Bluesfest Delivers my “Music Fix” Once Again

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Well, the whirlwind is finally over, and I have a chance to reflect a bit on another amazing year of music at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest. This year, the ‘fest ran from July 3rd to July 13th, 11 straight days of top-notch music from a myriad of different styles. It started getting pretty hard to keep the momentum going after 9 days, but I pushed on, like any die-hard would, and made it the duration. Sadly, as a result, I ended up with a pretty bad cold, so I was off sick for a few days this week, and haven’t totally recovered yet, but I’m ready to put finger to keyboard for my loyal readers 😉 This year, Jody also brought her good camera to a lot of the shoes, and I took a few videos along the way. As a result, we’ve got a ton of pictures and videos for you to check out. To make it easiest, they’ve all been put into one big collection on Flickr. Have a look at some of those, then read on for a little bit about my experience.

Bluesfest has become one of those de facto traditions that Jody and I have each and every year. Spring rolls around, and the line-ups get announced, and we pretty much jump right on the bandwagon to buy passes. $200 may seem like an investment, but considering there are over 200 shows in total, it really doesn’t seem that bad a deal. Plus, there are always a number of top-tier acts which we generally wouldn’t get the chance to see any other time, and individual tickets would definitely cost over $60 each, so in the end, I still stand by the fact that it is indeed a good deal. Then, there are those who complain that it is no longer a ‘blues’ festival, which is also fine by me. Of course, if you asked Mark Monahan, the director, he would agree. They are well aware it is more of a ‘music’ festival, but thanks to the international reputation and the branding, they are sort of stuck with that title. Although I couldn’t find it online, I heard that Billboard Magazine put Ottawa Bluesfest among the top music festivals in the world!

As part of our festival prep this year, we actually also bought 3 tickets to the Answer to Cancer lottery, as they were having an early bird draw for 2000 pairs of VIP passes to bluesfest. Due to our quick moves (there were only about 3500-4000 tickets in the draw!), we scored two pairs of VIP passes (for individual days), this gave us a few extra tickets that we were able to sell / give away. Plus on the first day, they accidentally put a full wristband on me, instead of the day pass wristband, so I ended up with even more tickets. In the end, I managed to sell a bunch of tickets to friends and others in the race community (in exchange for schwag like DVDs and Books!), as well as give a bunch away. It was a great year overall fo that sort of thing.

Also, Great Big Sea was headlining on one night, which meant I was given passes for that show from my friend Kris as well. This was fortuitous, as the same night, one of our favourite new afro-beat bands, the Budos Band, were playing as well, and this meant we could offer up tickets to Alix, Matt, and Andy as well. Pretty sweet stuff, don’t you think?

So just why was it so tiring for me? Well, let me give you my week-day schedule at a glance. 7:30am, get up, bike to work. Work till 5:45pm or so, grab a sub, bike to Bluesfest, enjoy the shows till 11pm, bike home, go to bed. Get up, and repeat the process. Yup, for a solid week, I didn’t see home except for sleeping. Other people actually take a week of vacation just to enjoy the Bluesfest. I can’t go that far, but I do my best not to miss anything. Of course, as I grow older, I tend to not spend each of those nights drinking thankfully, but it’s still tiring :-). The other great thing is that I work less than a km from the site, and it’s on the bike paths on my route home, and has secure bike parking. How awesome is that?

Now the obvious question that you’re probably all asking, which is “Just how awesome was the music this year?”. Well, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Once again, after the fest, I sit her totally musically inspired, and itching to get back into the music game myself. In fact, as a slight digression, by day 2, I had already been approached by a fellow who was trying to set me up with a couple other local musicians to try and get a new project going. These are guys with a real pedigree too. One was the bassist for Nero, an amazing Jam Band, and the other was the guitarist for the band Real Gone Daddies, who were a fixture for years, often playing tunes like the Grateful Dead. We’ve made tentative contacts, but not yet gotten together. I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of commitment again yet, but a jam certainly wouldn’t be out of the question. Anyway, back to the music of the fest this year.

Firstly, for the next little while, you’ll still be able to pull up the schedules at the Bluesfest Website, but no doubt that will disappear after a while. At the highest level, here’s a short list of some of my favourite artists that performed, and what was cool about their shows:

  • Tragically Hip – what can I say, haven’t seen them in years, and in spite of Gord’s shaky vocal starts, it was still an amazing performance by the Kings of Canadian Rock
  • Keb Mo – wasn’t the first time I’ve seen him, but he still brings awesome blues to town
  • Guitar Shorty – yup, he’s short, but he’s an amazing blues guitarist and showmen, strutting around the venue and dancing with the ladies while the backing band kept the rhythm going strong
  • Allen Toussaint – didn’t know him, but if you’ve ever heard “Working in a Coal Mine”, that’s him. Old school boogie-woogie pianist from New Orleans, and a fine player he was
  • NQ Arbuckle – another new stumble upon, playing great greasy blues-rock
  • Adrian Belew Power Trio – as the name implies, three guys, but with massive sound
  • Harper – my favourite didgeridoo playing Aussie bluesman!
  • Krueger Brothers – imagine a trio consisting of virtuosic players on banjo, acoustic guitar and acoustic bass, perfect sound for my headspace at that time, brilliant players (and swiss!)
  • Infected Mushroom – Israeli Techno anyone, why not? It was a hot show
  • Primus – Can’t get enough of the crazy bass playing
  • Widespread Panic – They’ve been around forever, playing their carnival jam music to the masses. Sadly, there weren’t many taking in this show, even though it was mainstage. I caught it from middle front row, so that was pretty awesome. Sadly, they’ll probably never return due to the lack of audience.
  • That 1 Guy – Hmmm, imagine Blue Man Group meets Keller Williams meets Xavier Rudd, yeah, that’s about it. Crazy percussive man with his home-made instruments in an intement theater setting. It was pretty cool (but maybe only for an hour or less, otherwise it gets repetitive

Wow! That’s only gotten me as far as Monday, and wasn’t even a comprehensive list of who I enjoyed. Perhaps I’ll just summarive my faves by name for the rest, rather than trying to fill in all the details. I mean honestly, there was just that much music that I enjoyed. My fingers would go numb trying to type up all the synopses of my faves!

  • Bettye LaVette
  • James Blood Ulmer
  • Jason Ricci and New Blood – wicked Harmonica
  • Michael Franti – 3rd row center, crazy night
  • Walter Trout & The Radicals
  • Harry Manx with Kevin Breit
  • The Black Crowes – finally saw them live!
  • Balkan Beat Box
  • Budos Band
  • Shakura S’Aida
  • Joan Armatrading
  • Sauce Boss – Cooking Gumbo meets charity meets slide blues
  • Nation Beat – dancing barefoot in the rain with the band around us, cool!
  • Canned Heat – Come on, they played Woodstock, how can that possibly not be cool?
  • Mr Something Something – interpretive dancer on stage? Check.
  • David Maxwell

That sure is a lot of music, isn’t it? Now you can imagine why it is that I go to this every single year. How could I not? I love music, and don’t get out to enough shows, so this one festival gives my musical brain a big boost every year. I’m already looking forward to seeing next year’s line-up, and I know I’ll be buying my wristband once again. I may never get to play a big festival like this, but at least I can experience it, and maybe get a feel for how it must be to play for a huge crowd. Well, that’s probably a long enough post. I think you all get the idea. Hopefully you’re all taking the time to support live music once in a while in your own corners of the world. As an ex-musician, I assure you that going out to see a live show once in a while is good karma 😉 Musicians have to eat too, and since most people just steal their music, the live shows are an important source of income. Take care all, and see you ’round.

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