The first weekend of RBC Bluesfest got off to a strong start, on a day when the bands were finally hotter than the weather.
Bluesfest might be best-known for the major talent it attracts, and Saturday was no exception, with the Canadian rock band Glorious Sons closing out the night to a massive audience.
But Bluesfest is also a hotbed of local talent, even some University of Ottawa talent. Harmonizing folk trio Children of Indigo, made up of U of O students, kicked off the afternoon at the Barney Denson Theatre. The group released their first EP last summer and just released a brand new video for the single “Dark Green.” The band are still in their early days but show a lot of promise — definitely a group to keep on your radar.
The City Stage is, for better or worse, the main attraction though, and the lineup did not disappoint. At just 15 and 16 years old, the two women who make up Moscow Apartment dominated the festival’s biggest stage in the afternoon slot. With a solid — and almost as young — backing band, the duo wowed the audience with their classic indie rock vibes. The two women craft the kind of music they would have been listening to when they were just infants, paying homage to indie of the past while making it their own.
While most people would probably say the City Stage lineup just kept getting better — and the growing size of the crowd hinted at that too — there is a solid argument to be made that the third band of the day, PUP, was the peak. Their third full-length is on the Polaris Prize longlist (here’s hoping it makes the shortlist) and the band has long since proven that they are at the top of Canada’s punk rock scene.
The Toronto four-piece played to one of the most devoted audiences of the day. Once the mosh pits and the crowd-surfing started there was no going back.
Crowd favourites like “Reservoir,” “Sibling Rivalry,” and “If this Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will/ DVP” elicited huge reactions from the audience. If there was one detraction from the show, it was the size of the stage itself — PUP is the type of band where audience members frequently storm the stage, which couldn’t be done at Bluesfest. Security was even a bit tight about crowd surfing, but there was no stopping it. PUP is definitely a band best enjoyed live, if you don’t mind being a bit bruised the next day.
PUP also proved their commitment to the local scene by playing a surprise show at House of Targ later that evening.
After PUP, City Stage switched to a more classic-rock feel, with the straight-ahead, no-nonsense rock and roll of Taking Back Sunday and headliners The Glorious Sons.
The Glorious Sons, in particular, proved why they deserved that headlining spot, filling Lebreton Flats with no-frills arena rock. Frontman Brett Emmons had a commanding stage presence, channelling rock gods like Robert Plant — especially when he whipped out a harmonica — and Kurt Cobain, and the audience was crazy about it, singing along to all their biggest hits. If rock is being eclipsed by hip-hop and pop, you wouldn’t know it judging by the crowd’s devotion to these modern rock heroes.
While City Stage might get the big names, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice if you don’t check out the Videotron and Bluesville stages. It was at the Bluesville Stage that I learned that not everyone comes to Bluesfest for the big-name headliners — there are folks coming out for the jazz and funk, and they are not disappointed.
The funky Dawn Tyler Watson absolutely killed it as she played to a bewitched audience, and world music ensemble The Turbans were easily one of the day’s best acts. The Turbans play Middle Eastern music that you’ll want to party to. Maybe the closest analogy would be Gogol Bordello, but swapping in the Middle East for Eastern Europe.
The band combined cool time signatures (like 11/8) with eclectic instrumentation (guitar, percussion, clarinet, electric oud) to put on an absolute party of a show.
Every stage at Bluesfest has its own unique vibes, from the arena rock of City Stage to Videotron Stage’s indie rock to Bluesville Stage’s funk, blues, and world music and the local spotlight on the Barney Denson Theatre. If you’re checking out Bluesfest this year, make it past the City Stage — you won’t be disappointed.
And if anyone tries to tell you rock is dying, Bluesfest day three is good evidence against that.