Blues News Blog

Experience Bluesfest with daily posts, event highlights, and concert close-ups.

July 13, 2014

"Rocking the night away"

As the final acts played their last notes and another year of Bluesfest came to a close, one thing became clear… Ottawa sure knows how to rock! Sunday proved to be a worthy finale as Ottawa rock fans were treated to some exceptional performances.

It was a beautiful evening down at the River Stage as Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker, also known as USS, kicked things into high gear. The duo, consisting of Ashley Buchholz and Jason Parsons, played an energetic set that featured songs such as This Is The Best and other tracks from their latest album Advanced Basics. As fans jumped up and down, enthusiastically pressing closer to the stage, USS egged them on, yelling 'put your middle fingers in the air!' and the crowd obliged. Feeding off of the energy, Parsons, the duo’s “hypeman” lived up to his moniker with crazy antics, including diving off the stage to crowd-surf for several minutes. 

Back on the Claridge Homes Stage, things were a little mellower, but no less spirited as Sam Roberts Band took to the stage. Strumming out beloved hits such as "Brother Down," "Where Have All The Good People Gone?" and "Hard Road," Roberts knows exactly what works, and his classic tunes were perfectly suited to a warm summer’s evening. Meanwhile, the crowd sang along eagerly while waving their cups of beer in the air, happy to cheer on a Canadian favourite.

The sky was dark by the time the party shifted to the Bell Stage and as the full moon rose, the crowds flocked to the Bell Stage for Collective Soul. The performance came to life as bright lights flooded the stage with vibrant colours and spirals swirled on the giant screens. Launching immediately into new material before effortlessly switching to older hits, Ed Roland, the lead singer, worked the crowd like the veteran he is. His announcement that Collective Soul has now been playing for 20 years received loud applause from their faithful fans. It was a fitting tribute for one of the last bands to play in Bluesfest’s 20th Anniversary Edition. 

Bluesfest definitely went out with a bang, demonstrating that after 20 years Bluesfest has truly found its groove, and Ottawa music lovers will eagerly await announcements for next year’s festival. 

July 12, 2014

"Feeling Young and Wild and Free"

Saturday was a night devoted to the rap music fans of Ottawa, and they were rewarded with entertaining performances from two of the biggest names in the game: rising star Childish Gambino and legendary Snoop Dogg. 

Childish Gambino, although known by many as actor Donald Glover from the hit show Community, is really making a name for himself as a bonafide rap star. Judging from the massive crowds that descended upon the Claridge Homes Stage (starting early in the afternoon and building into a frenzied mob by his 8:00 pm start-time), it won’t be long before Gambino will become a festival headliner in his own right.  

Emerging on stage in shorts and a patterned shirt that quickly became unbuttoned, Gambino launched into song after song, seemingly without pausing for a breath. His clever rhymes and word-bending lyrics are delivered with such speed and skill that it is almost hard to keep up just while listening. It almost seemed that Gambino himself was tiring, as he lay down on stage briefly, before bouncing back up and continuing his high energy performance. Fans chanted along to hits such as Freaks and Geeks, and Heartbeat, before he mixed things up by working in a bit of freestyle rap. With his incredible presence and talent, Childish Gambino set the bar high for the evening, leaving the crowd warmed up for the arrival of Snoop Dogg.  

Although recently re-incarnated as Snoop Lion, it seemed like the same old Snoop Dogg. Reminiscent of his last Bluesfest appearance, he appeared on stage well past his scheduled 9:15 pm start time. Fans were more than forgiving, especially when they caught a glimpse of his attire: an Ottawa Senators Heritage jersey with Erik Karlsson’s name and number on the back. Having won over the home crowd, he kicked things off with the fittingly titled Here Comes The King. Sticking to the tried and true, he kept the crowd moving with favourites such as Drop It Like It’s Hot, Gin and Juice, and Who Am I (What’s My Name)? It wasn’t all intense raps songs, as Snoop mixed in his verse to Katy Perry’s California Girls before encouraging the crowd to sing the chorus of the hit pop song. Some of the loudest singing was reserved for Snoop’s rendition of Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll. 

However, that wasn’t the end of old-school Snoop, as he lit up onstage, while encouraged the crowd to do the same. Immediately puffs of smoke, illuminated by beams of light from on stage, rose into the cool night air. Snoop captured the feel and attitude of the crowd perfectly as he closed out with the anthem Young, Wild & Free. 

And that wrapped up Saturday night’s edition of Bluesfest, no doubt one of the busiest nights of the festival, sending Ottawa’s many rap fans home feeling satisfied.  

July 11, 2014

"Barenaked Ladies, like you've never seen them before"

‘It all started with a big bang’ when the Barenaked Ladies emerged on the main stage Friday night at Bluesfest. Playing the theme song to the popular television show The Big Bang Theory, the band had fans singing and dancing alone right from the get-go. The entire performance was customized to our city, with the lead vocalist asking things such as “how you feeling people of the national capital region?” The Barenaked Ladies played their old hit “One Week,” immediately followed by another classic, “If I Had A Million Dollars”  as dollar signs floated around on the screen behind the band. Without warning, the musical smarty-pants incorporated a few lines from “Sweet Child of Mine” midway through their song.

The Barenaked Ladies didn’t stop the song-mashing there. In what became a soft-rock band’s attempt at rap, the lead singer serenaded us Ottawa folk with lyrics related to ‘Ottawa and the Gatineau region,’ showing they had done some pre-concert research. The rap ended and they sang the chorus of Katy Perry’s “Roar.” The line-borrowing mashups continued, and the three band members, not confined to a drum set seat, performed a choreographed dance to the song “Wake Me Up,” originally by Avicii. The final note in “Wrecking Ball” concluded their number, but as the crowd started clapping, the singer decided he wasn’t quite finished yet. Sounding like a WWE announcer, he belted his best and last ‘wrecking baaaallllll.’ You couldn’t help but laugh along with the goofy performers. They are a band that can produce hits, that can make other songs sound new and even more exciting, and yet they don’t take themselves too seriously.

The band asked if all of our Bluesfest dreams had come true, said thank you, waved, and then exited the stage. After what felt like an eternity of applause, the Barenaked Ladies ran back on stage prepared for their encore. The band played “Alcohol,” then a cover of Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun.”

I will no longer only think of the Barenaked Ladies as classic rock musicians, I will think of them as music re-inventors.

July 10, 2014

"Blondie's still got it"

It was a beautifully warm evening on Thursday, July 10, a treat for the night’s Bluesfest-goers. Beginning at 8 was the pioneer punk band of the 1970s, Blondie, a title that came from the lead singer’s nickname and iconic platinum blonde hair. Full of energy and spirit, the band performed on the main stage, the Bell Stage, before a large crowd. Playing all their classic punk-style songs and rocking out like it was still 1970, Blondie impressed fans with their first ever Bluesfest appearance.

It seems it was the ultimate night for blonde singers with the name Deborah. Blondie’s lead vocalist is the very blonde Deborah Harry, and singer Long Tall Deb performed just before this band, on the Black Sheep Stage.

Later that night, The Band Perry took over the Bell Stage. This country band, composed of three siblings, played songs old and new for a crowd of country fans. Audience members sang along happily when they played their popular hit “If I Die Young.” As the temperature dropped the show came to an end. Everyone applauded loudly as this band puts on a stellar live show.

July 9, 2014

"Are we dancer? Yes we are."

Blasting onto stage like animals coming out of their cages, The Killers took to the Bluesfest stage Wednesday evening. Opening with their hit “Mr. Brightside” turned the quiet onlookers into a rowdy crowd of Killer-fans. The band’s drummer, Ronnie Vannucci Jr., gave it his all during the song’s musical interlude, encouraged by a roar of applause.   Again the attention was put on the drummer as two white spotlights shined on him, the rest of stage covered by darkness. After a masterly drum performance, the rest of the lights came on and the band played “The Way it Was.” Adding a hint of personalization to their show, The Killers lead singer, Brandon Flowers, sang ‘can it be the way it was, Ottawa,’ replacing the original word ‘darlin.’ Us Ottawans really enjoyed that bit, and the singer smiled after hearing our reaction.

The Killers then asked the age old question. ‘Are we human or are we dancer?’ Though I wasn’t brought to my knees looking for the answer, I did find it. Considering me, my friends and the thousand other dancing lunatics, I’d say we’re definitely dancers. Mid-song Mr. Flowers called on us to not only dance, but sing as well. The entire Bluesfest area instantly filled with the lyrics to “Human.” The classic favourite “Somebody Told Me” was played, followed by “For Reasons Unknown.” In an attempt to connect with the audience once again, the band started a musical back and forth, repeating the singer’s line back to him. To close the concert The Killers played “All These Things That I’ve Done,” performing like true rock soldiers. I was disappointed that I never heard “When You Were Young” until they came back on stage for an encore and played it. In summary The Killers lived up to their name, and really did kill it on Wednesday night.

July 8, 2014

"Foreigners on stage with Foreigner"

It was a night of golden oldies as acts Styx, Don Felder, former lead guitarist of the Eagles, and Foreigner performed on Bluesfest’s 5th day. The heavy rainfalls and thunderstorm warnings could only scare away fans for so long. After a 25-minute delay caused by rain, Styx emerged onto the main stage. Spirits undamaged by the weather, the band put on an energetic show for a crowd of ponchos and umbrellas. As an encore, they played their hit “Come Sail Away,” and the bad weather began to sail away. It’s up for debate, but I have a feeling the sky was watching their show and rewarded loyal fans with a double rainbow, a sight of which the Styx made notice.

Foreigner were next to take the Bell Stage. Both the band and the fog machines hard at work putting on a show for fans. These guys had a surprising amount of energy on stage, even though they’ve been rocking out for nearly 40 years. When the Foreigner’s show wrapped up they were greeted on stage by some other ‘foreigners’ to help sing their encore song. Brookfield High School’s choir came out from hiding backstage and joined the rock band in the spotlight. Leaving best for last, the two musical groups sang Foreigner’s biggest hit “I Want to Know What Love Is,” the beloved 1984 ballad. Members of the choir expressed sheer joy from the amazing experience and the band reciprocated the feeling. All in all, the gloomy weather did not transfer into the night’s performances.

July 7, 2014

"Music gets paused"

As usual, Bluesfest took a break from performances on the Monday during the festival.

July 6, 2014

"Feelin' a little bit country"

The sun was shining and country music enthusiasts were in a good mood as Bluesfest got underway on July 6th.

Sam Hunt, a small-town country boy now residing in Nashville, kicked things off at 4:00 pm on the Claridge Homes Stage. A small but enthusiastic crowd, some sporting pink homemade Sam Hunt t-shirts, flocked to the stage. Loud female screams filled the air as he emerged wearing jeans, a white sleeveless shirt and a black snapback hat, looking more like a rapper than a country singer. Fans sang along to his every word as his lyrics told tales of love and heartbreak in a small town and the awkwardness of running into your ex at a four way stop. He played many catchy tunes including "Raised On It," "Ex To See," "Leave The Night On," "Speakers," and "Cop Car." His talented guitarists gave a strong musical edge to the performance, lending smooth back-up vocals. Overall it was an impressive performance from the likable Hunt, who talked about his plans to release his first full album soon. This is one country artist to keep an eye on, as he is sure to be a big star in no time.

Country fans then migrated over to the Bell stage where David Nail wooed the crowd with hits such as "Whatever She’s Got." It was a relaxed atmosphere as the smaller Sunday crowds soaked up the sun, many sitting on the grass or lawn chairs to take in the performance. 

Next up was Tim Hicks, a Canadian boy who grew up in St. Catherine’s, Ontario who charmed the crowd with his laid-back manner and fun personality. Pausing between songs to take selfies and Vine videos, Hicks had the country fans swooning. Closing out with his big hit "Get By," he kept the crowds happy as more plaid shirts and cowboy boots filled LeBreton Flats for the night’s anticipated performance by Lady Antebellum. Taking to the Bell Stage at 9:15 pm, the trio, comprised of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, and Dave Haywood, got the crowd going with their entertaining sound, hitting just the right blend of country, rock, and pop. After rising to success with their hit single "Need You Now," Lady Antebellum has grown a steady repertoire of songs that greatly entertained the enthusiastic crowd. They flawlessly mixed together a set featuring both old and new tunes, including "Bartender," "Downtown," and "Just a Kiss," while engaging closely with the crowd as they chatted them up between songs.  

Overall, another memorable day at Bluesfest as Ottawa fans embraced their country side and came away smiling. 

Photo credit to Ottawa Citizen

July 5, 2014

"Gaga for Gaga"

Scheduled in for Saturday, July 5 was pop star Lady Gaga. Wearing orange feathers and a platinum wig, she appeared on stage, welcomed by thousands of cheering fans. Beach balls bounced along the top of the crowd as they chanted the lyrics to her many popular songs. A powerful cannon sprayed the audience with white confetti, spreading far with the help of the night’s wind. Making the impossible possible, Lady Gaga made it snow in July, and it was beautiful. After playing the old classic “Just Dance,” the singer thanked us for changing her life by way of one track. She then sang, “Poker Face,” the song that launched her hugely successful career.

As one would assume, Lady Gaga never played more than three songs without changing from one insane outfit and headpiece to another. When I write insane, however, I mean magically and captivatingly insane. When this talented artist is on stage, she not only sings, but puts on an entire spectacle. The stage was filled with lights, dancers, confetti, costumes, props, musical instruments, and not to mention the enticing Lady Gaga herself. The singer then slowed down the tempo when she played her usually fast-paced song “Born This Way” as a slowed down, piano-acoustic version. Following this song that bears an important message, the artist made a birthday wish come true for one die-hard fan, or ‘little monster’ as she calls them. She made her way to the on-stage couch and read aloud the little monster’s note, that thanked her for being his inspiration. Lady Gaga wished him a happy birthday and the two hugged, as the audience erupted into applaud.

It was estimated that a total 27,000 people were in attendance Saturday night to see Lady Gaga perform at Bluesfest. Fans of all ages adored the star’s performance as well as overall attitude.

July 4, 2014

"Friday's fans 'faithfully' dance and sing along"

Fans, young and old, gathered at LeBreton Flats on Friday for Bluesfest’s second night of shows. At 8 o’clock, Journey appeared on the Bell Stage before a massive crowd. The band took us on a journey, as can only be expected, playing their 1983 hit “Faithfully.” The crowd, made up of both the youthful and the aged, sang along with Journey’s head vocalist, Arnel Pineda. The audience roared with delight as the song came to an end. I must say that Journey puts on an energetic aural as well as visual presentation. Engaging onlookers with their beloved songs, lyrics and by dancing around on the stage, Journey set the bar high for the following performers. The band concluded their show with the song everyone was waiting to hear, “Don’t Stop Believing.” The final note of the song was paired with an eruption of white confetti. The evening sky filled with falling white dots, and the atmosphere became highly spirited as the band called out to Ottawa and told us they loved us. The crowd applauded and whistled, impressed by the show and powerful ending. 

Next on the Bell Stage was electro DJ, Zedd. Opening up his set with the song “Shotgun” established the mood for his show. With the only lyrics being ‘one, two, three, jump!’ audience members did just that. Hands in the air, fans jumped in unison, guided by the words on the jumbo TVs. The two TVs, to each side of the stage, as well the two below and above the DJ, offered a stunning visual element to his show. Matched perfectly with the music, the screens flashed with creative and engaging motion pictures. His performance was truly amazing, with the bright visuals corresponding in time with the booming music. When Zedd played his Billboard 100 hit “Clarity” it seemed as though all of Ottawa was singing along. Closing up his set with the Zedd remix of Empire Of The Sun’s song “Alive,” ensured fans were leaving with a lasting impression. Holding his hands in the air, as if saluting the hundreds (if not thousands) that came to see him, Zedd thanked us and left the stage. Although Journey raised the bar with an amazing performance, I can confidently say Zedd did rise to the occasion.

July 3, 2014

"All About Tonight"

Taking the wise words of Blake Shelton to heart, I’ve written Bluesfest highlights ‘all about tonight,’ to bring you the front row experience.

Plaid shirts and cowboy hats were in abundance yesterday at Bluesfest’s opening night. Canadian country singer Dean Brody, followed by The Voice star Blake Shelton, took to the Bell Stage in front of a crowd of eager, country fans. 

Equipped with an army shirt, cowboy hat, and acoustic guitar, Dean Brody appeared for his 7 o’clock set. He serenaded his home country with some slower songs as well as some more upbeat songs that had everyone clapping along. I suppose Dean Brody is a bit of a rebel as he played his song “It’s Friday” when in fact it was Thursday. It seems the audience didn’t mind as they cheered an applauded his lively performance. Appropriately enough, this country singer then played “Canadian Girls” for all the foot-tapping Canadian girls in attendance. The show wrapped up and Dean Brody left the stage, however his drummer was not quite finished. With a grin reaching ear to ear, this percussion enthusiast played an impressive solo. With the final bang of the drums the crowd whistled and clapped for what was a truly amazing show by their fellow Canadians. The sea of plaid cleared slowly, soon to return for Blake Shelton.

It is now 9 o’clock and the sun has set, taking the warm temperature with it. I guess the flannel-wearing, Blake Shelton-awaiting country folk outsmarted us all with their choice of apparel. A few minutes later the night’s headliner graced the stage, guitar in hand. He opened with “All About Tonight,” then played “She Wouldn’t Be Gone.” This country star then voiced his admiration for all the men in the audience who he assumed had reluctantly accompanied their girlfriends and wives to the show. He showed his empathy for these gentlemen by playing “Doin’ What She Likes,” a song from his latest album. Although he didn’t need it, Blake Shelton then asked our permission to go old school. Back to the stage, he threw on a cowboy hat and instantly grew long hair, a past style for the country singer. He then played “Some Beach” from 2004, and we were transported back in time. As the show came to an end, fans applauded loudly. This marked the close of opening day for Bluesfest 2014.

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