RBC Bluesfest has once again come and gone. While the Festival has been reduced from 10 to 9 days, there were still plenty of great moments that people will be talking about years from now. We did not get to see every act and we know that others will have their own memories to share, but here are ours from the Second Half (for what it is worth, here is the first half).
While we have not featured all the acts, there are photos of Alessia Cara, AWOLNATION, Kelly Prescott, Lindsay Ferguson, Coleman Hell, The Monkees, Holy Fuck, Brock Zeman, Jack Broadbent, Paul DesLauriers Band, Samantha Martin, and City in Colour.
Day 5 – Wednesday, July 13th
Day 5 will likely be remembered for the heat, which was unfortunate for the acts performing at 6:00 PM. Pierre Kwenders, though, may have had the toughest assignment since he was on the Black Sheep Stage, which faces directly into the sun. The native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and current Montreal resident, did not let the near 40 degree temperatures affect his performance. Instead, he added to the heat with his funky and smooth Afro-beat and experimental electronica. We said he would leave a lasting impression, and for the few hundred there he certainly did that.
While Colin Meloy has played in Ottawa, his main project The Decemberists had long skipped the city on previous tours. It, therefore, made their long-awaited debut at Bluesfest one of the more highly anticipated shows. True to form, the Portland-based folk-rock / indie-rock collective provided a memorable show, playing songs that spanned their extensive catalogue, including “The Hazards of Love 1”, “Calamity Song”, and “Sporting Life”. A The Decemberists show would not be complete without the presence of the nylon whale and “The Mariner’s Revenge Show”, which remains one of the most entertaining 15 minutes in live music.
While Brad Paisley was doing his thing on the City Stage (including inviting Ottawa Senators superstar Erik Karlsson on stage), Half Moon Run put on a scintillating performance on the Black Sheep Stage. The rising indie band from Montreal (although frontman Devon Portielje hails from Ottawa) showcased their cross-genre sound with their hits “Call Me In The Afternoon” and “Full Circle” drawing the biggest reactions. The most impressive part of the show, though, was their musicianship. Like with so many bands, you can only truly appreciate their talents when seeing them live with “Devil May Care” particularly standing out.
Day 6 – Thursday, July 14th
If Wednesday will be remembered for its heat, Thursday will be associated with its unpredictable weather. The sun shone early, though, which allowed The Monkees to delight thousands of old and new fans. It was Lindsey Stirling, however, who we waited anxiously to see. The former America’s Got Talent contestant turned YouTube sensation turned platinum-selling artist provided the first truly “WOW!” performance of the festival. Her violin skills, obviously, were top-notch, but it was her combination of choreography with her dance pack while playing the violin that had everyone entranced. The pint-sized Los Angeles resident did show a bit of fatigue since this was her first show in 9 months. Just goes to show that even professionals need to get into “concert shape” (granted, we were exhausted after the first song and we just stood there).
Earlier in the evening, Toronto post-punk wunderkinds PUP blasted through a fiery one-hour set. Not surprisingly, a mini-mosh pit brought out as the band blazed through tracks from their self-titled debut and their latest LP, The Dream Is Over. The performance made us wish we were 20 years younger so that we could have joined in the buzzsaw that has happening in front of us.
For the end-of-evening affair, we opted to check out the Blues Revue being hosted by MonkeyJunk and with special guests Sue Foley, Paul Deslauriers, Jack Broadbent, and The Texas Horns. By the time we arrived, the Barney Danson Theatre was completely packed and we resorted to watching the show in the lobby of the War Museum. After 15 minutes, the Museum was packed as a severe thunderstorm roared, causing the outdoor sets to be delayed. As such, we missed most of the last sets. Lesson learned – show up earlier for blues gig in the Theatre!
Day 7 – Friday, July 15th
Everyone in town knew the night revolved around the Red Hot Chili Peppers with advanced tickets sold out (reportedly the first time since Bluesfest moved to the War Museum). The alt-rock icons were only scheduled to play for 75 minutes, but they extended their set an extra 15. While there were some audio glitches (Josh Klinghoffer’s guitar needed to be amped), the performance was terrific. Hits like “Dani California”, “Scar Tissue”, “Californication”, “Otherside”, and “Under the Bridge” were mixed in with new songs “Dark Necessities” and “Go Robot” from their current album The Getaway. If we had one complaint, it was that “Suck My Kiss” and “Blood Sugar Sex Majik” were missing.
Starting things off were local band The Yips, who in our opinion are one of the city’s most talented bands. Their danceable garage rock / disco-punk is loud. It is infectious. It is awesome. We kind of mentioned them in the same vein as METZ, but maybe they could be the city’s version of Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Over on the Black Sheep stage veteran blues act Jack de Keyzer drew a strong crowd and delivered a solid performance while representing the festival’s namesake genre. While the former London resident frequents many of the establishments around town, it was still a treat to watch a master at work.
Day 8 – Saturday, July 16th
Due to prior commitments (like an interview and laundry), we did not get to the Festival as early as hoped. Future, though, drew a massive crowd despite having a 5:00 PM slot. While we are not hip hop fans or experts by any means, watching the show from afar left us impressed. No wonder Drake is a massive fan.
Melbourne indie-folk / folk-rock band The Paper Kites made their second visit to Ottawa Bluesfest in three years. We recall their first visit, which was well attended but this day’s show drew a huge audience, mostly teenage girls. Their City In Colour approach and tender love ballads made it easy to understand why the quintet have huge following within Ottawa, as every song was sure to melt even the hardest of hearts.
Inside in the Barney Danson Theatre, the charming Lera Lynn used the more intimate setting to engage with the very attentive audience by using the time between songs to tell stories. In one particular entertaining anecdote, she recounted the reception she received on a recent trip through the UK. When asked if people had seen season two of the HBO Series True Detective in which she is featured, the response was that the second season sucked, but that she was great in it. At times, she seemed a bit surprised by the politeness of the audience in Ottawa and on behalf of all present let me be the first to apologize.
The evening, though, belonged to a raucous punk-hard rock-danceable rock band, a band reuniting, and an ’80s band still going strong. DZ Deathrays had the unfortunate dinnertime, weekend slot. While thousands were lining up for food, a few hundred were treated to arguably the most intense and rocking show of the entire festival. Their danceable post-punk, hard rock, disco-punk combination was mind-blowing, leading to a loud ovation from those who witnessed this awesome display. DZ Deathrays don’t make music for the faint of heart, but then again music festivals are meant to blow us away, which is what the Brisbane trio did.
Following DZ Deathrays were indie rock gods Wolf Parade. Their Bluesfest debut – and first show in Ottawa since ending their hiatus – was an event. Their 75-minute set was easily one of – if not THE – best of the festival. Fans were treated to a catalogue-spanning set, which kicked off with “Soldier’s Grin” from Mount Zoomer and “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” from the masterpiece, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Classics like “Shine a Light”, “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son”, “I’ll Believe in Anything”, and the anthemic “Language City” sandwiched new tunes in “C’est La Vie Way” and “Floating World”. The set ended with an extended version of “Kissing the Beehive”, which was transformed into a 12+ minute, epic rocker.
Speaking of epic rockers, Duran Duran headlined the City Stage. On tour supporting their most recent release Paper Gods, the band entertained the ‘fest attendees with several songs from that album intermingled with their notable 80s anthems including “Notorious”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, and “The Reflex”. The set closed with a sea of extended arms holding up cell phones or lighters for “Say a Prayer” (a tribute to the Nice victims) followed by singing along to 1982’s unforgettable hit “Rio”.
Day 9 – Sunday, July 17th
Bluesfest ended like a lamb, but it did start off with a cheery note, as local favourites The PepTides shared their whimsical, quirky, and “tongue-in-cheek” music. From funk to pop to bubblegum pop, the octet covered it all, including performing a cool medley of Prince songs.
A favourite of the festival is Bombino, who really should have been given a later time slot and on a smaller stage. Nonetheless, the Niger artist tantalized a large audience with his Afro-beat infused blues rock and his mastery of the guitar. There wasn’t a single still body in the crowd, as Bombino and his three bandmates unfurled a wave of blistering guitar riffs, pulsating bass lines, and a summery vibe to this mid-July day. Not surprisingly, the quartet received a thunderous applause when their hour was up.
Local artist Merganzer was the next option. The project of multi-instrumentalist Mike Posen, who plays violin in Timber Timbre, Merganzer’s music is labeled experimental pop, but it is much more than that. It has an existential quality akin to Björk’s earlier, quieter work. In other words, it was beautiful to experience.
Another local band leMeow provided a sultry element to the evening. From their exquisite covers of Amy Winehouse tunes to songs from their debut album, the quartet immensely impressed. The Texas Horns also provided an assist for the final four songs, taking this scintillating set to another level. When they were finished, we think Ben was pretty prophetic when he wrote:
It is not difficult to understand why people are excited about leMeow’s future – a cinematic sound that is etched in the music of the ’60s and ’70s. Then there is Bourgeois’s voice, which is stunning and unforgettable. By the end of their performance on Sunday evening, these two adjectives might also be uttered by Bluesfest patrons.
Another favourite among the Ottawa crowd is The Zolas. Although frontman Zach Gray mentioned it has been a long time since they’ve been in the city, they actually visit the city quite often (they were here in March and we have evidence). Their unique blend of piano-pop music, however, is the main reason why they have developed a solid fanbase within the region. Their entertaining one-hour set featured a heavy dose of songs from their new album Swooner. The other best part of the show was Gray’s banter, which included a confession that he would like to toss a frisbee with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That may have been the first political statement of the entire 9 days.
The Festival’s last day had to have a legend, and Bryan Ferry more than fit the bill. Accompanied by an 8-piece ensemble, Ferry featured songs from his solo career, a few covers and delved back to the 70’s and early 80’s from the Roxy Music catalogue. Many memories were evoked as he performed “Slave to Love”, “More Than This”, “Love is the Drug” and “Avalon”. Closing the set with “Jealous Guy”, it was evident his abilities to entertain remain steadfast.
There you have it! Nine days, over 55 hours of music, and enduring the screams of tens of thousands of adoring music fans, RBC Bluesfest 2016 edition comes to end. Now on to Newport Folk Festival!!!
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