The 2014 Ottawa Bluesfest is off to a great start, with two solid days of live music under its belt that have set the tone for the festival’s 20th anniversary edition. The redesigned site plan and eclectic lineup have already proven successful, pleasing festival-goers who’ve come from far and wide to experience one of the most popular and well-organized festivals in the world.
Day 1 of the festival kicked off with a performance by none other than the unique and controversial American rapper Danny Brown. The Detroit-based alternative hip-hop artist with the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude opened the night on the Claridge Stage in front of a predominantly young crowd gathered for a chance to see Fool’s Gold’s own. True to his originality and unique style, Brown, who often takes to Twitter to express his views, hit the stage rocking green hair and dressed in a leather jacket and a Guns ‘N’ Roses t-shirt. Despite being alone with his DJ, the lively Brown brought lots of energy to the stage and made sure the Ottawa crowd was just as “turned up” as he was. His setlist included the tracks Smokin’ and Drinkin‘, Express Yourself, the Purity Ring-assisted 25 Bucks, and the popular single Dip that he delivered as the last track.
Over in the Barney Danson Theatre inside the Canadian War Museum, it was local band Scattered Clouds’ turn to take center stage. The Hull-based trio composed of drummer Jamie Kronick, bassist Phil Charbonneau and keyboardist and guitarist Pierre-Luc Clément, gave a 45-minute set to an intimate but receptive audience. Scattered Clouds is a relatively new band, having been around since 2010, but together the musicians share a special synergy, which helps them deliver experimental post-pop psych-rock sounds that transport listeners through a dark and enigmatic soundtrack that could easily accompany a Hitchcock film. The trio performed songs from their debut EP along with the atmospheric piece People Walk released in September 2013.
Behind the War Museum, many young festival-goers had convened around the Blacksheep Stage to catch Bluesfest returnee RL Grime. The WeDidIt hip-hop, trap and electronic music producer who performed at last year’s festival alongside Baauer, gave the crowd what it wanted: a heavy dose of bass. RL Grime dropped his remixes of Rihanna’s Pour It Up, Benni Bennassi’s Satisfaction, Kanye West’s Mercy, Discolure’s Latch and Sage the Gemini’s Gas Pedal among other head-dropping tracks.
Meanwhile, on the River Stage, the Bluesfest took the festival back to its roots thanks to a performance by the incredible Gary Clark Jr. who won the crowd over with his refreshing contemporary blues rock music. Dubbed the “new Jimi Hendrix”, the talented Grammy-award winning guitarist and singer based out of Austin, Texas gave the crowd something to talk about by offering an excellent set featuring the songs Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round, 3 O’Cock Blues, When My Train Pulls, Please Come Home, Don’t Owe You a Thang, and Numb. Despite having to compete with Blake Shelton who was performing at the same time on the Main Stage, Gary Clark Jr. was on top of his game and it’s safe to say that festival-goers were extremely pleased with his first Ottawa show.
Day 1 of the festival closed off with a set by Montreal-based electronic dance music duo Adventure Club who returned to Bluesfest for a third year. The duo attracted a large crowd of EDM lovers, a sure sign that their popularity is only on the rise. Unfortunately though, the sound was off, and barely audible which was rather disappointing given the nature of the music. Although there were lots of people, it was an underwhelming set and much less appealing than the ones they’ve given in Ottawa before.
Day 2 continued with the likes of Silkken Laumann, Bonobo, Sly & Robbie and Zedd just to name a few of the performers who hit the stage as part of the July 4 lineup.
Ottawa’s own Silkken Laumann and Cold Capital got the evening underway with simultaneous performances happening on the River Stage and Blacksheep Stage.
The folk/blues/rock band Cold Capital opened the night on the Blacksheep Stage for their first Bluesfest appearance. The boys were clearly happy to be a part of this year’s festival and voiced their gratitude on several occasions. The 5-piece group gave a noteworthy 45-minute set featuring the songs Sign Me Up and The Truth from their self-titled debut album.
Meanwhile, the rising Ottawa dance/pop band Silkken Laumann gave their Bluesfest debut over on the picturesque River Stage. A decent crowd of festival-goers were there to check out the 4-piece featuring Palm D’or, Pat Johnson, Adam Saikaley and Rolf Klausener. The group presented material from its debut album “Not Forever Enough” including the songs Dubai, By Baby, Dubai, Giving You Up, and Obvious Water (Yer A Kitten).
Soon after, Simon Green, the man behind Bonobo, hit the River Stage accompanied by a live band comprised of 5 people. The British musician, producer and DJ made his Ottawa return at this year’s Bluesfest and needless to say the music sounded sublime. The live marriage of Green’s sampled melodies with cutting-edge electronics, bass lines and drums, made for a moving performance that festival-goers clearly enjoyed. Bonobo offered a few instrumental pieces to start things off, after which the talented Szjerdene joined the group on stage for a number of songs including the beautiful Towers. Bonobo delivered older as well as new tracks from his latest album “The North Borders” namely Pieces and closed off with an exclusive piece called Flashlight that he played in Canada for the first time at Bluesfest. Bonobo didn’t disappoint and gave a sonically-appealing set, which is a definite highlight of this year’s festival.
The River Stage turned into a reggae dance party later on in the evening as headliners Sly & Robbie gave a feel-good performance worthy of their renowned reputation. The prolific Jamaican duo, made up of drummer Sly Dunbar and guitarist Robert Shakespeare, were in great shape and offered up the goods in a set that had everyone moving and grooving. For the occasion, they performed the songs Hot You’re Hot, Revolution, the popular hit You Don’t Love Me, Night Nurse and In and Out of Love for which special guest Bitty McLean gave a surprise appearance.
Day 2 ended with electronic music once again as popular EDM DJ/Producer Zedd took over the Main Stage with his impressive visuals and light production adding fire and pyrotechnics to the mix. The German-Russian electro house producer attracted a huge crowd of young festival-goers who piled in front of the stage to dance up a sweat for the one hour set. Zedd dropped many popular singles to which the crowd sang along to including his remixes of Bastille’s Pompeii, Discolure’s White Noise and the hit Stay The Night.
Day 3 of the festival continues today with The Split, Matt Andersen, Twin Forks, Lady Gaga and many others. The 2014 Ottawa Bluesfest happens on LeBreton Flats and continues until July 13.