Ottawa Bluesfest: Days 3-5
July 10-12, 2009;

[July 10-12, 2009]

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- {Day 3}

The third day of the festival opened with some weak Canadian radio fodder in {The Stills} and some Pelican/Isis-type instrumental work from {City of a Hundred Spires}. {The Dodos} were pumping out their brand of indie rock for a young crowd on a side stage. But the first true show of the evening was {Okkervil River}, all the way from Austin, Texas. The audience was a nice size despite the light showers, and they were receptive to the band's light and poppy indie rock. They were perfect for a slowly setting sun.

Meanwhile on the main stage, {Carlos Verada} was serenading the audience in Spanish while {Sam Roberts} set up on the other big stage. Roberts is a Canadian icon, and the large audience that showed up was excited to see him power through his set. The real destination for tonight, though, was {Steve Earle} (pictured) on a side stage. The size of the crowd swelled right to the stage entrance, and after a few minutes, it was clear 98% were proper fans. The other 2% were impatiently waiting for Copperhead Road, and Earle dealt with them appropriately. Earle ran through most of his hits and a smattering of tunes off his latest album covering Townes Van Zandt songs. Earle managed to keep the political stuff held off until the end, but once he got started, it was hard for him to stop. Thankfully, there was a bus to catch, but I was reluctant to leave despite the political grandstanding. He's a proper songwriter, whether or not his style is for you.

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- {Day 4}

On the fourth day, the torrential rains came, conquered, and pissed off in quick succession, leaving behind {Cotton Jones} in their wake and handed the job of conquering the hearts of early-evening festival goers on Saturday. Conquering may have been a daunting task, but impressing the crowd on hand was easy work for the increasingly Americana-tinged outfit from ex-Page France leader Michael Nau. For reasons unknown, a smaller-scale band was expected for this show -- possibly even the duo of Nau and Whitney McGraw -- but they were six strong and sounded down-to-earth smooth, playing many a song from their excellent Paranoid Cocoon album. All good stuff, but highlights included incredible renditions of “I Am the Changer” and “Blood Red Sentimental Blues.”

After sifting through crowds and taking in a few tracks each from Aussie legends {The Church}, straight-up rocky blues from {Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm}, and some lightweight Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack fare from {Rachael Yamagata}, we chanced upon a down-home acoustic set by {The Punch Brothers} (pictured). This experimental bluegrass quartet -- led by mandolin virtuoso, Nickel Creek veteran, and Jude Law look-alike Chris Thile -- sounded fantastic standing front stage around two vintage mics on the smallest back(woods) stage on the festival grounds. The White Stripes' “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and the first part of Thile’s 40-minute suite “The Blind Leaving the Blind” stuck out as particularly strong. Holders of the bluegrass flame should start marketing this quintet big time, because we like the sound of slick “new bluegrass” over stale “new country” any day.

When {Hey Rosetta} were first added to the lineup, the organizers put them at 2 PM on a Saturday afternoon, which guarantees only the hardcore and family will show up. The organizers must of realized what a firecracker they had on their hands, because the band was moved up to 7 PM on the same day, essentially opening for Brian Setzer. Professional doesn't even begin to describe Hey Rosetta: with 6 members on stage, nobody missed a beat, and the segues between songs were short (and planned). Their variety of upbeat indie rock might inspire someone to make an Arcade Fire connection, but it would be unfounded. Hey Rosetta are a lot more upbeat, and slightly more traditional, but the complete package was phenomenal.

There was no way to anticipate {Ya Ho Wha 13}, but in hindsight it was exactly what the band would want, had some thought been put into it. Entering the indoor theatre in customary robes, Djin Aquarian, Octavius Aquarian, and Sunflower Aquarian set about destroying eardrums by seemingly playing three distinct noise patterns before settling into extreme acid rock grooves and visual trippiness. Technical difficulties aside (the bass side was coming and going throughout the first half of the show), Ya Ho Wha 13 provided a concrete side to their mysterious abstract cult. Everything done was in devoted tribute to spiritual leader and friend Father Yod, who departed from this world in 1975, from direct shout-outs to inspired avant-leaning psychedelic movements.

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- {Day 5}

What can you say about {King Khan and BBQ Show} that hasn’t been said about all great rock ‘n’ roll acts before. Primitive, raw, and entertaining as hell, the duo managed to kick up more dirt and laughs than most modern acts around. Their stage presence is one-of-a-kind, and musically they just embody the rock spirit. In between killer songs, both original garage rave-ups and choice covers (among them a sweet version of The Stones’ “Out of Time”), Khan and Show kicked the crowd into gleeful submission, despite the four separate rainstorms that failed to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. Kahn was especially in good spirits, stuck-walking around the stage in German pith helmet and trying his luck with death metal vox. BBQ Show was a marvel as well, singing, playing guitar, AND keeping time on a snare and bass drum affixed to each foot. This stood as one of the better and most effective shows of the day, but it warmed up the crowd for the upcoming set on the same stage, which would turn out to be one of the more memorable shows of the festival thus far.

Expectations were high for {Girl Talk}'s show, but not for the music itself. Rumours of being naked by the end of the set made their way through the crowd, as two laptops were set up on stage wrapped in plastic to prevent the rain from ruining them. A slow drone started to wrap up the crowd as it grew increasingly intense, until Greg Gillis (pictured) burst from the back of the stage, lept off it, and ran up the center area giving everyone high fives. His brightly-colored assistants had crept out from the sides and were covering the audience in toilet paper shot off the end of leaf blowers. Balloons filled with confetti were floated over the audience until they burst, and pre-filled beach balls were tossed into the crowd after about 10 minutes. It was chaos. Security had to deal with crowd surfers, people climbing scaffolding, girls getting crushed up front, and on stage, Gillis had assembled a group of 20 teenagers to dance constantly behind him. This writer managed to sneak his way up the side and snake his way into that crowd of 20 people. Top 5 concert experiences ever. For an hour and a half, Gillis played everything from "Jump," to "Lightning Crashes," to some dirty south tracks with hilariously direct lyrics. Innuendo is passé. As the show progressed, Gillis removed layers of clothing, but stopped once he was shirtless with just sweatpants on. As the show came to a close, the crowd chanted for an extra 5 fruitless minutes for Girl Talk to come back, but the stage had to be set up for Ani Difranco. A set for which we have no coverage.

[Photos: munroe]

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