Ottawa’s RBC Bluesfest can be a logistical challenge thanks to all the talented artists on the lineup. With the number of performers featured on the multiple stages at one time, schedule conflicts are inevitable. Since we couldn’t attend every gig, here are some quick highlights of memorable sets from the first four days of the fest.
Day 1 – Thursday, July 6th
It’s finally here! On the first day of Bluesfest we decided to follow our own advice. We started the day with Shawn Tavenier who got to entertain the hometown from the main stage. His music draws from rock, folk and a little smidge of country, and it sounded great. We all know the Sam Roberts Band plays the festival frequently, but there is a reason for that. He always delivers an honest rock performance, and this year was no exception. He started by inviting the crowd to bring their energy and start the fire for the festival.
This year the organizers replaced the River/Subway/Canadian stage with a tented stage. This apparently was in order to help create another social area around the Ferris wheel, and perhaps attenuate the consistent complaints of noise bleed from the main stage. For Pokey Lafarge‘s set the tent worked aptly, creating a more intimate venue for the band. Pokey Lafarge is an artist who has been steadily growing his audience in the area through repeated festival and club appearances. In the weeks leading up to the festival, his name was often mentioned in the Bluesfest Facebook fanpage as an artist people were looking forward to seeing perform. The hype is absolutely justified; those who tolerated the heat of the tent were rewarded.
For those not interested in Toby Keith or Pokey Lafarge there was another heavier choice blowing away the Black Sheep stage. Death From Above 1979 put on a wild show to a sizable crowd behind the museum.
Day 2 – Friday, July 7th
With a 7 p.m. start, many were questioning why Melissa Etheridge was not a headliner. At this point of her career, she has a lengthy catalog of songs to draw from, and her performance included many of her biggest hits with a generous helping of music from her latest album, “Memphis Rock and Soul“. This album is a tribute to some of the great artists on Stax Records, such as Otis Redding, The Staples Singers, Sam & Dave, and Albert King. She even wore an Otis Redding shirt while performing.
If a legendary rock performer is not your cup of tea, you still had another option because Too Slim and the Taildraggers were tearing up the Bluesville tent. This band is fantastic to see in person, and clearly Bluesfest agrees having given them slots on two consecutive days. Next Madeline Merlo, who is influenced by such amazing vocalists as Patsy Cline, Etta James and Billy Holiday, showed how she could meld those influences into her own sound. She quickly gained smiles from the crowd with her country charm.
Our choice for headliner was another frequent festival performer, Matt Andersen. Much like Sam Roberts, the reason he is brought in so often is because of how good he is. This show really put the new tented stage at Bluesville to the test as Matt’s reputation preceded him. He not only filled the tent but had an equal number of fans spilling outside. Unfortunately, with the area having a non-raised stage, the flaps on the sides of the tent and lack of a directional speaker made the experience from outside less than ideal. We feel these problems could be greatly improved with the addition of a screen and some speakers outside the tent.
We managed to grab a few photos of Australian sensation Anna Lunoe getting the young (and young at heart) on their toes.
Day 3 – Saturday, July 8th
Saturday was an absolute smorgasbord of local talent, so Darren tried to spend a little time at many of the early performances including The Tackies, Riishi Von Rex, Brea Lawrenson Band, Taylor Knox, Lynne Hanson & The Good Intention, and the Angelina Hunter Trio. All put in great performances in a variety of genres proving the music scene is alive and well in the Ottawa area. Tegan or Sara narrowly avoided an accident on stage which could have led to a humourous headline and running joke throughout the show (sorry, you had to be there). The Canadian duo wasted no time plowing through a long list of their hits while entertaining the crowd with their witty repartee in between songs.
Like many people, we walked into Bluesfest not knowing anything about Sugaray Rayford, but were quickly mesmerized by his incredible performance. This man gave it his all from the moment he started by leading the audience in the dance party. You can see from Darren’s photos that this was a hot and sweaty affair and loads of fun! Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile had to cancel last year but was back and sincerely seemed to enjoy being on the Ottawa stage. The audience returned the love, hopefully ensuring it won’t be difficult to get her to return.
If you are a hip-hop fan, you had the genre giant 50 Cent; if you are a country fan, you had Canadian favourite Gord Bamford. If you didn’t like either of those genres you had Molly Hatchett, one of the early southern rock influencers, willing to entertain with their old school rock’n’roll. By the looks of the crowd there were quite a number of people looking for this option
Day 4 – Sunday, July 9th
Darren made it out to check out a couple local artists to start off the day. First up was local blues/soul powerhouse Bella Cat. She not only belted out her vocals but danced and smiled her way through the entire performance, winning over any of the audience who was not already in her camp.
Rebecca Noelle played the City stage at 5 p.m. There is no denying that her vocal talents are considerable and that she seems equally at ease singing, rock, pop, blues and soul, with or without vibrant coloured hair. There is something about the way her new soulful direction has taken her that just seems to fit her like a glove. After watching this performance we really feel we’ve seen something special.
Johnnyswim, a husband and wife duo from Los Angeles, really heated things up on the Claridge Home Stage. They clearly have chemistry on and off the stage. Gabrielle Shonk‘s set was delayed by a risk of thunderstorms then marred by rain. For those who didn’t let a little rain scare them away, they got to see why Gabrielle Shonk is considered one to watch. She was also joined on stage by her father, an accomplished blues musician himself. Darren took time to visit the Black Sheep where his pick from the preview, Eric Lindell, was delivering some solid bluesy rock with a southern flair. Concurrently, Dina was checking out one of the other previewed artists, Yonatan Gat, in the Bluesville tent. Opting to ignore the stage and set up in the middle of the tent surrounded by audience members in the round, he eagerly spun about, fervently playing the guitar, singing in Hebrew and entrancing all.
The night ended with pop powerhouse P!nk, who had clearly the biggest audience of the festival thus far, reaching the rims of the main lawn. Her show was quite the spectacle, punctuated by a catwalk, pyrotechnics, and her being suspended by a giant swing. At one point she was joined on stage by man well-known to festival goers, Dallas Green (aka City and Colour), so they could perform several songs together they recorded as You+Me. A little more than halfway through the set it started to rain torrentially but neither the fans nor P!nk let that stop their fun. She continued to perform boldly on the catwalk, leaving behind any protection from the elements. In the end she delivered exactly what one would expect from a professional artist, and her fans adored her for it.
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