a brief look back at the fest so far
by Allan Wigney
Pleading guilty to not being able to keep track of the multitude of local summer festivals, my pal Bijon recently proposed the city consolidate said celebrations into two month-long events: “Drunken Yahoofest and Lawnchair Fascistfest.”
No prizes for guessing which one got underway this week.
And three nights in, Ottawa’s beloved Bluesfest is already up to speed. Sure, there were complaints about long lineups at the ticket booths opening night, but those were resolved with speed and efficiency city council would never recognize. (And remind me, please, why it’s worthy of applause that the city has twice found cost-cutting measures for the proposed LRT – first, a considerably shorter tunnel; now, a considerably shallower tunnel – while boasting that the price has remained the same.) A growing number of complaints, surely only a year or two away from being a legitimate concern for organizers, allege the festival has grown too big for its own good, thousands having to pay full price to see their heroes on a screen while all around talk incessantly through the performance.
But, again, that’s not for this year. Again.
So far, locals Élage, Ukrainia and Ornaments have shone, and no doubt gained a few converts in the process. Some gambles, meanwhile, have paid off better than others. The Sheepdogs are to be commended for tackling an obscure Kinks kover; Javier Colon, meanwhile, should have come with a caveat that the winner of The Voice is prone to opening his set with a Cyndi Lauper cover.
Beyond those long lineups, controversy has so far been avoided, despite the best efforts of local rockers Loudlove, who boasted of being drunk and high while on stage. The audience, naturally, loved them for it.
Tuesday, like much of this year’s festival, presented big names doing sets we’d heard before. In the case of the normally adventurous Flaming Lips, this was a particular disappointment. Steve Miller fans, however, were not heard to complain. And then there was the opening-night headliner that bounded on stage to tell the crowd that while they hadn’t played in a while, they were “gonna rock your faces off.” Yes, Tegan and Sara. Oh, and on a nearby stage the question of whether or not Chris Cornell still has the voice was answered. He doesn’t. Bootsy, on the other hand, does. And the suit.
Given the money behind the production, the Las Vegas backdrop seemingly rescued from a high-school charity night seems particularly tacky. But then, maybe that’s the point. Credit to organizers, though, for finally bowing to Le Breton Flats residents’ grumbling about the massive sound system being pointed in their general direction. This year, the big stages have their overloaded speakers pointed directly at Hull. Problem solved.
Highlights? Well, about five minutes’ worth of Girl Talk – any five minutes – is certainly fun. Six minutes, not so much; the novelty wears off that quickly, despite following Flaming Lips’ lead by welcoming dancers to the stage. As one mashup pioneer once told me, the modern mashup is too often a case of putting one bad song together with another bad song, to make a really bad song.
Stephen Marley, son of Bob, proved to be the early frontrunner with a set that – despite relying a bit too much on calculated reminders of the late reggae great, beginning with the first song: Punky Reggae Party and extending to promotion of a Marley "relaxation drink" – was inspired and inspiring. “No more politicians,” Marley shouted, and the crowd echoed his call. (Seriously, people? In Ottawa?) The dope, meanwhile, was everywhere, the part-time reggae fans responding in Pavlovian fashion to the lure of reggae music. Presumably, as they passed by Steve Miller’s show on the way out of the grounds, they felt a sudden craving for Molson Golden.
It was Miller, meanwhile, who as with his previous Bluesfest appearance naively felt the need to include blues songs in his set. The sizable crowd responded by catching up on texts and email while waiting for Fly Like an Eagle. Their wait was not a long one. Bluesfest headliners, after all, are there to give the people what they want.
Which reminds me: I’m off to Montreal to catch some Irish oldies band this weekend and will have to miss two nights of Bluesfest as a result. Dang. I will, however, not let this stop me from offering reviews of every pending Bluesfest headliner, if only to scoop the dailies:
The crowd was huge. The band played the hits. The huge crowd enjoyed the hits. The show was, therefore, great. Five stars out of five.
Unless, that is, you live in Hull.
Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet uses video projection design to send its dancers down the rabbit hole.
Local photographer Joy Kardish preserves, and reveals, all-but-forgotten spaces.
The 2011 visual and media arts laureates speak for themselves at the National Gallery group exhibition.
The renowned Japanese percussion ensemble, celebrating its 30th year, comes to the NAC March 7.