On my second night at this year’s Ottawa Bluesfest, I was joined by Ottawa photographer, Stacey Rebertz. We managed to see a good handful of bands and singers, and were very impressed with the talent. I really had no preconceived notions going into this night as I had not heard of any of the bands we saw, which is something I love about Bluesfest; a great chance to discover new talent. I should say here too, that in addition to the talent, I’ve also been impressed with the volunteer staff. All have been very helpful in answering any questions and providing pocket calendars of the day’s artists and locations. With so much happening, the calendar was referred to often throughout the evening!
We started out the evening at the aptly named River Stage, a picturesque and open area on the banks of the Ottawa River. Having seen Vintage Trouble’s Bluesfest bio, they were definitely on my list of must-sees. An American blues rock band formed in Hollywood in 2010, this quartet of handsome fellows was certainly dressed for the occasion of their first Bluesfest appearance. With all four in vintage suits, I was already impressed. And then the band began to play and Ty Taylor began to sing, and it was love at first sound. Over the course of a number of tracks, including “I See You Dancing”, “Pelvis Pusher”, and “Another Man’s Words”, I could hear the influence and sound of the likes of The Contours to Otis Redding to James Brown and Lenny Kravitz. During “Pelvish Pusher”, I noticed their set was being shown in black and white on a screen to the right of the stage. I remember thinking that had I not been watching the guys in living colour, I totally would have believed it was a televised episode of American Bandstand in the 1950’s or 60’s. They all brought charisma, confidence, and honest talent. The audience was loving every minute of it too, pushing pelvises all over the place, and responding in kind to the energetic front man.
New Country Rehab
Next, we headed into the Barney Danson Theatre to catch the alt-country, fiddle-driven band, New Country Rehab. They’ve been described as Canada’s answer to The Avett Brother and Mumford & Sons – very high praise indeed. The first thing I noticed was the band member on stand up bass – always a good sign. And while I’ve often seen backup vocalists on fiddle, it’s rare to see a lead singer play the instrument… I was intrigued. Through “Empty Room Blues”, “Home to You” and “Lost Highway” the band’s camaraderie was evident, and they sounded really tight. I especially liked “Lost Highway” which was the more upbeat of the tracks played, especially for the awesome bass drumline and excellent lead guitar solo.
Dave and Phil Alvin w/ The Guilty Ones
Next up were brothers Dave and Phil Alvin (founding members of The Blasters in 1979) and their band, The Guilty Ones. Admittedly, seeing them was a game time decision, but it’s one neither Stacey nor I regretted. The Black Sheep Stage may look like a small venue, but it’s a perfect spot to bring a chair and settle in for awhile, given the larger sloping hill area it faces. We arrived on scene to a decidedly more mature crowd, with the brothers and their band playing some straight up blues music. The first tune, I came to find out, was a cover of bluesman Big Bill Broonzy’s “Stuff They Call Money”: “Now I asked a girl, let’s go have some fun / And this is what she said / ‘If you ain’t got no money man, you can’t get in my bed”. We also saw performances of “Truckin’ Little Woman” and “What’s Up With Your Brother?” (which Dave referred to as “Sibling Blues”). The brothers were especially funny and charming, delivering the cheeky lyrics with just the right amount of swagger and flip. The band was mellow yet tight, and the crowd was loving every minute of the show, prompting one woman next to me, having never seen the band before, to exclaim, “People don’t know what they’re missing!”. I agreed.
On the bus to Bluesfest this time, I was privy to a conversation between a sociable and uber confident 20-something and his friend. The 20-something mentioned that DeMarco was “sick” (ie. “exceptionally cool”, as per Urban Dictionary) and that they absolutely needed to see his set. Taking his indirect advice, I made a point to check out the show. In speaking to a few people pre-show, some were there just out of curiosity, but most I spoke to were fans, including a mom with her 2 kids. Mom explained that DeMarco put on a good show, “The 20-somethings will be crowdsurfing but it’s really mellow rock music.” DeMarco hit the stage to loud cheers and launched into “Salad Days”, which I actually did recognize, but I’m not sure where from… More than a few girls in the crowd were dancing, arms flailing and singing along to every word. We also heard the more upbeat “Stars Keep On Calling My Name” before heading back over to the Black Sheep Stage to check out the next band of the evening.
Shovels and Rope
South Carolina-based duo Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent (aka Shovels and Rope) were on my must-see list after reading the Bluesfest bio (seriously, whoever writes these does a great job piquing interest!). Described as righteous and raucous with panoramic songwriting, “the songs are the deadliest arrows in this band’s quiver.” Cary Ann acknowledged a fan’s sign in the crowd with a twangy “Hail Hail, baby!” and after a quick introduction, launched into “O, Be Joyful”. Within seconds, I experienced my first goosebumps of the night. Cary Ann Hearst’s perfect tone, powerful and slightly raspy voice is just awesome; perfect for their kind of stomp your feet alt-country/rock/blues. Her and Michael sounded incredible together, but she’s clearly the star of the show, and plays a mean acoustic guitar. Next up was “Cabbage Moth Blues”, the intro to which brought to mind Johnny Cash’s “Jackson”. Fast paced and raucous indeed, with the promise of, “Come to Carolina / drinks on me”. The pair switched between guitar and drum/keyboard duties effortlessly and played some older and newer tunes, including one that I didn’t get the name of, but which contained the line, “The boat cost money but the shrimp is free”. Being a new tune, Cary Ann warned that it didn’t come with a performance quality guarantee, but did guarantee authenticity. And the audience got that in spades.
Another great night at Bluesfest, discovering new music and spending time with like-minded music lovers!