This past weekend here in Ottawa was hot. The days lingered, light fading only late, and they were the kinds of days that made you want to not waste a second by spending time inside. Isn’t that what summer is for? Wearing a swishy skirt and sunglasses, lathered up in sunscreen, and gosh darn it getting out of the house!
Saturday was a great example of soaking up what the city has to offer. I made my way down to Confederation Park in the early evening because my brother, an excellent jazz musician here in Ottawa, was playing keyboards in the Aretha Franklin orchestra. Pretty amazing! It was a warm evening, and as we meandered through downtown, I couldn’t stop looking all around at the people strolling, new statues, colourful posters plastered on walls, and buildings I’d forgotten about.
We ended up a couple hours early so after my brother went to get ready, we went get a drink. We came across a trailer that was offering 4 free samples of local Ontario wines. The first pourer guessed that I would drink red, and that my friend would drink either red or white – being that is was Saturday night after all! I guess I seem like less of a party animal than she did? True to form, I did drink the red, and sampled a couple of whites as well, and they were all pretty good.
Once we hit the crowds again, we wove our way up behind the sea of lawnchairs, and squeezed ourselves in amongst the other concert goers. I met some interesting characters – one an Indian man who works for the RCMP, and mentioned he had 2 cats that he thought of often. He was dancing freely, flowing with his hands waving in the air. The second fellow was retired from working in Parliament and had recently taken up playing the sax. He also informed me about a new sport he’d learned in Florida called pickle ball. So the time passed nicely and I chatted with my new friends until the music began.
The music started, and swelled, and I caught a few glimpses of my brother at the keyboards, tucked away behind the piano player, as the band went on for awhile. After a bit, The Queen of Soul herself swanned out onto the stage, and poured out a few songs that were pretty impressive. Her vocal chops could still handle the range, it seemed, and she commanded the stage with confidence.
There were a few things about the concert that felt a bit off, though – I knew they were using a mix of her touring musicians (in weirdly sloppy white t-shirts) and bandleader, plus the best talent here in Ottawa, but sometimes it was a bit too messy of a mix. Like when the backing vocals were soaring and moving, but there were no singers on stage, and then the track would fade out and the song trail off uncertainly. Or when Aretha headed off stage mid-show, and the musicians jammed out for awhile – sounded sharp, Bobby’s McFerrin’s daughter came out singing Pharell’s Happy – great song, but totally different than the vibe of the rest of the older, classic tunes.
My favourite songs were Chain of Fools – sprawling and fun, it tumbled out over the bopping heads of the crowd; RESPECT – bellowing, and all the right notes of boastful; a version of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You – featuring Aretha also playing piano in addition to making the melody her own; and Moody’s Mood for Love – a jazz song that was originally a saxophone solo but set to words and popularly covered many times (by Aretha Franklin, and more recently by Amy Winehouse).
Aretha Franklin is a fantastic singer who can put on a decent show and moreover, is a legend who deserves all of the praise she’s built up over the years – so for that, it was a magical evening and one I’m glad I got to take in.