In my absence from writing posts and uploading photographs, I have been spending a majority of my time attending the the 2014 Ottawa Bluesfest that began on July 3rd. Not only is this the first music festival that I have attended, but it is also a culmination of all of the things that I am most passionate about. The live music, the sheer amounts of people, the cityscape on the horizon, the delicious (yet horrifyingly overpriced) beer, and the uplifting atmosphere of constant energy all have made for an experience that won’t be soon forgotten. In short, Bluesfest–for me–was all about music, mayhem, and memories. On top of that, each day not only varied in performances, but also in who I experienced those performances with. Who was on stage and who I stood with in the crowd went together hand-in-hand as they shaped the Bluesfest atmosphere and coloured each day disparately.
With that being said, I have decided to reflect upon the first half of my musical journey and the various artists that have filled my mind, heart, and soul with the sounds of their unforgettable performances.
It all started on July 3rd as I entered the Lebreton Flats, eager to witness my first Bluesfest performance. The first artist lined up was Tegan and Sara, the Canadian indie pop sisters who I was lucky enough to be seeing for a second time. Although their show was minimalistic, they proved that adorability along with catchy melodies could uplift a crowd that varied more than a bag of mixed nuts. I knew that Bluesfest was going to be an experience not just for myself, but for all other music fanatics who were anticipating their favourite artist or sought something fresh, unorthodox, and unknown. It was incredible to see such a variety of different people, and you could truly feel their energy merge together when Tegan and Sara played through their recent releases. I myself was more eager to hear their classics, but it was refreshing to hear such a unique variety in their sound that coincided with the diversity of the crowd.
Although my first evening at Bluesfest ended shortly after Tegan and Sara finished their set, I was able to catch moments from the other performers. What was so incredible about this was that I was able to walk between artists such as Blake Shelton (country rock), Gary Clark Jr. (blues rock), and Adventure Club (electronic dance) in mere seconds. I love musical variety, and I shuffled between these unique artists like I do my own iTunes library, going from one end of the genre spectrum to the other and back almost instantaneously.
Going into the next day, I was preparing to see another band that I had already seen once before: Journey. Luckily for me, the rest of the week would be filled with uncharted territory, although it was pleasant to have a chance to see the classic rockers once more. It was also the first act I was preparing to see with my friend and fellow music lover Alex, who was kind enough to reflect on the music we experienced throughout the weekend, saying that she “felt like [she] experienced a years worth of music.” With the energetic Arnel Pineda at the helm, Journey put on the rock show that everyone expected, playing a fair mix of anthems, deep cuts, and recent singles. It was rocking, and as they left the stage after having played their encore, the crowd became drastically adjusted. As the older concertgoers pushed their way out, the reckless youth shoved their way as close to the front as they could in anticipation of Zedd, a renowned disc jockey with an abundance of recent hits. It was a hilarious sight to see as the shift in musical preference was changing not just on the stage, but in the conflicting movements of the crowd.
I ended up sticking around for Zedd, as I had never truly seen any electronic dance music performed live. And wow, what a choice I made! It was during his performance that space bubbles became obsolete and nothing else mattered but the raving visuals and sounds. Thankfully, I have no problem with getting close to people, and I had a blast jumping in one place simultaneously with those who were sweatily clinging next to me (I promise that I am only being slightly sarcastic). I also believe that Journey were Bluesfest prophets, as their encore song to lead into Zedd was rightfully Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’. There was an unnecessarily uncontrollable amount of me being loved, touched, and squeezed… and it was awesome.
Although I was dazed from the Zedd craze, I went into the next day with the utmost excitement. Why, you ask? Because it was one of my most anticipated days of the festival because Lady Gaga was coming to the capital. Once upon a time, I had something of an obsession with the unconventional pop star, although that slowly faded as my musical horizons continued to expand. I won’t go deep into my fixation, but I will admit that her style, her lyrics, and her artistry have inspired me and still do. She is a one-of-a-kind entertainer who translates polarity and hardship into rhythmic dance music that just about everyone can connect with, and it was more than a pleasure to have been able to finally see her live. It was incredible–her energetic dance routines and audience interaction proved that she doesn’t do what she does for the hell of it. Furthermore, she was delightfully personable in-between songs and showed Canada her endless love with a passionate rendition of Born This Way. I won’t lie, I got a little teary-eyed during this moment; I felt connected to each other person in the crowd through her expressiveness, and it was beautiful. At one point during her show, Lady Gaga described it perfectly herself and for my friend Alex: “And in this moment, we are not individuals. We are the music, we are one Canada.”
Although Lady Gaga was everything I expected her to be and more, she was the only act I saw that day. This was unfortunate for me, as I missed out on seeing one of my favourite up-and-coming local Ottawa artists: BlakDenim. I had the chance of randomly catching them at GlowFest several weeks prior, and I was very lucky to have done so. They play with a seamless integration of jazz, funk, hip-hop, and R&B that got my feet moving the second they started their wonderful set. With their catchy brass and smooth rhymes, BlakDenim is bound to be one of the bigger names you’ll hear out of Ottawa in the coming months, so give them a listen to make up for me having missed them!
The first phase of my Bluesfest experience was coming to an end, as the Sunday marked the day prior to the full-day festival break. No live music for a whole day… it still depresses me to remember it. Looking back, I recall how uncertain I was about the line-up that evening. There was an abundance of relatively unknown artists (at least to myself), which was not unfortunate in any way. However, as with anything that remains unknown, you must go in with a grain of salt and be prepared for anything. And when I say anything, I mean ANYTHING. The evidence rests in the first act that I saw, Shantel and Bucovina Club Orkestar, who came all the way to Ottawa Bluesfest from the middle of Europe to provide us with an intricate taste of Balkan music. I had never seen anything like them before, and I was pleasantly surprised as I found myself jumping around to their fast-paced, stylistic beats. It was very reminiscent of ska, but it was also so incredibly fresh and started the day off on an amazing note.
Following the fantastic performance of the Club Orkestar was Vintage Trouble, a traditional blues rock band from California. However, their act was far from traditional and I make the claim that after having experienced an assortment of artists throughout the festival, they were one of the best–perhaps even THE best–performance I saw. It was so obvious that the lead singer was energized to have a rocking time, and it uplifted the crowd to his level. Towards the end of the set, he leapt off of the stage and ran through the captivated crowd toward the other side. Spontaneously, he climbed the stand where the cameraman was positioned and continued to vigorously rock out, claiming it–and the remainder of the crowd–like a kingdom of his own. When Vintage Trouble walked off stage, I felt that I had not only seen a performance, but that I was also a part of a damn amazing one. Their studio recordings do not do them enough justice, and I highly recommend their feisty, raw live performance to any and all music lovers.
Two were down, two more were to go. It was at this point in the evening that choices had to be made, and I was faced with a decision where I would give away an experience to gain another. These were the difficulties that stemmed from the festival dilemma that became more significant as the week progressed: who will I see next? Do I choose to see the Canadian advocate of strong beer and modern country licks, Tim Hicks, or take a step back in time with the acoustic punk of the Violent Femmes? Do I really need the country-pop trio Lady Antebellum now, or should I delve into the experimental indie-pop, guitar-driven sounds of St. Vincent? Yes, these are first-world festival problems, but ones that could be devastating if you put what you know ahead of what you think you might like, or vice versa. For all you know, the headlining band you were so eager to see just might not be as fun as the independent band down the ways on the smaller stage. Sadly, no one will ever know about any experience but the one they chose, but no one should regret at least being able to have experienced. As for me, I gave the Violent Femmes a shot, and they were far more exciting than just the band that recorded Blister In The Sun. It was simple rock and roll that relied on acoustics and snare hits, but it managed to keep the entire crowd engaged in their fast-paced efforts.
My already amazing Sunday ended with St. Vincent. She is hard to describe with words, but as mentioned previously, St. Vincent utilizes her guitar as both an instrument and a weapon in blowing up our minds with fantastical riffs that shoot toward us like laser beams. She echoed Lady Gaga in many ways, especially in her odd stage crawling scene, but she truly gave an original–and very memorable–performance that makes her stand out from the modern pop queen. Her presence was also very timid and she spoke very little, letting her music speak for her and the other band members instead. The act truly was “out there,” but it is something that had to have been seen, heard, and felt in order to fully grasp St. Vincent’s otherworldliness.
As the first four days came to an end, there was nothing more that I could have asked for. Although there was a significant lack of true blues at Bluesfest, it was phenomenal to see so many different acts from varying decades who perform under many genres come together to give music to the people of Ottawa. In my opinion, Bluesfest is evidence that music is becoming distinctively shaped, branching away from the foundations of musical standards to connect different kinds together and explore sounds that were once unknown and unheard of. It is something like an experiment, where many individual elements are taken and combined together to create a final product that is exciting, gratifying, and leaving you wanting more. My friend Alex said it best: “the variety of the acts was eye opening. From ska-jazz, to classic rock, to indie rock, and even to debatably the most popular pop star of our time, Bluesfest really had something for everyone. The music was a great experience, and I really enjoyed seeing all the acts, but what really spoke to me was how the music could bring people together.” And how incredible of an experience it was to not only see and hear these artists, but to be a part of their performances that brought together people of all kinds in a place where we found solace in the sound.