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Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day Eight

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Photo by Mark Horton

Photo by Mark Horton

Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day Eight

If you drove by LeBreton Flats at about 6:30pm on Thursday, July 16, you would not have had to think very hard about who was headlining Bluesfest. In fact, you probably would have figured out pretty quick that LeBreton was in for a giant rodeo. Unless, for some reason, you thought there was a massive bull riding competition. The streets and fairgrounds were littered with plaid shirts and short skirts, a crowd consisting of mostly young teens with Bass Pro Shop trucker hats, alongside their crop-top wearing girlfriends. The gates were jammed, the lines were long, the sun was hot, and that almost sounds like an all too perfect country song in itself.

Photo by Steve Gerecke

Photo by Steve Gerecke

I arrived at 7:00pm, just in time to grab a $10 pint of Canadian and catch Canadian native Dallas Smith, who was playing the Bell Stage. For those who don’t know, Smith was the frontman for the now defunct Canadian alt-rock outfit Default. A smart man, I would call him. Because although Dallas may have been living comfortably off his “Wasting My Time” royalty cheques, he certainly was not going to live the rest of his life off of them, nor was he driving a Lamborghini. So he turns to country music, the biggest money-maker in the music industry right now. And boy, he is certainly a money-maker. Dallas has only two albums and two EPs under his belt, but you would swear by his turnout that those figures were at least triple. His set was polished, slick and well prepared. No room for mistakes, no impromptu jam, just one hour of three-minute pop-country songs. A long ways from where country western music used to be, or what it used to be about. Make no mistake; Dallas Smith was good, but maybe too good. Take away the banjo player and you have yourself a very slick pop-rock band. His sound is easily accessible and so are his lyrics, but judging by the reactions of the hordes of 18 year-olds in attendance, that’s exactly what they wanted. The song “Wasting My Time” was released in 2001, which makes me feel as ancient as God himself. 14 years later, he’s still playing it, and it still resonates. But will his latest hit “Wasting Gas” resonate in the same way 14 years from now? That’s the million-dollar question. For now, Dallas Smith is riding high, probably driving that nice car and enjoying the fruits of his intelligent switch to country-pop.

Mark Horton_20150716_R8A2266

Photo by Mark Horton

Next up, Keith Urban at 9:30pm. The Australian native has proven to be more than just a flavour of the month. He has some significant hardware attached to his name, with nine studio albums and over 30 charted US singles. He is quite literally one of the biggest names in music. Oddly, although the crowd got bigger, it didn’t get any older. Which is what I almost expected. Keith Urban is not your typical party anthem country singer a la Dallas Smith, he’s more of that country crooner my mom listens to. And lots of the tweens in attendance probably didn’t even know most of his songs. But that didn’t stop them from dancing, waving their beers in the air, and having what most of their Instagram captions will call, “the greatest night” of their lives. Unfortunately, I got the sense that the mostly young suburban audience and their wannabe country image blinded them from the fact that they were watching a legitimately great musician, not just another flavour of the month. I only caught Urban’s first few songs, and although his sound was tight and polished as expected from a pro, it wasn’t as confined and sterile as Dallas Smith’s. He rips a mean guitar and isn’t shy about it. His voice is slightly rougher than someone like Luke Bryan or Sam Hunt. A reminder that Urban is a seasoned country music veteran, who knows how to twang better than the rest of them, but that he doesn’t necessarily brag about it sets him apart. And with that I opted to go check out another stage.

Photo by Mark Horton

Photo by Mark Horton

Over on the Canadian stage indie favourites Mother Mother were tearing it up, but I had seen them already, and decided to head straight to the Monster Energy Stage. The country party may have been happening at the Bell Stage, but the EDM one was happening on the Monster Stage with legendary DJ Paul Oakenfold, or sometimes better known as Perfecto. The crowd changed from plaid to vibrant colours, and suddenly I went from a rodeo to a dance party. Most of these non-country looking people must have climbed up through a hole at some point, as 99.98% of people I saw walking into the Flats at 7pm had a plaid shirt with torn sleeves. Nevertheless, it was a refreshing sight. Now, English born Paul Oakenfold is not your typical dubstep-dropping spinner. He’s 51 years old, and has been a working DJ longer than Skrillex has been alive. He has remixed for everyone from U2 to Elvis Presley. He’s the real deal, not just some young guy dropping beats with pyro to overcompensate (Zedd at Bluesfest 2014 anyone?). Although, I think he may be a vampire, because he really hasn’t seemed to age. But much like Keith Urban, Oakenfold presents us with a popular sound that is not stuck in today’s moment. I suppose he is best known for trance, but his set last night dabbled with all sorts of EDM sub-genres. I was happy to see the again mostly young crowd enjoying Oakenfold’s music. No fancy pyrotechnics, a standard light show and basic video backdrop was all that this DJ maestro needed to electrolyse his intimate crowd of a couple thousand. His set was the equivalent of Eminem spitting in a rap battle against J-Kwon. There is no competition; he’s one of the greatest. That sort of greatness, ambition or originality is something that seems to be missing from most modern popular DJs.

Overall, Bluesfest presented Ottawa with a great evening of great musical talents. The weather was great and the beer was cold. People loved it, whether you were there for Urban or Oakenfold, there were smiles all around. It was the perfect festival experience. And although my write up on Dallas Smith may seem a little cynical, he was still a great time. And that’s the point. Regardless of musical talents, opinions or whatever else, go have fun and soak it all in. I’m sure glad I did yesterday. Bluesfest continues this weekend at LeBreton Flats featuring Deep Purple, Simple Plan, Air Supply, Johnny Reid, etc.

Photo by Scott Penner

Photo by Scott Penner

Written by Taylor Campbell

Pictures provided by Bluesfest

THE SCENE

Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day One

Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day Two

Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day Three

Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day Four

Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day Five

Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day Seven

Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Blakdenim


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