For the past two years, Ottawa’s premier music festival has been unable to run as typical secondary to the pandemic. As the lineup was announced, a looming question on many a mind was, “Will people embrace returning to a crowded outdoor festival right now?” With the first week now in the books, we have our answer: a resounding YES!
Ottawa’s RBC Bluesfest can be a logistical challenge to see everyone on your must-see list. With performers featured simultaneously on the multiple stages at one time, schedule conflicts are inevitable. Since we could not attend every gig, here are some quick highlights of memorable sets from the first four days.
Day 1 – Thursday, July 7th
Very obvious upon arrival to the festival grounds was the sea of smiles of an early crowd. It would seem the question many were asking about attendance would be answered rather quickly. The energetic music-loving fans of Ottawa promptly poured into the grounds at the Canadian War Museum. The RBC Stage was a Made in Canada evening, hosting Jessia, Alessia Cara, and Canadian icon Sarah McLachlan.
In addition to the main stage artists, the smaller stages provide options to suit multiple tastes or an avenue to explore and perhaps discover new music from around the globe. One such new discovery for us was Australia’s Ocean Alley. Meanwhile, seasoned Bluesfest veterans and global festival favorites Bombino provided Tuareg, psych- and soul-rock grooves. It is fun to watch the crowds grow year after year as the artists accrue a grander fan base locally.
Day 2 – Friday, July 8th
Friday night saw perfect weather. This combined with the musical choices on offer resulted in an even bigger audience on the grounds. One artist who has created a serious buzz is Tash Sultana. They absolutely mesmerized the audience, as they layered multiple instruments and sounds before our eyes (and ears).
The New Pornographers debated which past Ottawa show involved fans shouting their guesses as to the next song to be performed. Ultimately, it would not matter and shouts of dates faded to singing along to “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile”.
As 9:30 rolled around, it was clear Ottawa music lovers had decided Jack Johnson‘s style of rock was the perfect way to spend this beautiful Friday evening.
The New Pornographers
Day 3 – Saturday, July 9th
Alas, the day every country music fan in Ottawa had circled on their calendar had arrived. On days like these, the crowd leaves no doubt what style of music they are there to see. The audience was filled with jean shorts, crop tops, cowboy boots and hats.
The Revivalists had the task of playing before a crowd that was clearly there to see the country feature artist. We hope they were able to win over some fans, as we feel they are a fantastic band. Montreal’s Group Project was a great discovery. They seemed to enjoy themselves every bit as much as those on the hill at the River Stage, and the energy was irresistible.
Make no mistake about it, the crowd was there to see headliner Luke Combs. It was easily the biggest of 2022, and considering day tickets were sold out it will be hard to beat.
If country music was not your thing, Bluesfest didn’t forsake you, as there was another fantastic world music artist playing in the tent. Namely, Nigeria’s Femi Kuti & The Positive Force. Last but certainly not least, the always sensational Colin James was over at the River Stage, in case you want some Blues in your Bluesfest.
Femi Kuti & The Positive Force
Day 4 – Sunday, July 10th
Another bright and sunny sky to help us enjoy a great line-up of music. The day started showcasing lots of local talent. The RBC Stage featured Sophia Radisch, while the River Stage hosted Josephine Leone.
Garbage, meanwhile, rocked the main stage with all the attitude one would expect. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats were creating a stir that would become one of the most talked-about shows at the festival thus far. Although their set overlapped both Garbage and Alanis Morisette, they filled the River Stage with a crowd larger than any we recall ever seeing, especially for an 8:00 pm set. The feeling around the festival is that we may have just witnessed an artist transitioning to becoming a festival headline act.
Although it was two years late thanks to the pandemic, Alanis Morisette celebrated the 25th Anniversary of her breakthrough album, Jagged Little Pill. The show started with an amusing video montage of her entire career and appearances in pop culture. She then proceeded to delight the large hometown faithful by covering as many of her hits as she could fit into her 90-minute set. If re-living ’90s angst wasn’t your thing or if you just wanted more country music, as we know the city seems to love it, MacKenzie Porter dazzled in the tent over at the SiriusXM stage.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
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