Artist TÖME opened the festival last night. Photo: Christopher Rohde/Fulcrum
Reading Time: 4 minutes

DVSN and Charlotte Day Wilson shine on night one of Ottawa’s beloved music festival

Ottawa Bluesfest/CityFolk has been around for over 25 years in some capacity, and it’s the event of the Ottawa festival season. Typically held across five stages, it brings in performers from around the world. This is the first festival in two years since the 2020 iteration was cancelled for obvious reasons (COVID-19 — duh). Although the festival typically features country, blues, and folk artists, last night had a modern R&B theme, perhaps indicating a pivot to attract a younger demographic.

I missed the two openers, but arrived in time to see the two headlining acts, DVSN and Charlotte Day Wilson. Both are relevant artists of the moment. Day Wilson has just released her first LP, Alpha, which has been lauded by critics. DVSN was discovered by Drake in 2015 and is signed to his OVO record label. 

DVSN’s set started at 8 p.m. on the dot. Their opener was a song about pulling out — namely his reluctance to. “Out of what?” you may ask. Think about it. The next song was also about taking one’s dick out — the twist in this number was that one could put it back in. One song of this nature was enough. Two songs in a row, though? Off to a rough start. 

Thankfully, track three was not about the same subject matter and the songs moved to more romantic and sensual rather than explicitly and graphically sexual. You know, normal things to sing about. Singer Daniel Daley is so talented he could almost pull it off (he’s already pulled it out). His falsetto is exactly what the genre calls for and contrasted wonderfully with his dramatic expression when he sprang up the octave to belt out a high note.

I’m assuming the other half of the DVSN duo, the production side, was the DJ hidden to the side of the stage. No matter, because Daley had enough charisma all by himself. He worked hard to hype up the crowd, frequently asking for song requests and telling us how much of a good time he was having. The energy was good. There were lots of couples hugging and lots of young men wearing clothes and accessories from October’s Very Own — including Daley himself, donning a palm-sized gold pendant of the brand’s signature owl logo.

The second half of the set was more memorable and groovy than the first. DVSN used a  sample of Drake’s verse from Rihanna’s 2016 song, “Work,” and mournfully crooned over it, an interesting and fun pastiche. Next, they played their hit “No Cryin,” their past collab with Future. The song was kindly dedicated to us ladies. We deserve some shoutouts if we always have to work and we can’t cry.

One gripe I had was that he announced the vibe before every song instead of letting the songs speak for themselves. DVSN makes good music. The songs are good. Each of them has a story to tell and each of them has a distinct vibe and imagery that they conjure. They don’t need to tell us a bedtime story before each song.

Instrumentally, the sparely used lo-fi piano meshed well and was an overall good stylistic choice. In the sexier numbers, an arpeggiated slap bassline emerged along with the occasional synth. As a rule, the instrumentals were understated, and really allowed his voice to take centre stage — quite literally, as Deval was alone onstage with only canned backing tracks to support him. His set closed with a couple of new releases written with Ty Dolla Sign, a reminder of DVSN’s stardom.

His positive force left the crowd in a good mood as we waited patiently for Charlotte Day Wilson to show. A few minutes late, Day Wilson eventually glided onstage and immediately sat down at her keyboard, joining her band mid-song. Her band was made up of a drummer, guitarist, bassist, a keyboard player, and three backing vocalists.

Bouncing between her keyboard, guitar, and saxophone, Day Wilson looked like a multi-instrumentalist Uma Thurman. The aesthetics of her performance were impressive. She wore an all-white casual workwear ensemble, juxtaposing her against her backing vocalists, who were equally casual but dressed in black. Her deep coffeehouse jazz singer voice had a hard time reaching us, though. The bass drum and key bass were mixed entirely too loud, oddly we couldn’t hear the bass player. More importantly, the overbearing sonic low end swallowed up Day Wilson’s soft voice.

Day Wilson is definitely an R&B artist, but she’s one that likes to play around with genre. Her other collaborations include singing for the Toronto jazz outfit BADBADNOTGOOD and working with Daniel Caesar. These outside influences were apparent in the extended breakdown in her third song, which featured a rock n’ roll groove and some jazzy improvised guitar work.

The tail end of her set was full of her hits, namely her breakthrough single “Work,” and a song from her new album, “I’ll Take Care of You”. Although her technical skills were not lacking, Day Wilson seemed exhausted by the end of her hour-long performance. She sheepishly revealed that it was her first show in almost two years, so I can’t blame her.

Both DVSN and Day Wilson were great performances that I count myself lucky to have seen. Anecdotally, the fans of both these artists seemed to be mutually exclusive. I struck up a conversation with one man who assured me he was only there to see Charlotte Day Wilson. On the flipside, some DVSN fans who talked throughout Day Wilson’s set had never heard of her and kept forgetting her name, resulting in a game of loud, drunk telephone (Charlotte Gay? Scarlett Day?). Genre-wise, the two artists had more in common than not and the crowd seemed to enjoy both — but it was clear that most attendees had only really come to see one.