For many Ottawa Bluesfest patrons, today is the official start of Bluesfest for them following yesterday’s EDM and hip hop extravanganza. While today’s main headliner is country star Jason Aldean, there are other options available, including a full slate of Ottawa acts and some roots, soul, and Latin music. Here are three acts to check out at the RBC Bluesfest July 9th edition. Also below is a list of the Ottawa acts performing, and you can find a bit more information on the Ottawa Soundmakers series.
Charles Bradley – 9:30 PM, Canadian Stage
A couple of years ago, Charles Bradley strutted on to the Bell Stage in a bumblebee yellow outfit that had people buzzing. By the time his one-hour, late-afternoon performance was over, the 10,000 or so people who arrived early to watch him were left with massive smiles and a memorable show. The love affair between the now 66-year old, R&B and soul star and Ottawa music fans was hatched that day, and Bradley and his band returned last fall to rekindle the flame. Actually, it was more like a five-alarm fire as Bradley expressed his love to the 1,000 who crammed into Ritual Nightclub and the audience returned the sentiments.
Less than a year later, Bradley is back, this time with a prime time spot on one of the Bluesfest’s more intimate stages. His story is made for the movies. For most of his first eight years of his life, he was raised in Jacksonville, Florida by his maternal grandmother before moving with this mother, who “reclaimed him”, to Brooklyn. Living in impoverished conditions, Bradley ran away from home at the age of 14, where he lived on the streets and the subways of the Big Apple. It wasn’t until Bradley was working as a cook with the Job Corps when he released his inner soul. At the time, a fellow cook mentioned that Bradley looked like James Brown and if he could sing. That one moment and chance would open a new world for Bradley.
For the next thirty years, Charles Bradley would moonlight as a James Brown impersonator and do small shows in New York or whatever city and town he ended up in. It wasn’t until 2010, at the age of 61, did Bradley release his debut album, No Time for Dreaming. He followed his critically acclaimed first record with 2013’s Victim of Love plus some side projects with The Menahan Street Band. A documentary of Bradley’s life, Soul of America, was also showcased in 2012 during SXSW.
Over the last five years, Bradley has been touring virtually non-stop, sharing his message of love, community, hope, and second chances to adoring fans. His down-to-earth nature and his story of perseverance and determination are inspiring, and seeing him on stage is one of the most rewarding live experiences one could witness. Despite his age, he’s like a young man on stage who is enjoying every single moment.
Robyn Hitchcock – 9:00 PM, Barney Danson Theatre
Unfortunately, Robyn Hitchcock‘s set overlaps with Charles Bradley’s gig. However, if you get the chance, you must watch the legendary Brit’s performance. For nearly four decades, Hitchcock has been known as one music’s preeminent albeit under-the-radar artists. His blend of folk-rock, 70s psychedelic, and neo-psychedelia has been influential to past and present artists. In addition to his masterful guitar skills and gorgeous harmonies, Hitchcock is a brilliant songwriter that builds on his other passion – poetry, as Hitchcock is a published poet. His show promises to be diverse, entertaining, and mesmerizing. Be prepared for the unexpected and to be blown away.
Ronnie Baker Brooks – 8:15 PM, Monster Energy Stage
One of the complaints by long-time Bluesfest attendees is that the Bluesfest has slowly reduced the number of blues and soul acts. And while this is true, the quality of blues musicians that do come are of the extraordinary variety, such as Ronnie Baker Brooks. Known within the Chicago music scene was one of the best blues guitarists in the city, Brooks brings his fiery and scintillating guitar skills and his combination of blues, funk, soul, and even touches of hip hop to Ottawa. If you were around to see Lucky Peterson perform at Bluesfest a few years ago, you won’t want to miss Brooks and just be mesmerized by his quick fingers.
Kira Isabella – 7:00 PM, Bell Stage
She’s a local girl who’s making a huge name for herself in the country scene. With a style and appearance to Carrie Underwood, Isabella’s country music is up-tempo, no-nonsense, and 100% infectious. Expect a massive crowd to welcome back Ottawa’s biggest music export since, well, Arcade Fire (or members of Arcade Fire).
Tara Holloway – 7:30 PM, Barney Danson Theatre
Possibly the next big export from Ottawa is Tara Holloway, whose soulful voice and introspective songwriting is reminiscent of the great Thea Gilmore.
BlakDenim – 7:00 PM, Canadian Stage
One of my favourite shows from last year’s Bluesfest was BlakDenim’s early set on what was then called The Blacksheep Stage. Their innovative combination of genres can best be described as orchestral hip-hop, pop-rock. Here’s a young band going places.
Lynne Hanson and the Good Intentions – 6:00 PM, Claridge Homes Stage
Lynne Hanson has been performing heart-warming and tear-jerking folk music for years around the Ottawa area. With her performance at Bluesfest, more people will discover this underrated songwriter, whose stories are akin to the great Lucinda Williams.
River City Junction – 6:00 PM, Monster Energy Stage
If you’re looking for some old-fashion blues-rock, then Ottawa trio River City Junction has your ticket. And how often do you see a band’s singer also be its drummer? Be prepared to shake your booty a bit.
Saint Clare – 6:00 PM, Canadian Stage
Or maybe you’re looking for something even more uptempo, rock ‘n roll that will blow your mind. Saint Clare bring their ’60s and ’80s-inspired rock to Bluesfest that includes a horns section. Maybe the Texas Horns will join them on stage.
Thrifty Kids – 6:00 PM, Barney Danson Theatre
There’s also surf pop during the early part of Bluesfest in the form of Thrifty Kids. In February, the quartet released their self-titled EP. It’s a cross between Misun and Real Estate. Now this could be really interesting.
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