After an incredible start to this year’s Ottawa Bluesfest the second week was the week that had more of the music I was interested loaded so it was no doubt one I would be looking forward to covering.  Initial plans were that I would be finished my shifts with the Green Team by this point as well but health issues in the first week forced me to pick up some shifts in the second week.

July 14, 2015

For me the second week kicked off on my 41st Birthday, July 14.  One of my favourite parts of Ottawa Bluesfest is that usually one of the days falls on or just before my Birthday so I always get to celebrate with 20K, or so, of my closest friends (aka all of you guys) and some of the best music on the planet.

This year my birthday entertainment was provided by Brantley Gilbert, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the John Butler Trio just to name 3 of the 15 acts that took to the stage that day.  What made this year even more special for me is that my 7 year old son asked if he could join me and spend the day with me so that I wouldn’t be alone, for the record my 7 year old is the coolest kid on the planet.

It wasn’t the greatest weather day so the two of us donned our rain gear and hit the field to get in front of the stage for Brantley Gilbert.  I don’t know if it was the rain or if something else was going on but to me Brantley Gilbert just didn’t seem to be on his game.  His performance felt forced and unnatural, which was bit disappointing as I definitely consider myself a fan of his music.  But, in his defence, the joy of live music is that it’s raw and anything can happen.  Late last year I saw Randy Houser for the first time with Dierks Bentley and Tim Hicks and I found that his show was a bit flat, when I saw him again with Luke Bryan and Dustin Lynch a few months ago he blew the roof off the Canadian Tire Centre, it’s just more proof that anyone can have an off night and come back with a powerful performance the next time.

Here’s a clip of Brantley’s performance that we shot on Twitter:

Next up for us that night was one of my all time favourites, Lynyrd Skynyrd and they did not disappoint.  Perhaps my age shines through when the bands that I get most excited about are bands that were in their prime when I was in my early teens but bands like Skynyrd this year and the trifecta of Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder last year were among my favourite performances that I’ve ever seen at Bluesfest pair that with the monster performance from KISS a few years ago, which was my first ever Bluesfest experience, and it’s a magical combination.

Skynyrd took the crowd on a journey of all their hits from “Sweet Home Alabama” (their response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man”) to “Free Bird” and everything in between.  These guys showed that even after 40 years they still know how to rock!  Sean wasn’t able to shoot Skynyrd but I made sure that I had my trusty Samsung Galaxy Camera with me in case of emergency.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Ottawa Bluesfest 2015, photo by Hendrik Pape Sound Check Entertainment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Ottawa Bluesfest 2015, photo by Hendrik Pape Sound Check Entertainment

Based on a recommendation I skipped out on the last bit of Skynyrd’s set to go and checkout Montreal based John Butler Trio on the Monster Stage, I was surprised to find a large crowd that was very engaged with the band on stage and a trio of performers who knew exactly what they needed to do to keep them that way.  We only caught a couple of their songs before their set was over but it’s definitely a band that I will be adding to my list for future years.

July 15

This was a green team shift day for me.  Hedley really being the only artist that I was somewhat interested in.  I’ll let Sean’s camera do the talking for today.

July 16

It would be another Green Team night for me but also a night that I planned on catching a few of the acts hitting the stages.  The evening started out with our good friend and supporter, Dallas Smith on the Bell Stage.  Dallas never disappoints the crowd, he might be moderately new to the country music scene but his years of experience fronting Canadian rock band Default definitely helped him hone his stage presence.

The dark horse award of the night goes to our friend Rory Gardiner.  Rory is a local country singer who has had some success over the past few years including an award winning children’s album, his 2013 single “On My Way” was co-written with Tim Hicks and was picked as the theme song for WildTV’s Season 3 Fall Brawl show.  I think it’s safe to say his biggest achievement to date is landing the direct support spot for Keith Urban at Ottawa Bluesfest this summer.  Having only recently had my first opportunity to see Rory perform live there would be no question that he had the talent to hold that stage and although my Green Team responsibilities caused me to miss his show I did manage to catch up with him briefly backstage after his performance.  Watch for an upcoming interview and feature with Rory where we’ll tell his side of his 2015 Ottawa Bluesfest story.  Until then check him out, something tells us he’s on the verge of a major breakthrough.

Keith Urban was the major headliner for this night of Ottawa Bluesfest.  Many of you might be surprised to know that I am actually not a huge fan of Keith Urban, the singer.  Don’t get me wrong I like a handful of his songs but it’s his talent as a musician and a guitar player that really impresses me.  I also admire what he does for emerging artists, Keith is known for pulling people out of the crowd and giving them a chance at a once in a lifetime performance in front of thousands of people.  Ottawa Bluesfest was no different, for a young man named Sam, from Orleans, July 16 started out like any other.  It would end with him being the most talked about person from Orleans…heck he was the most talked about person / performer from all of Bluesfest.  Sure Sam was a bit off key when he started to sing but I’m sure the best singer would be when they surprisingly walked out in front of 20,000 people to sing a song that they hadn’t rehearsed.  Here’s a video clip from the performance, if you want to know more about Sam from Orleans just checkout the hashtag #SamFromOrleans on Twitter or Facebook!

Sean wasn’t allowed to shoot Keith Urban but here are some of his other shots from July 16!

July 17

As we moved into the final weekend of the 21st Annual Ottawa Bluesfest mother nature, again, decided it would be fun to rain on our party.  Day 9 was one of the days that I was most looking forward to as, personal favourites, Dear Rouge were on the bill.   Having interviewed Drew and Danielle just before the event their performance was one of the more anticipated ones of the entire festival and despite the rain they would not disappoint.  Danielle’s energy on stage was unlike anything I had seen in a performer of late. Even Drew got into the act, unintentionally (not that anyone else seemed to notice because as a true performer he didn’t miss a beat) as a slip on the wet stage put him on his back on the wet stage floor.  I caught up with Drew and Danielle after their show and the good news is that if you didn’t want to brave the rain to see them at Bluesfest they will be back to Ottawa sometime in the fall.  Stay tuned, as soon as we have specifics we’ll be sure to announce it them.

Following Dear Rouge were the angry offspring of Metallica and Great Big Sea, the Dropkick Murphys.  I took some time to listen to some of their set and there was no question that the thoroughly soaked audience was well into the performance.  It wasn’t enough for me to brave the endless rain and seeing as The Tragically Hip, although one of my favourites I have seen them enough times to worry about standing around in the rain, so I called it a night.  Sean captured some incredible shots from the evening as well before packing it in to protect his expensive equipment after shooting the Dropkick Murphys.

July 18

Saturday July 18, or day 10, was another one of the key days in the lineup for me.  Growing up Air Supply became a favourite of mine at a very early age, so early that I can’t even remember exactly when I first became a fan of the band I just always remember loving their music.  The downside to finally seeing a band like this live after listening to them for almost 40 years is that a bad performance can ruin the fairy tail.  Luckily for me that was not the case and Air Supply absolutely nailed their performance. In fact their performance was so strong that it became one of my favourite performances of the entire festival. I had forgotten how many hits this group has until they started cranking them out with the massive crowd singing along karaoke style much to the thrill of Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell who were clearly loving every second of it.  One of my favourite moments of their performance was where Hitchcock and Russell spent an entire song walking through the audience, shaking hands, hugging and greeting as many fans as they possibly could, I really love it when musicians get that it’s the fans that put them on that stage and give back some of that love to the fans.

#airsupply "Every Woman In the World" #RBCBluesfest2015 @ottawabluesfest

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Saturday was also my final shift as a member of the 2015 Bluesfest Green team, what an incredible experience working alongside this group of individuals was.  You won’t find a more dedicated group than the army of Green Team volunteers.

As we took our final break before tackling the main stage cleanup we had a moment to sit and listen to the iconic Deep Purple.  This group really took me on a trip down memory lane.  What a performance, likely one of the top classic rock performances in recent years at Bluesfest.  When “Smoke on the Water” came on they absolutely nailed every note, incredible.

Check Out Sean’s photos from day 10, including shots of The Beaches, Air Supply, Simple Plan, Deep Purple and more.


July 19

So that’s it, made it to day 11.  What a marathon session that was.  Not only did I set a personal record for most days ever attended at a single Bluesfest (9) but I did it all while volunteering for the Green Team and battling a sudden unexpected health issue.  Some days were a struggle but the job needed to get done and my team was counting on me and the music needed to be covered, the show must go on as they say.

My seven year old made his second Bluesfest appearance of the year for the grand finale.  We arrived amidst threats of severe thunderstorms and possible tornados but that didn’t phase us we were ready to put the cap on an incredible 11 days of music and we were prepared for anything mother nature would throw at us.

The afternoon kicked off with a costume filled performance by Weird Al Yankovic that would make Lady Gaga jealous.  From characters like Gaga herself to an obese Michael Jackson Weird Al took the audience through a comedic journey of some of his greatest hits from the past 39 years.  Mixed with video clips to cover the time spent changing costumes the all ages audience was treated to one of the funniest hours of music ever to take to the stage at Bluesfest. Here is a clip of Al performing “White and Nerdy” off of his latest album Mandatory Fun

Following Al’s performance I promised my wingman that I’d treat him to a slice of the best pizza he’ll ever taste.  That pizza, naturally, being the Bluesfest pizza by Gabriel Pizza.  My taste tester gave the pizza a thumbs up!

After a short pizza break it was on to listen to a bit of classic Randy Bachman.  I’m no stranger to Randy’s music having seen him numerous times solo, as well as with BTO and the Guess Who over the years.  The classic tunes like “Taking Care of Business” and “American Woman” will live forever but it was a good opportunity to introduce my 7 year old son to one of the legends of Canadian music who paved the way for all of today’s Canadian stars.  Without guys like Randy and Burton Cummings leading the charge in the 70’s the Canadian music landscape would look much different today, if it were to exist at all.

Following Randy we took a bit of a break to wander around some of the backstages, mainly to avoid the profanity laced performance by Bill Burr (for the record I have nothing against Bill or his performance, certainly there were a lot of families there with young children, like myself, but with 2 other stages to chose from that were out of earshot from the Claridge Homes Stage there was no need for parents to subject their kids to that performance if they really didn’t like it).  In our travels I remembered that MonkeyJunk was performing on the Monster Energy Stage so we decided to take a few minutes to sit and listen to this Ottawa based success story.  There’s no question why this guys are successful and why they have a JUNO on their mantle, MonkeyJunk is one of the most solid bands I’ve seen in a long time.  With endorsements from artists like David Wilcox and stars like William Shatner there’s no question these guys are the real deal.

As the clock rolled around to the nine o’clock hour we faced our first, and only, scheduling conflict of the festival.  Do we head to the Canadian Stage for The Tea Party, whom I have seen before, or do we head to the Bell Stage for gentleman Johnny Reid, whom I have never seen?  The Tea Party’s set started slightly before Johnny’s so we decided we’d workout a compromise, watch the first half (or so) of the Tea Party and then finish the night off with Johnny Reid.

It’s easily been 20 years since I last saw the Tea Party live,  I would’ve been in college and the concert would’ve been in the newly constructed Wall night club on campus at Canadore College / Nippising University in North Bay, ON.  It was a small venue but they played host to some massive acts guaranteeing an intimate show.  Now the band is celebrating 20 years since the release of Edges of Twilight the Windsor, Ontario based band’s third album while promoting their 12th album The Ocean at the End which was released last September (2014).  Based on the size of the crowd I wasn’t the only one intrigued about seeing these veteran Canadian rockers back on stage and from the first note on The Tea Party made one thing crystal clear…they were back and ready to rock.

After listening to a handful of songs we made our way over to the Bell stage.  Johnny was already on the stage crooning away by the time we arrived and you could tell that some of his biggest fans in Ottawa were in attendance because everyone we were near was singing along note for note with every song Johnny sang.  Although Johnny may fall under the country banner he really is anything but.  Johnny is a performer, his music ranges from country to pop to reggae to big band to whatever he is in the mood to perform.  I suppose with the state of country music nowadays if a band like Florida Georgia Line is considered country then why not group a gent like Johnny Reid in their as well seeing as that’s where the industry seems to group artists that don’t really fit into any other genre.  Nothing against the boys of Florida Georgia Line, we are huge fans of theirs, I just don’t personally feel they fit under the genre of country music and neither should Johnny Reid.

The first thing I noticed about Johnny was his stage presence.  You can completely turn off the volume and Johnny will still connect with you through eye contact.  He connects with his audience like no other entertainer I’ve ever seen, actually I must say that Air Supply came very close.  Sound Check has a direct connection to Johnny Reid, our friend and contributor Mary Rae-Knapp is the founder of Johnny Reid’s fan club the Tartan Army.  We are thrilled that Johnny and Mary-Rae will be sitting down for an exclusive interview at Manitoulin Country Fest on August 6, watch for it in the week following the event.

Johnny Reid was a class act and we both loved every second of the show we were able to see, but after a long afternoon and an early morning we decided to call it a night before the crowds descended on the busses.

RBCBluesfest2015 by the Numbers

  • 11 days
  • 4 stages
  • 300,000-plus music fans
  • More than 220 acts
  • 3,500 Volunteers (including yours truly)
  • 97,576 beer cans recycled
  • 1,678 glass bottles recycled
  • 204 plastic bottles recycled
  • $10,113.60 raised for charity by the Green Team alone!

I want to take a minute at the end of this post to send out a special thanks to the Green Team.  This group of volunteers willingly goes out onto the festival grounds every night and digs through the compost and garbage bins to try to separate as much recycling as they possibly can. It is thanks to their efforts that the grounds not only stay clean but that a few local charities benefit from the proceeds of thousands of beer cans being turned in.  Over 11 days in 2015 this green team collected and recycled over 97,000 beer cans!  I also want to take a minute to thank everyone who attended Bluesfest and took the time to thank us as we dug through the garbage, it’s nice to know that our work was appreciated.

Checkout this cool infographic that was put together by one of the Green Team leaders it puts the numbers above into perspective.

Ottawa Bluesfest Green Team Infographic

Ottawa Bluesfest Green Team Infographic

So that’s a wrap, Bluesfest 2015 is in the history books.  Up next for Bluesfest organizers is 2015 CityFolk,  as for Sound Check well we could be anywhere in Canada there is an event!  Watch for us in a photo pit near you and if you spot us be sure to say hi and introduce yourselves!  What was your favourite act at Ottawa Bluesfest this year? Share it with us in the comments!

I’d like to personally thank the Bluesfest organizers for accrediting Sound Check even after we leaked the lineup and then even allowing us to to have an official photographer accredited as well.  We appreciate the vote of confidence and look forward to returning for our 5th straight year in 2016! We hope that we’ll be considered for the 2015 CityFolk festival, our first time seeking accreditation.

Most importantly I need to thank Sean Sisk, he’s the guy who takes the pictures that make my words come alive.  Thanks to his photos Bluesfest 2015 was one of my favourite to cover because I could focus on the music and not attempting to get the best shot.  If you want to see more of Sean’s festival work be sure to follow along because we aren’t done with him yet but if you want to see some of the other things he has photographed, including his popular Pets with Personalities Series, be sure to visit his website