It’s been three days since the RBC Ottawa Bluesfest ended, and like many festival goers withdrawal is in full force. There’s a part of me that wishes the festival would be re-starting tonight, which is quite the opposite of what I was feeling on Sunday night when exhaustion had overcome me. This was my 11th Bluesfest, and every year I feel tired having to balance work and shows over 10 days (old age is definitely a factor). However, this year was different. No longer was I just attending the festival to see some live performances, but I was now part of the “press”. As such, I wanted to chase a story or an interview, but that takes a lot of work.
And since not everyone gets a chance to see things from behind the stage or what it takes to line up an interview, I thought I would share with you how it all began. As is often the case, it doesn’t take much – it’s what you make of the opportunity. So what started initially as a small project morphed itself into something bigger and almost out of control because I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass. Consequently, I may have been overly ambitious with what I wanted to do, and we were almost overwhelmed by the ideas I had hatched, almost…
…But when this started in late April, the project was relatively small. It got rolling when Kevin contacted AJ Sauve, the Communications Director at the RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, to discuss possible media accreditation to the annual festival, which, over 20 years, has grown from a one-day event to a ten-day marathon. Not only did AJ grant us passes but he asked us to do profiles of each Ottawa-area band (including Gatineau, Wakefield, and other nearby towns). Kevin agreed to undertake this task, as it was a great way to learn more about local musicians and he understood that profiling local artists would help broaden their base since we have readers all over the world. We didn’t realize, however, the enormity of the task, as 32 local bands and artists were scheduled to perform.
Kevin asked Phil D and I to help out, and we gladly accepted. Rich was also approached and, despite living in Long Island, agreed to do his share. That left a manageable number of 7 to 9 for each of us to do. We decided to do this alphabetically, posting one artist a day for the next 6+ weeks. Our first post, done by Kevin, was on local legend and idol, Amanda Rheaume, to the very last Ukrainia (o.k., it wasn’t exactly alphabetical since we got sidetracked somewhere and we should have ended with Wicked Grin).
But I wasn’t satisfied with just writing profiles of each local artist. I thought we needed to take advantage of this opportunity and do more for local musicians. As such, in discussing with Kevin, a plan was created to do things on and off site. Unfortunately, Kevin was going on holidays to celebrate his parents’ 50th anniversary, Phil was in the midst of moving to Montreal, and Rich remained in Long Island. This left me flying solo.
First things first, for the plan to succeed, I needed a photographer and a videographer. I contacted a few people I knew, but all were taking holidays during the first week of July and I wanted to work with the same individuals everyday. As we’re literally a non-profit team (we earn zero in revenues), I needed to find people who would be willing to do this essentially for free. Thankfully, Dylan, Chris O, Chris H, Jake, and Migo – a.k.a. Tacklebox Productions based out in Kanata – came to the rescue. They found me on Twitter (the power of social media!), and we later connected over perogies and cabbage rolls. A partnership was formed, and they agreed with the plan.
To be honest, I think the young start-up production company was more excited for the opportunity to go to Bluesfest; meet some local, Canadian, and international bands; see some shows; and take videos and photographs across the festival. I don’t think they realized what they were in for. Then again, neither was I. Well, almost…
…But I did have ideas. So what was the plan? Well, it was something like this:
- Short interviews with all 32 local bands/artists to help promote themselves and we would integrate these short bits into a manageable number of segments;
- Roundtables with some of the local bands/artists to discuss their experiences and the local music scene;
- Behind-the-scenes footage of the Festival, including before it all started; and
- Interviews with out-of-town acts.
And all this work would be done over 12 days and actually many more days before that in terms of planning, outreach, scheduling, etc. The guys at Tacklebox have only been at this for a year, and I’ve only been writing about music for less than a year. This was a lot to undertake by five young guys and an older guy, but we were ambitious and excited.
We started our onsite festival coverage on the eve of the festival, interviewing AJ Sauve, Joe Reilly (Media Relations for Bluesfest), and Chris Cobb of Ottawa Citizen (we didn’t get Mark Monahan, unfortunately). During my chat with AJ, we almost got ran over by a truck unloading recycling bins. Our bit with Joe had the radio personality speak behind a cardboard cutout of a WWII fighter pilot while he looked contemplatively into the distance. We also interviewed food vendors, such as Hintonburger, R.J. of Jamie’s Cracked Corn (a.k.a. the kettle corn & cotton candy guy), and Zack who works at the Smoothie/Chocolate Fondue place.
The interviews didn’t commence until the first day of Bluesfest with the first of the 32 quick interviews and roundtables we organized with local artists. This was spread out over 11 days (including the Monday off day). Some of these sessions took place at Union Local 613, the fabulous southern comfort food restaurant on Somerset and O’Connor, and they treated us with hospitality that you would find in the south. We did shoots in the Lebreton Gallery of the Canadian War Museum, The Mess at the Museum, a beer tent, backstage (one time Jeff Tweedy was there and smiled at us and another time we met the legendary Sugar Ray!), and on top of the invitation-only Molson seating area. If you need a reminder of all 32 bands, the list follows or you can also click on Bluesfest Revue.
- Amanda Rheaume, Amos The Transparent, Angelique Francis, Atherton, Average Times, Bella Cat Blues, BlakDenim, Boyhood
- Catriona Sturton, Cold Capital, Farewell Davidson, FIFTYMEN, Firebelly, James Leclaire, John Allaire & The Campistas, Jonathan Becker & The North Fields
- Kalle Mattson, Keturah Johnson (now known as The Heavy Medicine Band), Mackenzie Rhythm Section, Old Stereo, Old Whiskey Road
- Pith and the Parenchymas, The Red Rails, Scattered Clouds, Silkken Laumann, Silver Creek, Sound of Lions, Still Winter Hills, The Split
- Tindervox, Wicked Grin, and Ukrainia.
While we had arranged times to meet with bands and artists, sometimes they forgot; many times their soundchecks were behind schedule; other times they were stuck in traffic or the O-Train broke down; and occasionally they would arrive on schedule. We heard stories about artists meeting their idols, how they felt in the days leading up to their gig, and what it all meant to be playing Bluesfest. They all cited how they felt like rockstars since they got a rider (food & beverages), got to eat some fine catering, and didn’t have to even handle their own gear. Many spoke about how beautiful the view was from the stage, often reminiscing about the view of the Ottawa River. Some shared advice and experiences to those making their first appearance. But for all, whether they had played or were about to, this was their time to be kings and queens for a day – well, at least an hour anyway.
During the shoots, there was twerking, there was an interruption from Kaz of the Texas Horns, and an inside joke was performed. We talked about dream collaborations (my favourite – Lady Gaga covering “These Boots Were Made for Walking”) and one performer splitting his pants during a gig. The bands shared stories about playing in their favourite venues around town; how their families, including their young children, reacted to their performance; and how the band was formed. We even convinced an all-male band to do some photos while coming out of the pink port-a-potties. Awesome! All in all, I think they had fun and so did we. Maybe in the near future we’ll get them all together and film a jam session or they could all collaborate on “We Are the World”. Well, maybe almost all of them…
…unless AJ steps in and arranges this for us like he did other interviews. One such opportunity was a duel interview with Uncle Bob Cabana, owner and founder of world-famous Fab Gear, and legendary photographer John Rowlands, who has photographed The Beatles, David Bowie, Blondie, and many others. We had a riveting conversation about their vast experiences, not just at Bluesfest but around the world. Uncle Bob and I even danced a bit. The guy has some serious moves.
In between these interviews, the young gents at Tacklebox were able to get some great shots of artists – from Action Bronson, Tyler, the Creator, Childish Gambino, and many others. But we didn’t have much time to see as many shows as we would have liked to because an interview was always around the corner or we were tracking down local artists or getting footage of their sets.
We also had other interviews lined up with out-of-town bands. In the weeks leading up to Bluesfest, I blitzed artists’ publicists and managers to see if a band or singer was available and interested in doing an unconventional interview with me. I didn’t try for Lady Gaga, but I attempted, unsuccessfully, to get interviews with Phantogram, July Talk, Vintage Trouble, Tift Merritt, The Drive-by Truckers, MOIST, BadBadNotGood, Action Bronson, Tyler, the Creator, and many others. Most said no citing scheduling issues, which is understandable since most acts arrive the day of the show and often leave immediately after to get to their next destination. There were times that I felt defeated since I was getting more rejection email after rejection email. I almost gave up, well almost…
Until I started getting confirmations and publicists even asking if I was interested in doing an interview. We started off with Peter D. Harper of Harper and Midwest Kind. The UK-born, Australian-raised, now US resident brought his didgeridoo, where I got to try it and failed miserably. He shared plenty of stories of touring; one of which left Dylan, Chris H, and I amazed. But to top it all off, we also danced!
Early Sunday afternoon, we played a game with Jess Wolfe & Holly Laessig of Lucius to test their “unspoken connection”. They seemed to enjoy it because they asked for more questions. Or maybe they asked for more because I was unable to stump them.
That afternoon, we met up with Canadian indie star Mac DeMarco. We didn’t exactly do an interview, but instead we walked around the grounds quizzing people about his birth name. It started off slowly, but in the end we literally made one young girl’s dream come true and dozens of other fans had the opportunity to meet him. They roared when they saw him and he seemed to revel in the attention. At the same time, he acted like an ordinary guy who just happens to be famous.
We hooked up with Royal Canoe on the second Thursday. We acted like the TSN Hockey Panel, but spoke about music and stupid questions. This was done at Union Local 613, where we all had a blast. They enjoyed their time so much that we returned to Union after the ‘Fest to celebrate Derek Allard’s birthday. I learned that night that O’Connor Street makes a great place to play frisbee.
Also that Thursday, we interviewed young Pennsylvania band The Districts. They may be quiet, almost unassuming young gents, but they can rock, putting on not just one but two of the best shows at Bluesfest. We spoke about a variety of things, including moving to Philadelphia, and I quizzed them about Canada. You’ll have to see the interview to find out how well they did.
On the last Saturday morning, I got an email at 9:30 asking if I was still interested in meeting up with Dan the Automator, Del the Funky Homosapien, and Kid Koala – together known as Deltron 3030. Of course I was! It’s not often you get to meet and interview icons of their respective fields. We met that afternoon in their backstage trailer and had an interesting chat. The highlight, though, was Del making the time to speak with members of BlakDenim. Kudos to him!
And finally, on Sunday, we hooked up with The Texas Horns (Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff, John Mills, & Al Gomez). I wanted to speak with them because they’ve been Bluesfest’s house band for 15 years. They shared stories about playing with the Allman Brothers and how Bluesfest has become an annual “rite of passage”. In the middle of our chat, we were interrupted by AJ, who was looking for me. Basically, AJ photobombed the interview.
While we thought this was the end, it was not. That afternoon, I got confirmation to interview a person whose music I’ve enjoyed for over a decade. After going back and forth on a time, scrambling to find someone to record the interview (thanks to Darren Boucher and my wife for stepping up), and waiting 40 minutes after the set, we finally got to meet Sam Roberts of the Sam Roberts Band. He was gracious, attentive, and thoughtful. We spoke about ribs, rollercoasters, and his first big gig at Tulip Festival some 10 or 11 years ago. Just a fantastic interview by a great Canadian singer-songwriter. My wife was ecstatic to get a hug from him after the chat. What a high to end Bluesfest. The only negative – you can hear Collective Soul blasting away during the interview. To be truthful, as we were waiting for a long time, I was about to leave and head home. As such, we almost missed this opportunity. Almost…
…Like how I missed most of the performances during the 10 days. I did, however, get to see some wonderful performances, mostly the sets taking place later in the day or evening. Among my favourites were: The Districts in the Barney Danson Theatre, Lucius set also in the Theatre, July Talk, Bombino, Gary Clark, Jr., Thornetta Davis, The Sam Roberts Band, and Nostalghia. Instead of talking about their sets, I might just feature them in future Mundo Musique episodes. And if you’re wondering, I did not see a single headliner perform on the Bell Stage, but I almost did…
… See Snoop Dogg, Lion, or whatever he calls himself these days. Seeing some of his interviews on his own channel has helped me craft my own style. Seriously. So thanks Snoop!
But I would truly like to thank our readers around the world, our family, our friends, and everyone who made these past few weeks happen. Huge thanks to AJ Sauve, Joe Reilly, and all the staff and volunteers of the Ottawa Bluesfest; Avra Gibbs-Lemay, Yasmine Mingay, Jean-Francois Blais, and the staff of the Canadian War Museum for letting us use their space; and to Ivan Gedz, Matt Fantin, and the entire gang at Union Local 613 for your hospitality. Of course, thanks to The Kevin McGowan for making this possible; Darren Boucher for stepping in at the last minute; and my wife, Carol, for tolerating me for the past few weeks.
And finally, a big thank you to Dylan, Chris, Chris, Jake, and Migo of Tacklebox Productions. You guys are awesome! Without their help, none of this would have happened. Well, almost…
(And here’s what they look like – in order from left to right: Dylan Lawrence, Jake Saunders, Jordan MacDonald (who was on vacation in Florida), Migo Bayona, Chris Hould, and Chris Orzel.)
See you next year (or maybe at Folkfest)!
Photos in order:
- Cover photo of Bluesfest crowd by ©Tacklebox Productions
- Bombino by ©Ben Yung
- Phantogram by ©Carol Hua-Yung
- Cypress Hill by ©Tacklebox Productions
- Mackenzie Rhythm Section by ©Tacklebox Productions
- Lucius (in the Barney Danson Theatre) by ©Carol Hua-Yung
- Tyler, the Creator by @Chris Orzel and ©Tacklebox Productions
- Action Bronson by @Chris Orzel and ©Tacklebox Productions
- Mac Demarco by @Chris Orzel and ©Tacklebox Productions
- Sam Roberts by ©Carol Hua-Yung
- Childish Gambino by ©Tacklebox Productions
- Tacklebox Productions by ©Tacklebox Productions
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