RBC Bluesfest – July 16th 2015

“Oh no, I have no clue what I’m doing; I’ve been found out.”It’s 5:45 on a perfect Ottawa summer day, I’m a little nervous now looking around at the other guys next to the stage. Everyone else has more camera gear on them than I probably have ever owned in my life. In all honesty, I’m holding a borrowed one that I barely know how to use aside from the auto-mode. Bluesfest - 16 Jul - IMGP4628Yet, I’m excited, really excited. I love music, it’s probably one of the rare things that brings me out of my shell and I feel completely at home standing next to the stage sub-woofers pounding away. Ok, here we go, flash off; I was told flash off. Bluestone & The Memphis Moonshine walk out on stage; they all look great and I’m happy I know them through my own exploits as it reduces a lot of pressure. Click, click, and click again. I quickly find my grove and I’m moving casually back and forth amongst the rest of the pit with the grace of a mid-sixties movie star. I get what I need, I think; admittedly I’m not sure. I took a lot of pictures most won’t come out well based on my regular thumb in the lens kind of way but some will. I slowly make my way out of the pit attempting not to walk into anyone.

I’ve dragged along my sister and she’s fiddling away with her cellphone as most of us do nowadays; less interested in the music being played than the conversation at hand. Truthfully she’s here for the country; Keith Urban, Dallas Smith. I am as well, but Bluestone is like family to me. Bluesfest - 16 Jul - IMGP4593The crowd isn’t bad actually it’s picked up a bit now as this is really the first time I’ve looked around since before the show. Bluestone is tight and their reworked sound speaks to the different generations standing and sitting around the stage. Rhythm & Blues music is rare in that even if you don’t love it, quite often it evokes feelings that most can vibe on. As expected Angie and Ben are rippin’ solos that I marvel at the girls are in sync and obviously having a good time swaying back and forth to the steady timing the rest of the boys are maintaining. One of my band mates bumps into me, his girl is on stage and he’s pretty ecstatic about it; I can’t help but think back to moments I’ve been there, glow and all. The band closes out with an extended version of Good Lovin’ and gets the crowd singing along for a few extra bars. By this point I’ve been looking at my watch for a few minutes trying to figure out if I will make it to the next pit on time.   Ok, it’s time to go.

Bluesfest - 16 Jul - IMGP4781My sister and I head through the War Museum towards the Bell Stage. Ok, if I wasn’t excited before I am now. If you know me well I walk in front of everyone in a constant aggressive cadence. Ok, into the pit; I turn around towards the crowd, nearly my ideal moment. Only, I’m about four feet from the spot I’d really like to be in. Dallas Smith walks out and the crowd is into it immediately; trucker hats, daisy dukes, you know the drill. I get some good shots of the band and some fairly awkward shots of Dallas; you can tell he enjoys what he is doing and wouldn’t give it away even with the likely long bus rides away from friends and family. I know that smile it’s, how I feel when I play and looking out at the fans they can feel the warmth and energy. Over on the left side of the stage a banjo player is seriously rocking the hardest I can imagine you could on a banjo I get some good shots and am just generally impressed by this man’s skills and beard. Yes, I mentioned the beard, I’m slightly jealous. I decide to turn around and a get some pictures of the crowd again; I have to say it’s pretty cool looking back on the fans from this perspective and from my vantage point I can see at least a hundred smiles. Bluesfest - 16 Jul - IMGP4669One girl lipping the camera another awkwardly staring at me. Ok, three songs are over. I casually head back to where my sister is singing along and I get to hear the song that I was hoping for; Wasting Gas. Admittedly, I don’t really focus on any specific country artist for listening so I only really know this song but I belt it out anyway in my best country style voice.
The Song ends and a few people walk up to me asking me to take a picture. One says “you look like you know what you are doing”. I jest, “more or less” and do so while talking audio production geek speak to one of the guys. I hand out some cards and my sister and I move along.

We check out Ottawa band the Hilotrons; I’m a bit early as I’ve mixed up the time and awkwardly stand in the pit while they check the monitors. I haven’t seen or heard these guys play before which makes it worse when someone comes up to me and asks is they are any good. I stare blankly, “Oh no, I have no clue what I’m doing; I’ve been found out.” I look around at the front of the group hoping someone will bail me out; no one does… “I’ll be honest I have no clue, but I’ve been told they are good.” The guy seems satisfied with this answer and meanders away. The girl in the front I’m standing next to gives me an “I wasn’t going to bail you out” eye roll. Even though this exchange is less than polite, I can’t help but be fascinated by the colour of her hair. It’s green sort of, maybe it was dyed with Kool-Aid? I’m not sure. Bluesfest - 16 Jul - IMGP4953I turn around to look at the stage there is a lot of gear all over the floor. I like my pedals to be well organized and I’ll admit that this bothers me a bit but it fits the overall look of the four members; especially singer Mike Dubue and drummer Philip Shaw Bova. They start, I’m not sure what that noise is although it’s reminiscent of 80s industrial music. Kick starts, ok these guys are talented but I almost immediately realize I don’t get it. I don’t get the Black Keys so if that clarifies what I mean you understand. I get some pictures, the guitarist has a cool vibe and plays really well, and overall the band is really good at what they do. Although, I wish the bassist would turn towards the crowd and not look at the floor. I elect to move along and return to my sister once again fiddling with her phone likely texting her boyfriend.

By this time it’s somewhere around 8:50 and we wander around to take in some of the other acts still playing the smaller stages. There is definitely some great talent; Rory Gardiner stands out as a Canadian country act that is likely just on the edge of becoming a household name. The limiting factor being that he currently doesn’t have a big hit. The writing is fantastic for country music and it’s where he makes most of his working money so you’d expect that of him. I was impressed with the band from a musician’s perspective but they can’t quite compete with the excitement of the Dallas Smith show earlier in the afternoon; hard rocking banjos are once again hard to top. I’d like to point out something here. Bluesfest does a great job of getting all the acts together but I think things would be more enjoyable if you didn’t have to move around stage to stage as much. If you’re a fan of a certain genre it would make a lot of sense to have progression through the day at one stage. I think it would foster more participation from fans and maintain the energy that seems to wane around 9:00. Bringing out small acoustic sets around this hour tends to help at a lot of other venues I’ve been to.

Bluesfest - 16 Jul - IMGP4997After a deserved rest from all the walking and some tense moments in the Electronic Music crowd, who were thoroughly enjoying their evening we headed over to the main draw for the evening; Keith Urban. Ok, I’ve seen a few good guitar players in my time but I have to say I was floored. Country music guitarists are notoriously talented but Keith Urban’s ability to play at such a technical level was amazing to see. I get overwhelmed occasionally just strumming along to mindless punk rock. The show was full of energy, lighting was on point and from my position in the crowd sound was once again; and I commend Bluesfest on this, excellent. The ability to get record quality sound to such a large audience is phenomenal. Bluesfest - 16 Jul - IMGP5057Keith Urban’s singing was on point and songs like Long Hot Summer and John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 drove an otherwise already excited crowd over the top. At least, until Sam from Orleans. Around 9:30 Sam Cudmore was pulled up on stage to his friends delight; taking a selfie in the process. As soon as he began to sing the chorus of Kiss a Girl, teenage girls broke into excited cheers and the kid from Orleans scored the opportunity of a lifetime. My understanding is that he spurred a #SamFromOrleans hashtag. I had managed to get close enough after wading through lawn chairs and angry drunk people to get some pictures although I incurred a stiff punch to the back of the head. With my energy running out I swam back from the front to where I had originally been standing, I was tired and it was time to call it the end of my first and hopefully not last day as part of the media.

Jared Thomson

Musician, Lead Singer of Across the Median, Recording Engineer, Owner Without a Wall Studios, Ottawa, On.

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