral, she is both poet and pioneer. She never flinches at the ugly, never falters at the undone. Instead, she continually rises, one minute the vixen, the next apple pie.
‘Thumbelina's One Night Stand' is the first of its kind. This album is a collection of dark fables for the soul, where love haunts solitude and fantasy trumps reality. By unflinchingly internalizing pop music sensibilities, Melissa carefully maps out the landscape within us.
I wonder who wrote it?
Anyways, for a rollicking reverby good time you need just stay at the River Stage and welcome The Empiricals at 2:30. Featuring Ottawa's surf guitar sensation Paul Hogan, who you'll remember from the HiLoTrons (who play on Saturday), Polaris!, and from working the soundboard at Babylon, these guys will be lots of fun. Paul has been doing the surf thing for years and he's got it down. Should be good times.
As soon as they're done your best bet is to head to the MBNA Stage for The Trevor Finlay Band . Trevor is one-third of the Guitar Explosion that you may have witnessed on Wednesday night. Well, he's pretty explosive all alone too. Think loose ballsy blues. When he's done you'll hear Suzie McNeil singing at you from the other direction. She was a runner up in the INXS reality show. Bitter pill to swallow playing the same festival as her successful rival I suspect. She's actually a pretty good singer and not too hard on the old eyeballs neither, but don't expect to walk away inspired. If you want to walk away inspired, try walking away from the Blacksheep Stage. Either way this is a great time for lunch. Grab some grub, hydrate yourself and pick a stage for your next hour of listening pleasure.
Right around five o'clock there are three pretty good choices to pick from. In the Barney Danson Theatre you'll find another set from David Maxwell. He's that piano player from yesterday and Monday that used to play with James Cotton and damn near everybody else. On the MBNA Stage you got Chris Cain , a regular down and dirty, whiskey-only barroom electric blues guitar player, and you got John Mooney & Bluesiana on the River Stage. John is a veteran New Orleans guitar man and he and his band serve up exactly that crawdaddy-style blues that you associate with the Cajun twelve-bar.
Up next there are two engaging acts to choose from, Danny Michel and Patrick Watson . Danny is a really interesting and unique singer and guitar player. His fans are absolutely rabid about him and you can take this opportunity to get bit. I think I'm leaning more towards Patrick Watson. The guy writes songs with close attention to detail, sometimes a bit Pink Floyd and sometimes a bit David Bowie. The tunes develop and build, at once spacey and distinct, and all the while with a lush haunting voice overtop that reminds me of someone I can't quite put my finger on. All in all it's pretty interesting stuff and probably worth a look.
It looks like there is nobody yet slated on either of the main stages at seven o'clock, so watch for a potential add still to come. If none is forthcoming, fear not, there are good things afoot. Tom Wilson , formerly of Can-con rockers Junkhouse and current member of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings will be doing a solo set in the theatre following a set by his fellow Rodeo King Stephen Fearing . Tom is a powerful performer and puts on a solid show. If you don't feel like heading inside you can catch Canadian singer/songwriter Jim Bryson at the River Stage. He plays pleasant, relaxing acoustic singer/songwritery tunes and should furnish a chill environment should you want to take it easy for a bit.
For a pre-headliner act I recommend you get up close to the Rogers Stage. There you'll find DJ Champion and his G-Strings . The G-Strings are four guitarists, a bass player, and a vocalist and DJ Champion (AKA DJ Mad Max) ‘mixes' them through a series of hand signals, in addition to spinning discs. The sound that evolves is organic and pulsating, veering mainly into the realm of rock with a generous dash of hip-hop. It's a cool marrying of genres and is worth a look.
The headliner getting the big bucks tonight is Kanye West . One of today's most commercially viable hip-hop artists, he is possibly best known for dissing Bush live on NBC during the Katrina telethon and running onstage at the MTV Europe Video Music Awards bitching about not winning an award despite spending a million bucks on his video. It's doubtful that anything controversial will happen onstage tonight, leaving the man without his forte. Make your way elsewhere.
While the River Stage will be hosting the always superb Blackie & The Rodeo Kings (Willie P. Bennett songs performed by Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson, each of whom has a solo set at the fest this weekend) if you can squeeze yourself into the Barney Danson Theatre you'll have a good time. It's said that the Deadstring Brothers are reminiscent of Exile-era Stones, and the comparison is not without merit. No word yet on what the beer situation will be in the theatre, but it might be nice to end the Saturday night in more of a bar-like atmosphere with some straight up crunchy rock and roll. If you can't get in you can catch them tomorrow.
Alas, tomorrow, the end of the dream!
Sunday, July 15 th
Y'know, you really got to hand it to those Bluesfest folks. Aside from putting on a consistently kickass festival, they put back in to the community in a very unique and direct way. Every year the festival organizers set aside some money to fund their Blues In The Schools program. This program hires professional blues players (like Tony D for example) and sends them on a blitz, doing two one-hour presentations per day in public schools in Ottawa. Every school involved gets a different musician every day for a week, and they cover dozens of schools. And it works. I can tell you from years of experience as a guitar teacher, when it comes time to teach a kid the blues more often than not they already know half of what I'm gonna tell them because of what they've learned through Blues In The Schools. I'm talking ten and twelve year-olds here. Tons of Ottawa kids get exposed to this stuff and they're retaining what they learn. You just know this is gonna inspire some future star. A great side benefit is providing a great gig for quite a few local musicians. It's a fantastic program and I have nothing but respect for the Bluesfest for making it happen. You'll get a chance to hear the results for yourself as the Blues in the Schools Performance starts the day at 12:15 on the Blacksheep Stage.
One of the better gospel groups from yesterday will be on the MBNA Stage at one o'clock. The Canton Spirituals are a Grammy-nominated gospel/soul group that might just have you reaching for the heavens and screaming, “Preach it brother!” every once in awhile. If hell-hounds are on your trail you can opt to catch some rockin' blues at the Rogers Stage in the guise of Drew Nelson . Nelson has opened for all the greats along the way, from BB to SRV. This will be his third set at Bluesfest this year and is your last chance to catch him.
Stick around after Drew and you'll see what might just be the best hip-hop group booked at the fest this year. Hailing from Cincinnati, Is What?! is a happening blend of beatbox, turntables, and blaring horns and they get some great grooves goin' on. It'll be your first chance in the day to shake the skeleton and really get your blood flowing but if you're hating it you can always check out the HiLoTrons, who will be indie-rocking it out on the MBNA Stage.
As per usual, you can let the Blacksheep Stage be your default all afternoon. Gaining his moniker from Burning Spear when they toured together, Papa Mali took his Mississippi and New Orleans roots for an extended apprenticeship in Jamaica and came back with a very singular and eclectic sound. Laid back without a hint of boring, Papa Mali takes you with him when he sings, and it's always somewhere warm. Following him is the fabulous disco funk nonet King Sunshine who are familiar faces on the scene, and then the Deadstring Brothers are up, which I'm sure you'll want to see regardless of whether or not you caught their theatre set on Saturday. Essentially, good luck pulling yourself away from the Blacksheep Stage anytime between 3:15 and 7:30.
In case you forget there are other stages at the festival, it might be time to mosey on over to the main field. You can catch the tail end of the Power Hour and see who is sitting in with Tony D and his band. Then park yourself somewhere and settle in for a set from the Sam Roberts Band . These guys knotched it up at the Bluesfest last year, belting out their reach-for-the-big-time Dave Matthews-ish frat rock. They're still touring the same record so I'm expecting the same kickin' show.
Village PeopleFollowing up the success of last years closing night, the Bluesfest is serving up classic disco again, this time with the Solid Gold Dance Party. Of course everybody remembers the Solid Gold Dancers right? Well, if that ain't enough, there's more. Basically it's a Vegas-style show starring The Village People and featuring the original singers of such hits as Boogie Oogie Oogie and Ring My Bell. I know you may feel strangely drawn to this nightmarish spectacle of (one-hit) wonders, but you must try to resist. I hope I can.
Am I the only one lame enough to use the following phrase?: Alexisonfire is on fire. Doubt it. Anyways, they are; these guys are about the biggest indie press darlings on the planet right now. Everybody who talks about cool talks about Alexisonfire. And while all you cool people are checking out the latest in great on the River Stage I'll be closing out my Bluesfest with the unstoppable grooves of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings . I mean to tell you this band is funky. Once they start playing it is not humanly possible to remain still; the Dap-Kings will shake and amaze you and leave you wanting more, even after twelve solid days of music.
Wow, twelve solid days of music.
It's gonna be a hell of a ride for $200. Man I love Bluesfest.