Review - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-7-2011

Written by: Jay McConnery

David Clayton Thomas - Ottawa Bluesfest - Photo by Peter WaiserSmelling like the odour of RibFest, impregnated Tim's mini-donut shack, and gave birth to something delicious with stale draught beer oozing from its pores, big fat Bluesfest, bloated with everyone we know, greeted us for a third night in a row. After zig-zaging through the infuriating mousetrap that awaits ticket holders at the Main Gate, were able to walk around, catch our breathe and get down to some music-loving! A little late off the mark, we arrived in time to catch the beginning of Girl Talk- a very popular mash-up DJ, who had a bouncing gang of very enthusiastic kids onstage encouraging him as he swayed shirtless between his two laptops. There were some flashing screens, as well as some well timed confetti cannons erupting dramatically in time with samples from songs of yesteryear that can't help but get you moving, or at least tug your soul strings a bit. The cynic in me is quick to think that he is simply talented at beat matching, using lots of great music very effectively- and although that is a big part of why it works- there is also a well designed show and obvious passion behind the performance. I just hope one day all wedding DJs are this good and these songs can be enjoyed with the whole family, in a poorly decorated gym, while creepy old Uncle Mookie watches from the shadows, motionless. 

Next up for us was the Sheep Dogs, who were one of my more anticipated acts of the weekend. I thought their new record 'Learn and Burn' and video clips on their site sounded great and I really like their brand of California (via Saskatchewan) Classic rock, but it felt like things weren't clicking on stage. The mix was definitely off, most notably during several of the guitar solos through their set-closing cover of Neil Young's 'Down By the River' and then confusion bubbled up again when singer Ewan Currie attempted to engage the audience in some misplaced call and response, which obviously wasn't tried tested and true.. luckily they brought it back and rocked to finish. There were definitley some good moments of playing and Currie's voice sounds undoubtabley like a young David Crosby with vibrato to match, I hope to catch them in the future, perhaps in a sweaty tavern. After catching up with with friends, we walked over by the Hard Rock stage and caught the opening track of David Clayton-Thomas' show, which thankfully was 'Painted Pony'. What a kick-ass tune. Definitely an old school Sinatra performance vibe from the former Blood Sweat and Tears front man, with a huge talented band to match. I will use this as an opportunity to remind myself watch the Yonge Street Rock'n'Roll documentary as soon as I have a chance.

The headliners of the night were Steve Miller Band and Stephen Marley (yes- he is related!). I first saw Steve Miller back at Lansdowne Park in the early 90s, on a bill with Extreme, Brian Adams, Sass Jordan and Furnaceface, and was just recently reminded of the painfully tight white bicyclye shorts he wore for that set accented by a baggy black t-shirt. Maybe sharing the stage with such edgy contemporaries drove him to out-extreme Extreme? Thankfully, we've both grown a little older and Steve (wearing pants) stepped onto the stage to run through all the songs that everyone knows and loves. There is something comforting turning around and seeing a police officer mouthing the words to 'Take the Money and Run' or having a drunken 50 year old woman notice me singing along, and ask if my dad played this for me when I was a kid (he did) and that my dad must be cool (up for debate). Nostalgia can be fun, and it's a big part of the Bluesfest experience on a lot of levels. Steve's band may not be the best he's had on the road, but it doesn't matter and everyone there had a great time enjoying a rock'n'roll icon with friends. Over to Stephen Marley, we were treated to some great renditions of Bob Marley classics and some not too shabby originals either. I was tempted to pick up a 6-pack of 'Marley's Mellow Mood" (juice?) and do it right, but I was already feeling pretty mellow and thankful.