After a full day/evening of thundershowers Tuesday, it was great to see that the weather was back on our side Wednesday as a friend and I headed down to a third night at Ottawa Bluesfest. I was again joined by Stacey Rebertz who has been taking some fantastic pictures. We arrived on scene around 6:30 this time, a great time to arrive – it was not quite busy yet; still time to check out the schedule of events and grab a bite to eat from a wide variety of food trucks and stalls. Bluesfest continues to provide something for everyone’s palate, from Indian, Lebanese, BBQ, Thai, Hinton Burger, Gabriel’s Pizza, and Fish ‘n Chips to cotton candy and kettle corn. I managed to see a good number of new-to-me bands, and it made for another enjoyable night.
We hit the River Stage to a find Average Times, an Ottawa-based garage punk/power pop band that recently played at Ottawa Explosion. Right off the bat, my friend commented that, instrumentally, they sounded very “surf punk” and I agreed. The lead vocalist appeared to vary on each song, which was cool to see. We caught 3 songs, including “Dirty Laundry” and “Do The Dance” – all of which had super fast pop punk guitar and tight drums to match.
Next up was New York-based synth-based pop band, Holy Ghost! on the main Bell Stage. Although a duo, they were backed by a live band and had what appeared to be at least 2 synth/keyboards and 2 sets of drums going at any given time. They were a nice surprise and we really dug their sound; New Order meets Arcade Fire with a dash of Foster the People. Starting out their set with “It’s Not Over” (from their self-titled 2011 debut) and “Okay” (from 2013’s Dynamics), a decent sized crowd had gathered by start of their set. My favourite track of theirs was “It Gets Dark” but I really did enjoy everything I heard; intricate and busy in the best way, but at the same time, mellow and relaxing.
If you have never heard of Lititz, Pennsylvania, let this be your introduction. Four-piece Lititz, PA-based blues infused indie rock band, The Districts, formed in 2009 when they were still in high school. But don’t let their baby faces fool you; they put on an amazing show and within a few bars, I had mentally awarded them the prize for “first goosebumps of the night” on “Lyla”. Clearly there were a few audience members who were already hip to this band; the crowd was loving their set, getting right into it. Lead singer Rob Grote’s showmanship was on display throughout with great stage presence and mobility, and a voice that reminded me of some of today’s great British rock bands (certainly The Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner came to mind). The guys were truly awesome to watch as they expertly blazed through their set with an ability that belied their young ages. Definitely a band to watch for.
Niger born Tuareg guitarist and singer-songwriter, Omaro “Bombino” Moctar and his backing band put on a high energy performance from the Black Sheep Stage. I put guitarist before singer-songwriter simply because the songs I saw performed were very guitar-driven with fewer vocals, all resulting in a sort of master class jam session. The band was all dressed in traditional clothing and had a good portion of the audience on their feet, moving to the mix of blues and rock and traditional African music. Right from the start, a very large crowd had gathered. Like me, some were possibly intrigued by Bombino’s link to The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach (who produced Bombino’s 2013 album Nomad). Regardless of how the crowd got there though, it seemed as though they were enjoying the show immensely.
Certainly, The Killers were the ultimate draw for me on this night, but as I had already learned after three nights at Bluesfest, a great number of very talented/new favourite bands had been gathered this year. After a brief delay, the band got straight into playing “Mr. Brightside” and “Spaceman”, which had the no doubt desired effect of whipping the massive audience into a frenzy. Unfortunately, sound issues (vocals not loud enough, bass too loud) were noted amongst the audience members almost immediately, with (as I came to find out later) many tweeting about it mid-show. Even lead singer Brandon Flowers seemed to be providing direction to the sound crew. Regardless, I’d definitely say that the fans got what they wanted in terms of a high energy show led by the charismatic and passionate Flowers. Songs included a full spectrum of hit singles and singalongs (including, “Human”, “Somebody Told Me”, “Dustland”, “Read My Mind”, “Runaways”, “All These Things That I’ve Done”) and even a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now”, to the crowd’s delight. The band saved new single, “Shot At The Night”, as well as older favourites “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine”, and “When You Were Young” as encores.
All in all, another great night at Bluesfest. With the variety of music, up and coming artists, and a great selection of larger singers and bands, it’s not hard to see how this festival keeps being noted by Billboard as a one of the Top 10 music festivals in the world.