Ottawa Bluesfest 2015 – Day Three
Friday, July 10, 2015
One of my favourite parts of Bluesfest is arriving. From the city, as you descend towards LeBreton Flats your ears are granted an auditory preview of the festival by whichever band is playing at the time, this year it was Rydell. I borrowed a pen from my cab driver because I sheepishly forgot mine at home and what good is a notebook without a pen. I then jumped out and navigated through the very poorly designated entrance. Masses of people pushed and filtered through metal fences, all trying to get into the festival grounds.
Rydell was opening the night on the Clairidge Stage and they killed it on the gorgeous day. For the hometown heroes Bluesfest was a great return to the stage after a long winter and a grueling recording process. Their set list incorporated both old songs and new, and by the crowd reaction it was obvious that the city missed them. They sounded great and they definitely looked the part, the tattoos on their arms and punk rock haircuts reminded the audience of a life dedicated to sleeping in vans and playing music on the road. The new songs had a very Dangerous Summer feel to them with a more cathartic vocal part and considerably more thought out instrumentals than their older tunes.
As you navigated between stages and sets the most common run-in was people on their phones yelling, “Where are you?” and looking around for their friends. It did not help that the cell service was non-existent.
Chance the Rapper opened the main stage and was a highly awaited performance for a large portion of the youth at the festival. I was glad to see that the same people who were there to see Kanye also were listening to an artist who is deliberately thoughtful and classy. Kids these days eh, you never know what they are going to be into next. It was their first time in Ottawa and the band was great with blaring horns and solid electric guitar; the act was an excellent mix of big band nostalgia and new school rap. They had a wicked video playing on the back video screen that acted like signage to conduct crowd response. I thought it was well done, until the “end” of his set when he left and the backdrop displayed, “DO YOU WANT MORE?” and “ONE MORE SONG” – come on man, calling for your own encore is pretty lame. Please refrain from defiling the truest achievement of live performance. The best encore policy I think I have seen was Blink 182 at Rockfest last year (2014) when Mark Hoppus straight up said something along the lines of, instead of doing that thing where we pretend were done and make you guys call us back were just going to play our last songs and you should all go nuts! That’s pretty righteous. But I digress. Other than patting his own back, Chance the Rapper played a solid set and had a natural genuine vibe that the crowd was eating up.
Across the sprawling LeBreton festival grounds at the Monster Stage legendary blues musicians Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown celebrated their 50th anniversary with an electrifying performance. From across the pond, Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown were on the forefront of the UK blues movement in the late 60s and now they were there in front of me. The three-piece band shredded like it was the only thing they knew how to do. Simmonds was practiced and his licks have aged beautifully. His guitar solos could knockout anyone half his age. Pat DeSalvo on the bass was a groove machine and kept Simmonds on his toes while Garnet Grimm’s cracking snare kept the whole band on point.
After Chance the Rapper was finished and gone, as crowds were pushing and squeezing to get as close to the stage as possible for Kanye, Mr. Bluesfest himself, Mark Monahan, came out on the Bell Stage and asked if everyone could take a big breath and step back for safety’s sake as people were getting crushed near the front. He sounded like a real nerd but those people who know the awful confinement of being pressed up against a barrier front row and having literally thousands of people crowding towards you were none to shy about taking a few steps backwards.
Jungle By Night rocked the Canadian Stage with a beautiful Ottawa River view. The nine-piece band hails from Amsterdam and had the whole crowd dancing with their jazz funk rock, the lack of vocals only added to the carefree feeling of being at a party. Simultaneously, back at the Monster Stage, passed the numerous VIP lounges, overpriced merchandise and RBC chill out beanbag chairs; the Soul Jazz Orchestra was putting on as similarly festive performance.
Each day of North America’s second largest blues festival is peppered with some of the most talented musicians the world has to offer. It is truly humbling being in the presence of such talent, both internationally and local. Ottawa Bluesfest provides a great contrast between bands that make a difference in the world and those that do absolutely nothing for the embitterment of mankind and evolution of human culture. And without further ado, Kanye West…
I said, without further ado, Kanye West…
Is he even going to shoOH MY GOD IT’S KANYE WEST I LITERALLY CAN’T EVEN!!!
20 minutes late to his own party, Mr. West arrived and some of the shallowest people in Ottawa had their lives completed. Although he did open with “Stronger,” which was pretty tight.
Personally, I admire a man that can proclaim himself the greatest in the world and then force everyone to have to try and prove him wrong or otherwise go along with it. Not unlike Greco-Roman and Ancient Persian kings who demanded to be worshipped by their followers who did not know any better, West created an untouchable persona for himself, allowing him to crossover from being a rapper to an A-list celebrity.
However, based on his Bluesfest performance I would laugh at anyone who tried to argue that West is anything more than an eccentric performer. It was perfectly middle-of-the-road. This was the set that people had been waiting for since the lineup was announced months ago, either to cry at the sight of Kanye West or to boycott him.
The set started out very slow with West just standing in one place holding the microphone in its stand for the entire time. The image was very biblical with West in a long draping robe-like outfit; he looked like a nu wave Moses with a staff in hand, preaching to the masses as he swatted mosquitos and mayflies away from his face. His personality was evident the whole way through, as he was the only one on stage, it was clearly the Kanye West Show. He remained the only thing on stage for the whole set besides the large light platform above him moving around. At one point he brought out a beat machine and it added to the biblical imagery, appearing almost as an altar for him to create behind. Occasionally he would steal a breath to give directions like “turn the mic down” and at one point he even stopped a song went off stage for a minute presumably to fix something then came back as if he hadn’t disappeared for a moment. For most of his set the sound of fuzzy bass almost completely drowned out West’s voice.
The set was a great mix of his song arsenal as he played stuff off almost every album, toward the end of his set he started running out of time so he cut a few songs short because, “there are too many hits to fit in.”
My buddy Tyler and I had a bet to see if West would thank the crowd at all during the set. The closest we got was a statement that began with something like “I appreciate you all showing up” and ended with “I don’t give a fuck what you think about me.” Addressing the anti-Kanye faction who was presumably at home purposefully ignoring his show, West made it clear that he thought the anti-Kanye petition was frivolous. He also wanted us to remember the night for our entire lives and assured us we would be telling the story to our children. I am pretty sure a hundred years from now people will definitely be studying the profit Yeezus and his stupefying affect on this generation’s youth, unfortunately. He ended the set very anticlimactically with a slow song. It was just a few minutes of him singing with way too much autotune. Once again, I admire West’s ability to be important, just because he said so.
The third day of Bluesfest 2015 was a classic example of what brings thousands of people back every year: some bands for the kids, and some for mom and dad, an interesting mix of food, a diverse selection of drinks, and a spot of controversy over the lineup.
As the sea of people pushed me out the gates and onto the streets I could not help but wonder, like so many other of the lost souls of today’s youth, was Kim K in Ottawa tonight?
Photos provided by Bluesfest