It’s hard to believe that the event that I’ve been anticipating all year is already halfway through. It feels like just yesterday that the Full Flex Express rolled into town kicking off what would be an incredible 11 days of live entertainment along the Ottawa River. New to our coverage this year is the addition of Sean Sisk, our new resident event photographer extraordinaire in the Ottawa region. Sean’s incredible pictures will appear throughout my reviews and allow me to focus on the music and our social media coverage instead of trying to get the perfect shot.
My week at Bluesfest actually started one day before the actual event. How, you ask? Well every time I’ve attended Bluesfest I’ve always been impressed by the volunteers, particularly those on the Green Team. The events that are maintained by this crew are always amongst the cleanest events I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. My love for festivals began many years ago when I volunteered for the North Bay Heritage Festival (I ended up working as part of that festival for 11 years) and I always vowed that one day I would return to a volunteer role within a festival and this year would be that year and Green Team would be my area of choice. For the volunteers our week began on Tuesday with our orientation at the festival grounds.
Full Flex Express Tour (Day 1)
The first real test for our team was opening night with the Full Flex Express featuring, of course, Jack U made up of Skrillex and Diplo. It was a smaller crowd than you’d usually get at Bluesfest for an opening night but only the Bell Stage was operational that night with the remaining 3 stages laying dormant.
If you’ve been to Bluesfest before you’re no stranger to Skrillex and you know all about the level of energy he brings to the stage. I’m not a huge fan of EDM but let me tell you the rest of the Full Flex Express is made up of a lot of acts that know how to get and keep a crowd entertained. Everyone in attendance on Wednesday night was there for a party and that’s exactly what they got! (on a side note it was a good test for our green team as there was enough of a mess left behind after the show to give us a few things to pick up once the partiers were gone).
I’ve been struggling with some bizarre unexplainable health issues over the past few weeks and they forced me to cut Day 2 short. Not before taking some time to catch Kira Isabella’s performance on the Bell Stage ahead of Jason Aldean. I think Kira Isabella is one of the greatest vocalists to come out of the Ottawa area in recent years but there seemed to be some issues with the sound on Thursday night which took away from her performance a bit, but aside from that Kira was still stunning and her fans loved every second of it.
Here’s some photo highlights thanks to Sean Sisk Photography (click on each photo to see it full sized), we were not permitted to photograph Jason Aldean.
Day 3 (aka Kanye Day)
There was no way I was going to miss Kanye day, not because I’m a fan of Kanye but because I was curious to see the spectacle he would bring to the event. It was another Green Team shift for me but Sean was on-site early enough to snap a few pics of Brea Lawrenson and Chance the Rapper. I made it to the festival grounds in time for Marianas Trench on the Claridge Homes Stage before making my way over to the Canadian Stage for my festival favourite, Hawksley Workman. Expectedly Marianas Trench drew a larger younger female audience whereas Hawksley drew a crowd made up of more couples and people my age (maybe that’s why I felt more at home there than at the Claridge Homes Stage lol). It didn’t take long for me to remember what I loved so much about seeing Hawksley live, he has a presence that reminds me a lot of Gord Downie of the Hip crossed with the charm of Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo perhaps even with a bit of Greg Keelor mixed in for good measure. Whatever the combination this guy has swagger and makes songs like “Striptease” and “Smoke Baby” sound so so cool. Oh and Hawksley, during your show you mentioned that you’d love to go on a musical cruise with Gabriel Pizza on the Ottawa River, we’re intrigued and would love to work with you and your people on setting up such an event. Let’s talk.
I had promised myself that I would give Kanye a chance before passing any judgement so after Hawksley wrapped up I made my way up to the Bell Stage. Kanye had just taken to the stage a few minutes prior to my arrival and I have to say the first thing that jumped out at me was the simplicity of his set. He simply had a backdrop of big yellowish lights and stood in the centre of the stage with a mic stand connected to a monitor, that’s it. The guy who is notorious for his vanity who you would think would have the flashiest setup he could get and he goes for the simple. But as the evening went on it was clear that this was a good simple. The lights would swivel and move from behind to over top of him pointing down creating cool silhouettes and shadows. Other than a couple of songs I don’t know anything by Kanye but I am familiar with Paul McCartney, how cool of Kanye to give this rising artist a shot by letting him write a song with him lol, so I do know the song they wrote together and the awfully catchy tune that Paul and Kanye wrote for Rihanna, “4, 5 Seconds”. Kanye’s set went over by 20 minutes, not overly surprised there, he just wouldn’t stop singing and not one person in the massive crowd had a single complaint. Even after being warned that he could only do one more song, somehow he managed to squeeze in another 2 or even 3. All in all I have to say Kanye’s visit to Ottawa was a success. The fans loved him, and I know of a few others (myself included) who were pretty impressed with his show as well. A huge mess was left after Kanye’s fans vacated the venue but that’s ok we’ve got a dedicated crew working on the Green Team that worked for almost an hour to clean up as much as we could before handing things off to the overnight site staff.
We were not permitted to photograph Kanye West but here are highlights from the rest of the day, all photos by Sean Sisk Photography
Again my plans were scuttled by this mystery illness that’s been plaguing me the last few weeks. Being able to walk is pretty much a necessity when going to Bluesfest and considering I could barely do that I figured it would be best to stay home and let Sean’s cameras do the talking for Saturday night.
Here are Sean’s photo highlights from Saturday evening (We were not permitted to photograph Iggy Azalea)
Day 5 – last day of phase 1
They say that time flies when you are having fun, I guess I must’ve been having a blast because that was by far the fastest 5 days I’ve ever seen go by (if only our work weeks can go that quickly)
I had hoped to make it down to the festival grounds early in the afternoon to catch some of the rising acts that will likely headline the main stages within the next decade or so, but I was on the clock until 5pm but I finally made it down to Bluesfest for about 5:30pm just in time to get checked in with the Green Team, geared up and down to the Canadian Stage for Kingston’s Glorious Sons. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a new band with so much potential that wasn’t a country band it was kind of a refreshing break to watch these guys from just under an hour west of me take command of both the stage and the large crowd that had gathered along side of the Ottawa River.
I took in most of their set before making my way up to the Claridge Homes Stage for CeeLo Green. Not originally an artist on my list of picks something made me want to go and check his show out. Recently known for his role as a judge on The Voice I was somewhat familiar with CeeLo and his music, after all who doesn’t know the song “Forget You”. When I arrived at the stage I saw a throne in the middle of it, of course my first thought was that CeeLo stumbled upon Kanye’s set that somehow got setup on the wrong stage. CeeLo came out dressed in a preacher’s or choir director’s gown and very quickly took control of the crowd. He told the crowd “what we do up here looks easy, we make it look easy, but it’s very hard work. It takes a lot of energy and so I need you to promise me something. For every ounce of energy we give you, you’ve got to give an equal amount back!” Not sure if CeeLo made it look all that easy, to me it looked like his job in the 30 degree heat grooving to his uptempo beats with the sweat pouring down his face and times where he needed to sit on his thrown, likely to keep from passing out from heat exhaustion (someone forgot to tell CeeLo that the great white north is actually much further north from Ottawa at this time of year). But all that aside CeeLo managed to get that crowd electrified and it wasn’t long before they were putty in his hands. Yet another pleasant surprise at this year’s Bluesfest, never would’ve known that I’d enjoy a CeeLo green performance, but I did, and I would go and see him again (perhaps this time in a cooler venue like the Canadian Tire Centre or something, for his sake of course.)
— Sound Check Ent. (@SoundCheckBlg) July 13, 2015
I was lucky enough to make it to the Canadian Stage area, to drop off some recycling at our dropzone, with enough time to catch a few tracks by the Arkells. Having seen the Arkells before at Ottawa Dragon Boat I knew I wanted to catch them again at Bluesfest this year. It seems that every time I see these guys live they get better.
Blue Rodeo need little introduction or review. They play Bluesfest pretty much every second year and if you miss them in Ottawa they always seem to pop up at fairs and festivals throughout the country all year round. If you’ve never seen Blue Rodeo live before find a show and go and see them, you won’t be disappointed. A Blue Rodeo concert is like a giant sing along because all of their fans know every lyric to every song on their 200 albums (ok not quite 200 but the every lyric thing was true). It’s fun to sing along with Jim, Greg and the boys. A class act on and off the stage, having met Jim Cuddy numerous times (actually spent a day driving around the Ottawa Valley in my car with Jim, who makes a Honda Civic Sedan look very small btw) and Greg Keelor once it’s always a pleasure to see them perform. Funny thing about Blue Rodeo fans that I learnt at Bluesfest just by being part of the green team, the concert ends and they all neatly clean up the area around them and place all of their garbage in the cans provided and exit the grounds in a quick and orderly fashion, it really made our job so much easier at the end of the night and most of us were back home to our families shortly after midnight (not me though, I have a 30 minute OC Transpo ride to where I parked the car followed by an hour long ride home once I get to the car lol)
Here’s the view through Sean’s lense for July 12
So that wraps up week 1. Week 2 kicks off in a few hours and day 1 has a special significance. Seeing as the clock has clicked past 12 as I write this it is now my 41st birthday. What a difference a year makes, last year I was a self employed IT contractor struggling to make ends meet for my family and Sound Check was still a one man show, this year I have a solid job and Sound Check is made up of a team of dedicated VOLUNTEER writers and photographers across Canada ready to jump and cover any event we’re invited to, sometimes at a moment’s notice. In the past year I have personally interviewed some of the biggest names in music today from Jason Wade of Lifehouse to Drew and Danielle of Dear Rouge (watch for their interview coming up this week).
I’d like to invite all of you to join me at my unofficial 41st Birthday Party taking place at Lebreton Flats in Ottawa. It will be my pleasure to party with each and every one of you once again this year, last year we partied the night before my birthday with Collective Soul and Blue Rodeo headlined my birthday party 2 years ago, this year I’m stepping it up Brantley Gilbert and Lynyrd Skynyrd will be providing the entertainment! You know where I’ll be so if you see me, don’t be a stranger come and say hello and let me know that you’re one of our readers!
Week 2 – My Picks:
As we move into the 2nd and final week of Bluesfest, here are my picks of the acts you won’t want to miss!
July 14 – METZ, Brantley Gilbert, Lynyrd Skynyrd
July 15 – Current Swell, Chvrches, Gaslight Anthem
July 16 – Dallas Smith, Rory Gardiner, Keith Urban / Paul Oakenfold (this one is a toss up, Keith Urban is incredible live but Paul Oakenfold puts on an impressive performance of his own. I may have to try to catch some of each)
July 17 – Dear Rouge – one of the hottest new acts to come out of Canada, you will not want to miss this show! Dropkick Murphys, imagine Great Big Sea and Metallica had a baby…Dropkick Murphys is what you would end up with. The Tragically Hip, if the Hip are on the bill you go see the Hip, I believe there is a law that states that somewhere. I last saw the Hip in 2013 just hours before hopping on a WestJet flight to Calgary and they were absolutely incredible, they are on tour celebrating the anniversary of Fully Completely this summer so there’s no doubt we’ll be in for a fantastic show!
July 18 – Air Supply – I don’t know if it was the soundtrack for Karate Kid 2 that first turned me onto Air Supply but there’s always been something about their music that I liked. Hearing that they would be on the bill for Bluesfest this year I immediately added them to my artist bucket list, I look forward to crossing them off the list later this week. You don’t have to be “Perfect” to like Simple Plan you just need to like good music, and if you do you’ll love Simple Plan! The night will end with a little bit of “Smoke on the Water” as Deep Purple rolls into Ottawa to close down the final Saturday at Ottawa Bluesfest. Easily my favourite classic rock song after “Another Brick in the Wall” Deep Purple has long been on my list of artists to see live when and if the opportunity arose.
July 19 – The Bros. Landreth are easily one of the hottest young Canadian acts of 2015 if you want to find out why then be sure to catch them on the Bell Stage at 5pm on July 19, immediately following the Bros is non other than Weird Al Yankovic who is certain to entertain young and old with his parodies and contemporary polka hits. Randy Bachman of both the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive Fame takes to the Bell Stage at 7pm. If comedy is your thing then take the short walk to the Claridge Homes Stage for Bill Burr, he’s certain to keep your side hurting from laughter. If you’d rather listen to music you’ll want to head to the Monster Energy Stage for Monkey Junk at 8pm. The headliner of the night is my first, and only, major conflict of the 2015 festival. Johnny Reid, performs on the Bell Stage at 9:15pm but just 15 minutes before Johnny one of my favourite Canadian rock bands, The Tea Party takes to the Canadian Stage. It’s going to be a really tough call but I may need to pick the artist that I have never seen before and since the founder of his Tartan Army is one of my guest writers and good friends I may just have to go with Johnny Reid this time!