RBC Royal Bank Ottawa Bluesfest – some final thoughts

Some final thoughts from RBC Royal Bank Ottawa Bluesfest… These are completely subjective, and our opinion. You likely won’t agree with all of them. Tough – it’s our blog.

The Festival Grounds: This festival is held on borderline sacred ground. With the exception of a few raucous music festivals, this place is the peaceful lawn outside The Canadian War Museum. Picturesque is a good adjective here: To the north, the Ottawa River and Gatineau QC; to the east, a perfect view of Ottawa’s downtown skyline and the Peace tower. The sun sets over the Ottawa valley, which makes for a great photo moment every night.

Organization: Some sort of computer-scan wristband lets you scan in and out without much trouble. Security is quite polite, and getting in the gates was never more than a 10 minute lineup. Beer lineups were long a few times… but only if the party factor got above a 9 – most of the time you could walk right up and get beer whenever you wanted. Wine was also served to sissies.

The sound: First-class, but I would have a complaint if I was watching anything on the middle stage. There was quite a bit of sound bleed from stage to stage this year – inevitable when Mastodon and Skrillex face the same direction. Stellar PA, but you could hear it everywhere.

The crowd: To start explaining an Ottawa crowd, one must understand the city. While driving to the festival on day 2, I saw a muddy truck with the following fingered onto the rear window: Please wash me. And then the retort fingered below it: I’d rather not!. Those are our hooligans:  quiet, polite, respectful, but intense. Just when you think the crowd here doesn’t get it, 10,000 of them show up and, politely, go nuts.

Moment of the festival: I’ve been struggling with this one… there were lots of great moments. But, I keep coming back to Skrillex – the show that climaxed 2 minutes in, and built from there. He had used lasers, lights, pyro… seemingly every trick in the book, and then took it to another level when the stage transformed into some sort of demon DJ pedestal. There are concerts that rate higher, but none that assaulted the senses this much.

The ‘Holy Crap’ Award: Easy – Charles Bradley & his Extraordinaires. A 60+ year old soul singer, who has just released his debut album. Played twice at this year’s festival, and I’ve been talking constantly about him ever since.

Next big thing? Vancouver’s The Pack A.D. Frankly, their produced stuff doesn’t do them justice.  They’re a 2-piece, which is unique, and 2 women. The drummer doesn’t sing, but talks, and the guitarist doesn’t talk, but sings. Most importantly, they have amazing songs, a great sense of humour, and bring a sense of danger to their show that is missing in so many rock bands these days.

The last word(s) – 3 reasons this festival kicks ass:
1. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon: 12 nights instead of 3 jam-packed days, this festival puts the main-stage spotlight on more bands – which gives great musicians more room to shine.
2. Variety: John Mellencamp on one night, Snoop Dogg on another. Big Boi playing before Bad Religion. Forcing people to watch something they think they hate, might just make them realize they like it!
3. In the city: This is same reason Chicago’s Lollapalooza is such a great festival – it’s right in the heart of the city. It can easily handle the pour-in/pour-out of the crowd, and if you’re not done your night at 11pm, do whatever you want – you’re already downtown!

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