Scorching heat beating down on your head, dry yellowed grass crumbling under your feet as your wander through the main gate, bleeping your bracelet’s tag past smiling volunteers, heading towards the sound of music drifting through the air…yup, Bluesfest has rolled into Ottawa again, and with a slightly tweaked set-up, lots of local talent, and a few big name bands, it promises to be just as good as ever.
My first day at the RBC Ottawa Bluesfest was yesterday, and it started off with the usual scramble: printing set lists, getting contact info, packing up cars, juggling band members, figuring out who will follow who. Once we arrived, we parked behind the War Museum off Booth, and headed inside with all of the gear to set up and get ready for the most important show of the festival (to me): Tyler Kealey in the Barney Danson Theatre!
After the usual kerfuffle of sorting out guest passes and such, I took a box of CDs over to the Bluesville merch tent, and stopped to catch a quick bit of the set from Walk Off The Earth, who sounded good and had drawn a pretty big crowd. I snapped a few photos of the five bandmates clustered around the guitar, and watched middle aged women bop along cheerfully, mouthing the words to “Somebody That I Used To Know.”
Then I headed into the Green Room in the nicely air conditioned museum, where the band was chatting with the stage manager about how the process would go. Tyler has never played in the theatre before, and while there are mostly comedians in the there during the festival, the room actually lent itself very well to the more intimate sound that the full band created. Tyler’s new CD, And Somehow I Fell Upon This Place, is a concoction of piano pop, with haunting strings soaring spookily through the tracks, and the guys brought this to life perfectly. The theatre was full right away – family, friends, and unfamiliar faces as well watched on, entranced by the meaningful lyrics making way into catchy melodies.
It’s an exciting opportunity for a local artist to play at this hugely popular festival, but Tyler puts on just as good of a show as any other artist I’ve seen – and I do know I’m biased, but I think what I truly appreciate is the creativity his songwriting shows. Putting your thoughts into words and music, and then performing them so fantastically well is something I’m not sure I’ll ever take for granted that he can do.
After Tyler’s show we spent some time socializing with the audience members, and then packed up the cars, getting the gear out quickly so that we could enjoy the rest of the evening. Our next stop was the catering tent behind the main stage where we feasted in quinoa pilaf, hickory smoked ribs, creamy potatoes baked with kale and cheese, and of course, avocado salad!
It was pretty pleasant hanging out in the shade, catching strains of The Bright Light Social Hour’s rocking set in the distance, and eventually the sun started to creep down towards the horizon. We headed over to check out the Seal, dressed all in black, sauntering around the stage and he crooned out his heartfelt songs. I recognized quite a few of them, and I felt a flutter in my chest listening the “Kiss From A Rose” – it brought back memories of listening to mixes on cassette tapes in high school and I couldn’t help swooning along with the rest of the crowd.
Towards the end of his set though, my feet starting moving over towards the Main Stage to get a good spot for one of my favourite singers: Norah Jones. I saw her probably 8 or 9 years ago at a wintertime concert in the National Arts Centre, and I was pretty excited to see her play again. I wasn’t disappointed either; her voice was like rough silk as she spun her songs out to the crowd, illuminated against a backdrop of dangling origami cranes. She’s so tasteful and subtle in her delivery, with notes timed just right, and I appreciated that she was focused on creating a great sound to let her songs shine, rather than relying on theatrics to impress people.
She moved flawlessly from piano to guitar, and even though she performed “Don’t Know Why” and “Come Away With Me,” I also really enjoyed a fun, Tom Wait-ish song called “Sinkin’ Soon,” and a few new songs, like “Out On the Road,” “Miriam” and “Say Goodbye.” Her new songs definitely have a more pop edge to them, and she seemed very genuine too, laughing out loud at the audience’s suggested band name of the Pogos (a new Canadian word she shared that she had just learned).
I bought her new CD today and have listened to it three times already!
Overall, I finished the day feeling proud, happy. and exhausted. It really blows my mind how much great music is out there, and it should be fun to go back tomorrow and catch a few lesser known acts.
Last year’s Bluesfest posts are here.