The 21st edition of the RBC Bluesfest has come to a close. At eleven days, it marked the second longest in the festival’s history. We, Ben and Darren, looked back on the first 5 days last Monday. We now reflect on the shows that impressed us the most for days 6 to 11. Words are by both Ben and Darren, and the photos taken are from Darren. Because there are a lot of gigs to go through, we’ll try to keep it brief.
Tuesday, July 14
Highlights: Dan Boeckner blazing on his guitar; hearing “Evil”, a new song the band had written the week before; and in response to a fan saying the volume on her mic needed to be turned up, Devojka telling him that he needed his volume to be turned down.
Highlights: Frontman Sam Herring was his entertaining self, dancing on stage and, as is his fashion, transforming his voice into something that sounded like The Hulk. Future Islands did not desert the stage even during a hard rainfall. Instead, Sam said “F*** it”, and the band played a searing version of “Seasons (Waiting On You)”.
Highlights: Discovering why 23-year old Australian Hamish Anderson, with his superb guitar and songwriting skills, have made him one of blues and roots rising stars. He and his band put on a scintillating, engaging performance. He’s the next great blues musician.
Extras: On Friday, Anderson received an Independent Music Award for “Burn”, which was named Best Blues Song. And if that’s not enough, early in his career, he was selected to open for he late B.B. King and performed with him.
John Butler Trio
Highlights: John Butler Trio’s set was ninety minutes of uptempo, searing roots music. The always engaging Butler, whose charm and entertaining skills date back to his busking days in Fremantle, even allowed the audience to choose a few songs, such as the roaring “Zebra”.
Wednesday, July 15
Highlights: Lauren Mayberry’s playful banter with the crowd and shadow boxing dance moves to Matt Doherty’s beats and dancing during “Under the Tide” to Iain Cook’s uninterrupted grin. The Scotland band played hits from their first album, “The Bones of What You Believe”, including “The Mother We Share”, “Tether”, and “We Sink”.
Extras: This was CHVRCHES’ Bluesfest debut, and the show also marked the start of their North American tour. They debuted three new tracks from their forthcoming new album, Every Open Eye, which they officially announced shortly after their Bluesfest performance. “Leave a Trace”, “Clearest Blue”, and “Make Them Gold” were the new singles that retains the buzzy, accessible synth-pop sound.
The Gaslight Anthem
Highlights: After The Gaslight Anthem had to cancel their 2014 FolkFest performance, they were a highly anticipated act. The highlight was clearly that they made it this time! However, they rocked through “Biloxi Parish” and “Mulholland Drive” to start the show, and they teased the crowd by promising a night of Layla repeats (they did play it a bit). The banter was light, frequent, and entertaining, making it a night of unforgettable music.
Thursday, July 16
Highlights: Watching a true blues legend bringing some much-needed blues to the festival. From his guitar playing to storytelling and his harmonica player’s masterful skills, we were treated to an exceptional show of musicianship and entertainment.
Highlights: Mother Mother are festival favourites and have played Bluesfest several times. Despite their frequent visits, their sets have always been top notch, and they did not disappoint this time around. Their high-energy show was highlighted by the rocking performance of “Body of Years” (their first hit some five years ago), “Reaper Man”, and an interesting cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”.
Highlights: To witness one of the leading figures in house and club music and one of the world’s first major DJs was a treat. In particular, watching the masterful, 51-year old Oakenfold work with his three turntables and production gear was something to behold, an art that is slowly diminishing as the industry becomes more digitized. Oh, and seeing the audience jumping and dancing into a frenzy with Oakenfold often inciting them was a sight to see.
Friday, July 17
First we just want to say that it rained a lot. A lot!
Highlights: With their combination of punk-pop and garage-rock, The Yips demonstrated why they are one of the city’s rising acts. This young band has the chance to go places.
Highlights: Although this marked their third performance in Ottawa within a year, husband-wife duo played with the energy of a band making their first appearance in a city and trying to win fans in a new city. They played their hits, “Black to Gold”, “I Heard I Had”, and “Best Look Lately”, which stimulated the crowd to dance and, thus, keeping them warm.
The Tragically Hip
Highlights: Hearing arguably the band’s best album, Fully Completely, in its entirety. Frontman Gord Downie was at his usual animated self which led to some amusing moments, in particular when one of the banners over head became stuck and one of the crew was forced to pull it down as Downie observed the scene. Ending with “Blow at High Dough” was a brilliant end to a fantastic show.
Saturday, July 18
Riishi Von Rex
Highlights: Seeing another local band demonstrate there is serious talent in the city. Riishi Von Rex started off with songs that were more folk-rock oriented before using the second half of their set to play their more familiar gyspy-punk combination. This band has a great future. A woman at the merch tent after their show said Riishi Von Rex was their unexpected find of the festival.
Highlights: Having watched this young band from Toronto since their early days, they have grown into great live performers and their musicianship continues to expand. They are confident on stage, are more engaging to the crowd, and their energy was infectious. Throwing in a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” added to the performance. They have the opportunity to be the next Metric or be Canada’s answer to Sleater-Kinney.
Highlights: With their combination of reggae and roots music, their sound and style is that of Australia. But the Berlin-based band wowed the audience with a brilliant and intense show, reminiscent of Xavier Rudd’s gigs of the past. The crowd for the set was huge – at least 5,000 – and frontman Clemens Rehbein was surprised at large the audience was there. The show was one of the best of the festival that ended on a high note – a much more upbeat and soaring rendition of their hit single, “Stolen Dance”.
Sunday, July 19
The Temperance Movement
Highlights: Despite the heat (31 degrees and 41 with the humidity), the UK southern / blues rock band put a charge into the few thousand people who braved the mid-afternoon heat. People were dancing and rocking out, ignoring the blazing sun and having a fantastic time. The band’s energy and sound are reminiscent of The Black Crowes. There were several people saying at the show and online that The Temperance Movement was their “discovery of the festival”. Put us down in that camp.
“Weird Al” Yankovic
Highlights: “Weird” Al’s show was one half concert, one half Academy-Awards-style monologue. Whatever you want to call it, the set was pure entertainment – from the music to the videos. “Weird” Al, we think, had more costume changes than the Miss Universe pageant.
Highlights: We both remember seeing the Ottawa trio in their early days, and every year they can get better and better. The Juno-award winning band’s blues and blues-rock is captivating live. It’s only a matter time before those south of the border and beyond discover this emerging act.
The Tea Party
Highlights: The Tea Party were the closing act on the medium-sized Canadian Stage, and they ended the festival with an arena-style rock performance. They played the hits (“Heaven Coming Down”, “Temptation”, “The Writing’s on the Wall”), but we’ll remember the brilliant burner “The Ocean at the End”, the blistering cover of “Paint It Black”, and Jeff Martin’s engaging and endearing personality. Here’s a rock star that is happy to be home.
Usually we get RBC Bluesfest withdrawal, but not this year as Ben is headed to Newport Folkfest this week, and Darren hits Osheaga the week after.
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