The official launch day of the 20th anniversary edition of the Ottawa Bluesfest was met with, perfect weather and a large crowd the likely had the origanizers smiling with success. The broad range of musical genres extended the welcome wagon even furthur across the spectrum which was evident on this opening night. The majority of the crowd were clearly dressed in support of Blake Shelton who would be closing the Bell stage while that much larger sound system was hopefully not going to affect the music playing only 20's of feet away at the River Stage. This is where Gary Clark Jr. was scheduled for the same time playing a certain style of music...wait for it...that many people still seek out...Blues!
This 30 year old young master of the guitar managed to completely feel and sound like the only music that was actually being played at that moment as his powerful trio jammed through each tune. The minor silence between some songs were enough to bleed some super cheesy new country pop ballads across the short road to the River stage audience's ears. That never lasted long and the main stage music would be covered up again and again.
Sound bleed can happen, and it really takes you out of the moment when it does. This wasn't happening here, so with whatever magical dampening improvements, stage alignments, or perfectly syncronized programming were made this year should keep everyone's attention where it is meant to be. That is with the band they've come to see.
Gary Clark Jr. is a freakin' strong guitar player and cannot NOT be compared to Jimi Hendrix. If you could see Hendrix play at his prime of a career cut short way too short, it'd probably be close to this (total conjecture alert). So it will be pretty damn sweet to see how far this guy goes and what other cool guitar moves he learns. Mind you, it's not just his playing but the sound and structure that the trio performs in their tunes.
There must be some crazy alchemy involved in making his guitar strings. Gary was tearing the living shit out of his guitar when he got going yet, not one string appeared to break. He had some extended jams which were definite highlights as long as you were within that cone of sound and not off trying to negotiate the crowd to get a couple Molson Canadian tall boys.
Speaking of beer hikes, the beer tent at the River stage only sells draft. One must walk out of the river stage, towards the main museum entrance to get the $7 cans while accidentally having to hear cheesy country. A cool thing about the way the new festival layout allowed for was to setup a beer vendor (molson only) on the entrance roadway with a screen beside. It seemed like many people took advantage of this to hang with a beer, watch the screen and smoke whatever's without officially being in a park. A McCafe serving free coffee sits beside it as well, which by natural McDonald's marketing math is what everyone is looking for during the hottest time of the summer in Ottawa.
Gary's music could also be heard from the right spots along that road, closer to the River stage and there were alot of cowboy hats appearing in his crowd, so it's possible that this zone helped some people see the light and head over to catch Gary Clark Jr. rip through his solo's and singing some heavy blues. Even new country pop fans will be able to proudly declare, "Hey! I saw some blues at bluesfest!".