The 2016 RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest is just around the corner and this year’s edition, being held July 7-17, is set to welcome another record-setting number of festival-goers eager to take in all the live music. Organizers are putting the finishing touches to the LeBreton Flats site and introducing some changes in an ongoing effort improve the festival experience. After proving popular in 2015, Bluesfest fashion is returning to capture noteworthy festival styles spotted on site. At the end of the day though, people attend for the music, so to help guide your choices for this year, here’s a small sample of must-see acts that you should be sure to catch, listed in no particular order:
City and Colour
Canadian singer-songwriter Dallas Green, who goes by City and Colour, is always a pleasure to see and listen to live. Armed with plenty of charisma and a great stage presence, Green is known for adding a personal touch to his performances by interacting with the audience throughout his sets. Long-listed for this year’s Polaris Music Prize for his album If I Should Go Before You, City and Colour is bound to please his loyal army of supporters and new fans alike.
Death From Above 1979
Toronto noise punk duo Death from Above 1979 disappointed lots of fans when they announced they were disbanding in 2006. Then in 2011, they reunited and made a come back, releasing the follow-up album The Physical World in 2014 and embarking on a series of shows in an effort to promote their latest studio effort. Now with a new live EP under their belt, the guys are hitting up the festival circuit, so this may just be the perfect occasion to see them perform, in case they break-up again in the near future, you know?
When it comes to gangsta rap these days, Gary, Indiana’s Freddie Gibbs is arguably as good as it gets. Live, Gibbs delivers straight energy as he spits bar after bar with confidence and rapidity. Sometimes compared to the late great Tupac Shakur (both physically and lyrically), the American rapper, who’s no stranger to Ottawa, will be making his Bluesfest debut on Thursday, July 14 at 9:30 on the Black Sheep Stage. It’s bound to be hella hype.
Half Moon Run
Also long-listed for the 2016 Polaris Prize is none other than Montreal-based 4-piece Half Moon Run, a band you should absolutely catch at this year’s Bluesfest. The multi-instrumentalists, who now have two excellent albums under their belt, have progressively been gaining steam over the course of the past years, touring extensively across the world. Their live performances are a true reflection of what they strive to project in their music: honest, humble, raw and energetic.
Another Polaris Prize long-listee featured as part of this year’s lineup is none other than the talented Pierre Kwenders. The Montréal-based self-proclaimed Bantou emperor with roots in the Congo, has single-handedly created a new genre of afro-pop music that merges traditional sounds from the Motherland with contemporary ones. He’s fresh, he’s fun, he’s charismatic and he knows how to get people moving. Having seen him a few times live, I can affirm with confidence that he’s one you don’t want to miss.
Merganzer is the experimental pop project of Ottawa-based violonist Mika Posen, who has worked with the likes of Timber Timbre, Agnes Obel and Forest City Lovers. Her debut project Mirror Maze, released at the end of 2015, offers a mesmerizing and enchanting journey complete with sampled strings, homemade beats, soaring sine waves and plaintive melodies. Live, Merganzer achieves what she offers on record and transports audience members on a magical musical moment.
The band name alone is intriguing, and the music in a class of its own. Scattered Clouds aren’t afraid to experiment with weird and moody sounds, and that makes them stand apart from everything else coming out of the National Capital Region these days. It’s film-noir-esque, it’s dark and it’s superb. Catch their set on Thursday, July 7 at 6 p.m. in the Barney Danson Theatre.
Norway DJ/producer/turnablist Cashmere Cat is responsible for a number of club hits and remixes that you’ve probably danced to without knowing he was behind them. If you’re into new r&b, futuristic hip hop and bass music sounds, don’t sleep on his Bluesfest appearance scheduled to take place Saturday, July 16 at 9:30 p.m. Bonus: those who want to keep the party going can also catch Cashmere Cat live at Babylon after Bluesfest.
In terms of new school hip hop, certain artists stand out from the pack and have been gaining recognition for making their mark on the genre thanks to their artistic creativity. Such is the case for Earl Sweatshirt, a 22-year old rapper, producer and DJ originally from Chicago, who was formerly affiliated to Tyler, The Creator’s Odd Future collective. Critically praised for his body of work, Earl has collaborated with a slew of noteworthy artists namely Flying Lotus, BadBadNotGood, and Vince Staples. Now with two studio albums out and a third one in the works, there seems to be no stopping him on his route to success.
Within the Canadian alternative rock scene, local francophone trio Pandaléon are undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. The band from St-Bernardin, Ontario, who signed to Audiogram and has been gaining steam since, draws inspiration from their natural surroundings and rural lifestyles, which gives them a distinctive sound that’s at times calming and at others intense and heavy. Live, they draw in audience members with their perfect synergy and captivating ambient music. See them July 8 in the Barney Danson Theatre.
With such a packed and eclectic lineup, regardless of your taste in music, you’re bound to find your happy place and make new discoveries in the process. For the full lineup and schedule, check out the Bluesfest website. On that note, enjoy your festival experience and be sure to follow Couch Assassin’s pro tips to make the most of your time at Bluesfest!