Written by Jay McConnery
Photos by Mike Bouchard
Bluesfest opened its reconfigured doors to a colossal crowd this evening, and people were out in droves to check out the music and enjoy some amazing July weather. Much like the first day of school, the first day of Bluesfest allows one to quickly get reacquainted with friends you've missed, check out some new faces, smells and tastes, and digest some of the changes that will be effecting your experience this year.. and there have been some very noteworthy adjustments to the festival's layout; This year, the two mainstages are essentially side by each, on the Parkway side of the property. This reconfiguration allows a much roomier MBNA mainstage experience, but also creates a bit of a bleedy sound factor for those that prefer the smaller stages tucked far away by the river, although some baffling has been erected by the Hard Rock stage- and it looks a little bit like a 2 levelled porta-pottie condo, but in actual fact, it is this year's Leamy Lake Casino experience area. There are fewer entrances, less bicycle parking (west end parkway?? hello?!!), bigger beer tents and a prominant, giant tented merchandise area that one can only assume formerly housed the "Comedy Tent" last year. I think this is a better use for it although the vendors might not enjoy being stuck inside for 2 weeks.. All in all, my first reaction was that producers are approaching the festival with bottom line in mind perhaps a little bit more than usual, and a nudge in the direction of consumerism.
Tonight, starting out a little dis-oriented, we entered to the distant crowdpleasing sounds of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros- unoffensive to my ears, it was a fine soundtrack to while away a few moments waiting for the Flaming Lips. I have seen the Lips about 4 times in the last 10 years and they have never failed to leave me with a strong feeling. Usually, it has been a feeling of appreciation for their showmanship and video imagery, crafted songs and energetic performances, other times, confusion or downright speechlessness.. This year, it was kind of just 'meh'. It felt as if we were given a less inspired, shorter version of last year's performance. They played slowed down stretched out versions of Yoshimi, and Do you Realize (again)- and although these songs are beautiful, and the new arrangements are interesting in a stripped down way, most fans would prefer they dip (a bit!) into their catalogue of great records and sugary pop songs, instead of spending 20 minutes (of their 55 minute set) on these re-worked tunes and the vast majority of the set on material from their last two records. I like their heavy side, but they have so many great songs.. why not play a couple more of them?
After catching the entire Lips set, we watched about 20 minutes of SoundGarden- who were headlining the MBNA stage. They were loud and distorty, and sounded very much like the band we all remember from the grunge heyday of the early 90s.. probably because all the original members were onstage, and the only additions to the group were the extra 40 or so pounds on the bass player. Kidding aside, I was happy to hear some cuts from BadMotorFinger, (I think that was the first compact disc I purchased in grade 9) and Superunknown. They are an Internationally popular with a very recognizable sound, and that is a huge acheivement. However, I was always a little more of a Nirvana or Pearl Jam guy, so we skipped over to the Subway stage to see headliners Tegan and Sarah. It was like listening to a beautiful red transistor radio... no, actually, more like a haunting, dark haired, lez-sister radio, tuned into some catchy and familiar tunes, drifting from the stage through the happy river-side crowd. Their band was top notch and the subtleness of their arrangements kept me interested much longer than I expected. I have never felt the urge previously, but maybe I will investigate their music a little more. I thought their harmonies might've been a little more soaring, but the sound is always a factor on first nights which may have been the problem. I actually found most of the stages to be a little loud or tinny, or in the case of Bootsy Collins- both loud and tinny!
Bootsy Collins, though, definitely brought the funk, with a huge kick-ass band that crowded onto the Hardrock stage, featuring Bernie Worrell and former members of Parliament and P-Funk. They kept the crowd moving for the first half of the set with classics like Flash Light and Bop Gun played at high intensity, and then suddenly, left some of us a little confused with his slowed down number about making love in motels, I think he said. Far be it from me to deny Bootsy his slow down, we left him to stroke and throttle his star-bass and zipped over the hill to check out a few minutes of Pablo Menendez and the Mezcla Cuban All-stars who were playing to a handful of dancers at the National Bank Stage.. Flanked by very well lit ATMS, the stage is back to it's original Black Sheep glory, although without the programming of Paul Symes, only time will tell if it can win our hearts back.