The 33rd annual Ottawa International Jazz Festival kicked off on a high note this Thursday, June 20 at Confederation Park with opening performances by the Hutchinson Andrew Trio, The Heavy, Dr. John and the Nite Trippers and Glen Hansard.
The first night of the festival at Confederation Park began with a performance by the Hutchinson Andrew Trio after which The Heavy took over. The English rock group, The Heavy, appreciated for their lively music and eclectic sound, happened to conclude their North American tour in Ottawa. For the occasion, the 4-piece band comprised of lead singer Kelvin Swaby, guitarist Dan Taylor, bassist Spencer Page and drummer Chris Ellul, gave a highly energetic and engaging performance to a crowd that virtually didn’t know them. For the duration of the tour, the band was joined on stage by a talented saxophone player and tenor saxophone player. At first, frontman Swaby was clearly unimpressed by the tame lawn-chair crowd sitting before him, but two songs into the set, the foul-mouthed lead-singer succeeded in waking up the audience from its apparent slumber. The set list included the songs Short Change Hero, The Big Bad Wolf for which the group had the crowd howling, Same Ol’, What Make’s a Good Man, and it finished with a bang with the hit How You Like Me Now, to which the crowd sang along. The Heavy’s mix of neo-soul, funk, blues, rock, and reggae sounds made for an irresistibly groovy show for which no one could remain seated.
Following The Heavy’s one-hour set, headliners Dr. John and the Nite Trippers took to the stage to the delight of many who had gathered at Confederation Park to catch the legendary New Orleans pianist live. Donning an all-purple suit and fedora, the 72-year old doctor slowly but surely made his way across the stage, alternating between his piano and guitar. There seems to have been a technical issue with the sound at the beginning of the performance preventing festival-goers from hearing the music properly, however the sound quality resumed quickly enough. Dr. John played tunes from his latest album Locked Down along with older classics accompanied by a fantastic trombonist, a drummer, bassist and organ-player. The 90-minute set list included opening song Wang Dang Doodle, Renegade, Getaway, Revolution, Goodnight Irene, the popular and funky Right Place, Wrong Time and Such a Night. Dr. John and his musicians certainly brought the bayou to Ottawa for a groovy night of funk that transported New Orleans’s sounds to the streets of Canada’s National Capital.
To close off the opening night on the LGC Stage, Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard gave a moving live performance in front of a packed crowd as part of the After Dark Series. Inspired by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, Hansard owned the stage with a solo acoustic guitar set that proved to be highly emotive and evocative. Surrounded by a sea of fans that loyally sang along to every song, the singer-songwriter thanked the supportive audience on numerous occasions for being ‘perfect’ and for their ‘beautiful’ presence and positive response. The heartfelt emotion in Hansard’s voice and honest lyrics amplified the beauty of his raw acoustic folk sound and kept the crowd wanting more. The singer-songwriter mostly sang songs from his first solo album Rhythm and Repose including You Will Become, High Hope, Love Don’t Leave me Waiting, Maybe Not Tonight and Bird of Sorrow. He also performed tunes from The Swell Season namely Falling Slowly and When Your Mind’s Made Up along with a beautiful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Coyote. What’s more, he even sang Limerick Town for audience-members who requested it and dedicated the song to these very people. Hansard pushed his set passed midnight and gave a fantastic 90-minute performance to everyone’s great pleasure.
Based on the crowd’s overwhelming reaction and the talent projected from the LGC Stage that night, Glen Hansard stole the show hands down and is definitely Eventful Capital’s top pick for the opening night of the Jazz Festival.
Stay tuned for a review of Day 2 with Kellylee Evans, Mike Reed’s People, Places and Things, Willie Nelson and LAL.