Saturday, July 08, 2006

Bluesfest: Day 1

Jonathan Migneault

Yesterday Ottawa's biggest music festival finally started. Every year the Cisco System's Bluesfest gives Ottawa residents and visitors a ten day musical celebration in the greatest tradition. In recent years it has offered an eclectic lineup that has gone above and beyond just the blues. This year will surely be no different. Performers as diverse as Solomon Burke, Broken Social Scene and Wilco will entertain audiences whilst they make new fans.

Mocking Music will provide extensive coverage of the festivities. Calum and I have both acquired festival passes and will be in attendance almost every day. I've decided to volunteer this year and will spend a lot of my time selling merchandise while I take in the atmosphere. If you are attending the festival you should come say hi. Just look for the tall thin guy with glasses, in his early 20s, selling t-shirts at the main merchandise tent (near the main stage).

Now, with no further ado, my coverage of the festival's first day.

Because I was volunteering I arrived a full two hours before the first performers took the stage (16h). This turned out to be a great thing because I was able to catch Great Big Sea's practice session. Newfoundland's most popular folkloric band played a few old favourites and had a small crowd of volunteers and early birds on their feet. The short "set" brought back memories of my childhood when my mother, a sucker for all things from the Maritimes, would often play their sophomore album, Up.

While Great Big Sea played away I got the chance to meet my fellow volunteers. They were all awesome, though not surprisingly, most were high school students. In Ontario, students are required to do at least 40 hours of community service to get their high school diploma. And I thought forced community service was reserved for inmates and traffic law violators...

Over the next four hours I sold official Bluesfest attire and band merch, for Great Big Sea and Calexico (I'll get to them later), to hordes of customers who didn't mind paying $35 for some of the ugliest t-shirts I had ever seen. My supervisor, Jenny, asked me to put Calexico's t-shirts in a box that was out of the way. She thought no one would buy any of their stuff. Although she was a very kind and sweet person, I was glad to see her proven wrong.

While I worked, two bands played the main stage. First was Brock Zeman. The Ottawa native won a competition at a local club, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and was honoured with the festival's opening spot. His style of folk-rock fit well with the other main stage performers. Next was one of Canada's more popular country musicians, Corb Lund. I was amazed to find out that his song "(Gonna) Shine Up My Boots" was featured in the awesome B-movie, Slither.

Once my shift had ended I headed to the Blacksheep Stage. Named after the best music venue in the Ottawa area, it has gained a solid reputation with diehard music fans. It is really the festival's best place to find those pleasant surprises. Before Calexico's headlining set I came across one such pleasant surprise:

Seu Jorge

Seu Jorge is best known in North America as the guy in film The Life Aquatic who sang the Bowie songs in Portuguese. His performance in that movie, however, did not prepare me for the brilliance of his live set. He played a fun set of South American folk music that had the entire crowd on its feet. Jorge had a joie de vivre that has become synonymous with his home country, Brazil.

I had a chance to speak with him later that night and he was as engaging in conversation as he was on the stage. It was obvious that he loves his country and does not take his role as an unofficial ambassador lightly. In addition to The Life Aquatic Jorge was also in the modern masterpiece, City of God. The film tells the story of two friends as they follow different paths in Rio de Janeiro's slums. One finds a way out through photography while the other descends into a violent life of crime.

The film holds a special significance for Jorge because he was of the lucky ones. He found a way out of the dead ends from his childhood through his music. Now he travels the world and raises awareness about the constant inequalities and extreme poverty that exist in his country.

If you ever have the chance to see or meet Seu Jorge, take it. He is an amazing musician and a wonderful human being. While most of the other artists were hanging out backstage he was out talking to the crowd and enjoying the atmosphere. In a word: awesome.

Next was one of alternative country's most influential bands:


They opened their 19-song set on a high note with "Roka." Calexico are at their best in concert when they incorporate Mexican elements into their music. The sound of the Mariachi-style trumpets gave me goosebumps on more than one occasion. Joey Burns took the opportunity to practice his French, "Bonjour.... Merci beaucoup...." in a city that is known to promote billingualism.

Other highlights included "Cruel", "All Systems Red" and "Si tu Disais." The latter song featured Burns' girlfriend(?) with a sexy, sultry rendition of the French lyrics. For the encore they played "Corona" and "Guero Canelo." Both songs received a strong response from the audience: composed of college students and baby boomers alike. Their entire set, in fact, had people shaking their hips and clapping their hands in delight.

It was a great experience and one that I hope can be repeated if they ever decide to return.

Well, that's it for our first day of coverage. Stay tuned tonight (or tomorrow morning) for day 2.

Seu Jorge - Life On Mars

Great Big Sea - Up
Calexico - Garden Ruin
Seu Jorge - Cru

Comments on "Bluesfest: Day 1"


Anonymous Jeremy said ... (8/7/06 1:45 pm) : 

Actually, even though the printed setlist included "All Systems Red" and "Corona," neither made the cut. They ended the main set with "Crystal Frontier" and only played "G├╝ero Canelo" in the encore.

Anyway, that's just a minor point. You're definitely right about how great the set was. Thanks for the recap.


Blogger Jonathan Migneault said ... (9/7/06 12:55 pm) : 

Wow, I'm really sorry about that. I'm not exactly a diehard Calexico fan so I asked for the setlist to make sure I didn't get anything wrong.

I suppose next time I should make sure it's accurate.

The more you know...


Blogger mel said ... (10/7/06 12:49 am) : 

And... uhm... Newfoundland's not a part of the Maritimes. They're just NS, NB and PEI.


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