Ottawa Bluesfest Review 07-06-2011

Written By Jay McConnery
Photos By Mike Bouchard

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Black Thought - The Roots - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-6-2011After some heavy storms throughout the day, we were treated to the second night in a row of perfect concert weather at Bluesfest. Opinions on the new layout still skipped through overheard conversations like some weird omnipresent bearded gypsy in a baby blue sarong, but by night 2- who really cares anyway.. those stages ain't moving, and really, most things are working just fine (minus the lack of a West end entrance and fast ticket sales!). We arrived and jaunted past Bedouin Soundclash, entertaining a surprisingly large crowd, to catch the last few minutes of Ottawa's Blues heros- Monkeyjunk, on the National Bank Stage.  Steve Marriner blazed through a couple amazing harmonica solos with wonderfully contrasting clean and nasty tones, while Tony D gave us a tasty little bluesman solo as well. I prefer watching these guys from the rafters of the Rainbow, but they really sound like they deserve all the success they have been accumulating, I hope it continues for them.

Next up was the Roots on the Claridge stage, which I was looking forward to, but having seen them recently, was a little indifferent about. They put on an outstanding show- musically, engaging in a playful way, and I really developed an appreciation for their deep musical cannon, as well as MC Black Thought's rapid fire lyrics in perfect syncapation. ?uestlove is also such a badass drummer. I really enjoyed his interplay with the percussionist. It was a fun run through the hits (although with some borderline cheesy medley moments), but the crowd was the first I've seen to applaud voraciously without it feeling too prompted. From here, we meandered to the MBNA stage for some Ben Harper- playing with a 6 piece band, to a more demographically diverse crowd than I expected. Usually, any Ben Harper show I've been to felt directly related to the climax of an Ultimate Championship Tournament- or maybe a nature boy rodeo.. It felt like he has widened his appeal somewhat, and the crowd seemed a little more rocker heavy than usual. I enjoyed the sit down slide numbers and favourites some his earlier material. I couldn't concentrate beyond 30 or so minutes- something was calling, from behind the merchandise tent..

Ben Harper - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-6-2011Skrillex is the DJ name for Sonny Moore, an ex-hard core singer now specializing in the genres of dubstep and electro house. The music was pumping, visuals reminiscent of Atari and spinning electronic invaders from a time spent face pressed into an arcade machine- and his crowd was young and in 'the groove' with an enthusiasm I haven't witnessed for a long time. The music follows the same patterns of most electronic music, with drop-outs, bass drops, and samples- but its characterized by being programmed at double speed with the main bass groove at half speed.. lots of busy twists and samples, and the audience moves between half speed jumping and full speed dancing. I admit that I can't imagine taking in more than a few minutes of dubstep without being under heavy influence, but it was interesting to watch the spectacle all the and wide-eyed kids having a great time at the Subway stage. Undeniably, It was something I had never seen live before and with the numbers he attracted, one must wonder if Bluesfest will invite more electronic music stars in years to come.

We closed things out with a quick visit to the slower Cuban grooves of Jose Conde, and then a few tracks from Gentlemen Husbands who played an airtight rendition of 'American Woman' by Tom Petty. If they return to play a bar show, I'll be sure to check them out. They were tight in that rocking country way that Toronto seems to be able to churn out, though perhaps a little more produced sounding than their Dakota contemporaries.