Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest 2011 [Lebreton Flats; Ottawa, ON Canada]

Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest 2011: otherwise known as the year Ottawa tried to viciously murder Cheap Trick with an outdoor festival stage. The band was unharmed save for their driver, who was later seen leaving the hospital with a few topless nursing residents the band in a stolen ambulance (rented Elantra). The picture above is the only one I took of their show. Notice the incredible hat.

But prior to watching an International News Incident occur, a music festival happened. Ottawa’s Bluesfest started in 1994 as a festival true to its name: it featured blues and nothing else. Bit by bit, the organizers added more acts that stretched the definition of the genre, until finally breaking down around the beginning of the 00s and started adding big acts completely unrelated to the genre. The festival has continued to expand beyond the title and now features 200+ acts every year, over 5 different stages (including a sixth indoor stage, free shows at a local mall, and band workshops). In 2011 (TMT Review), the festival featured 12 days of ludicrous weather, an Escher-designed stage layout, red-shirted security goons embarrassingly coined by festival attendees as “the fun police,” and Soundgarden. We watched Chris Cornell tear through “Black Hole Sun” a football field away before witnessing Bootsy Collins show up the 90s superstars two stages away. All the talk of blues being the attraction at Bluesfest has been abandoned.

The Flaming Lips did their thing.

In the middle of the afternoon.

On a side stage.

It was either them or Soundgarden, and I guess the festival chose wisely because I’ve never seen so many people crammed into Lebreton Flats (where the event is held).

The organizers decided to let a few electronic acts sneak in this year (after Girl Talk was a massive success a few years ago), and Skrillex was the highlight with a bass-heavy set that had fans breaking down the barricades in jubilation before the third song.

Skrillex actually had to stop the music for almost 10 minutes while security sorted the mess out. It wasn’t a great year for the equipment rental company (name withheld because they’re probably in hot water already, and I’m also too lazy to look that kind of thing up).

Buck 65 braved what he described as a brutal head-cold to play opposite John Fogerty.

Spending the first 10 minutes of his set just staring at his audience with his hands outstretched, the gravelly voiced Canadian rapper treated the healthy turnout to a variety of his output, including some new material that holds promise.

At some point, Mr. 65 wondered aloud to the crowd why they were here when Mr. CCR was playing on the main stage.

There wasn’t much of a cheer for encouragement, but I’m pretty sure nobody left either.

Trampled By Turtles accidentally revealed they are instrument-playing robots designed to dazzle humans with virtuoso performances.

No group of meat sacks can play instruments that hard and for that long without having some kind of robotic enhancement.

I hope one of them has laser hands. That’d be sweet.

Later that same night, Billy Talent put on a solid top 40 rock show.

They pose well.

Tim Robbins (Mr. Fuckin’ Shawshank himself) played guitar with a band (The Rogues Gallery) in front of people hoping he’d do some lines from The Hudsucker Proxy (he didn’t).

On the final day, when I was pumped to see Galactic, Charlie 2na, Death Cab, The John Butler Trio, and even Ra Ra Riot, the main stage collapsed.

While we stood huddling in the Canadian War Museum (next to the festival grounds) waiting for instructions like good Canadians would, I wondered if the collapse was a sign the festival has grown too large.

With each year, the organizers have added more acts, but also more people, more expensive beer in longer lines, more security, less bathrooms, less volunteers who know where things are, less folk acts (organizers bought the rights to the local folk festival last year), and just honestly more hassle.

There are a variety of opinions floating around the city on how to improve the festival for 2012, but the overwhelming consensus is to fix the dang beer lines. Forty-five minutes for beer is too long. #firstworldproblems

The rest of the photos:

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