Rain and thunderstorms threatened, late in the day, to washout the second day of RBC Bluesfest 2017 but by the time the first notes rang out the clouds cleared and the crowds descended on Lebreton Flats.What I love about RBC Bluesfest is that every year they try something different with the venue. This year they transformed the area behind the City Stage that used to be home to the River Stage, or the Canadian Stage as it’s also been known, into a venue inside the venue called Bluesville. The venue includes all of the same food and beverage vendors from previous years but this year is home to a ferris wheel and the Bluesville Stage is now located inside a giant tent; with the rain that we’ve had so far this year I have a feeling this will be a very popular stage.
We started our night at the Bluesville Stage with Too Slim and the Taildraggers, and what a way to start. These guys put on a show that was worthy of one of the main stages. Their set could be classified as country, blues, rock or southern rock it literally offers something for every musical taste…well except for EDM and Hip-Hop fans they were probably better off heading to the Blacksheep Stage. Catch them again tonight at 6pm on the Bluesville Stage at 6pm.
After listening to Too Slim and the Taildraggers for a bit we zipped over the to Blacksheep Stage where Anna Lunoe had a young crowd jumping. I still find it odd seeing DJs on a stage when it’s still daylight, just doesn’t do much for me without the lights and lasers that generally go hand in hand with electronic music but, again, the young crowd was just happy to be dancing and having a good time and in the end that’s all that matters.
We made our way up to the Claridge Homes Stage passing Melissa Etheridge on the way. I’ve always been a fan of Melissa but unfortunately she chose not to let us, or most media, shoot her performance last night. She did put on an incredible performance and the crowd was definitely into it, unfortunately she overshot her time by 20 minutes which delayed Madeline Merlo’s set as well. Etheridge is a powerhouse vocalist but her Joplin cover near the end of her set felt forced and rough but maybe that’s just her style. We were lucky enough to shoot Etheridge this spring at Canadian Music Week in Toronto.
Madeline Merlo was up next, probably the youngest headliner of the night. Prior to her set I ran into Graham Mallany (Madeline’s other half and lead guitarist for Tim Hicks, who will headline on July 16), had a chat about his experience a few weeks ago at Fest Country de Lotbiniere. Madeline’s crowd started out on the smaller side but quickly filled in once Etheridge was finished. You could sense the emotion as she noticed the size of the crowd. “Last year I played the Bluesfest afterparty and there were as many people there as there are on this stage, so this is amazing” she said. Madeline is a true performer, she’s been working on her craft for a number of years and the big stage is a perfect fit for her. Over the course of her set she took the crowd, who easily sang along with her, through all of her hits old and new including “Over and Over”, “Whatcha Wanna Do About It”, “Honey Jack” and of course the ever so powerful “War Paint”.
After watching Madeline for a bit I made my way back down to Bluesville to checkout Matt Andersen…turns out I’d be listening from outside the tent along with many others as Matt easily packed the inside of the tent and his audience had spilled out both entrances. I had a chance to catch Matt’s show in Brockville a few months ago so I know exactly what the draw was. Matt’s show is incredible, he plays guitar like few can and his vocals are powerful, this is what blues are all about and based on the size of the crowd I’d say that the Ottawa audience is hungry for blues at Bluesfest.
After Matt’s set it was time for the headliner of the night, Justin Moore. Justin plays an important role in the history of Sound Check Entertainment, Justin performed at the first ever festival (Capital Hoedown) we covered back in 2012. Justin had a decent turnout but still smaller than I have seen for previous country acts at Bluesfest. I’ve always been a big fan of Justin’s having first caught my attention many years ago with his hit “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”, a song we can all resonate too about what it would be like if we could visit loved ones after they’ve passed away. The song clearly has a deep meaning for Justin as well as he got very emotional as he introduced the song.
Justin is currently promoting his new album Kinda Don’t Care which features a number of songs co-written by friends of ours including his current single “Somebody Else Will” which was co-written by Canadian Country Music singer/songwriter Tebey.
It’s hard to find a country artist more true to the country theme than Justin Moore, loaded with Southern Charm and country goodness with songs about drinking (“You Look Like I Need A Drink”) hunting and fishing (“Bait A Hook”) and small town life (“Small Town USA”, “This Kind of Town”).
While Moore played to the country crowd at the CityStage DJ Mustard played to the young crowd, who wanted to dance, at the Blacksheep stage. Ketchup was nowhere to be seen but that didn’t bother this crowd that were just happy to have fun under the starlit July sky.
The party by the river continues this afternoon as local artists Made Wade, The Tackies, Riishi Von Rex, Brea Lawrenson and more set the stage for the headliners Brandi Carlile, Gord Bamford, 50 Cent and Molly Hatchet. No doubt it’s going to be another great night and the weather is looking good as well. For a full list of artists and set times visit www.ottawabluesfest.ca