July 4th, 2008 was a Friday and I sauntered onto the grounds of the Ottawa Bluesfest a full hour or more after the gates opened, putting me onsite just before 7pm. Of course the sound bylaw dictates an 11pm curfew, but when I think back on the vast array of music I witnessed on that warm summer’s eve it’s hard to believe that I squeezed it all into a mere four hours.
After surrendering my ride to the Bluesfest’s bicycle valet for the first time ever (I would come to use the free service probably about a hundred times over the next bunch ‘o years) I headed straight to the main stage for Corb Lund’s set and was pretty much blown away from the get-go. Though his style pigeonholes him somewhere close to Steve Earle you can tell he doesn’t think about such constrictions when he writes. His songs seem to follow a butterfly-like muse far and wide while his innate roots corral him back into his undeniable alt-something sound.
I stuck around for nearly his entire set before slipping around the site to the Black Sheep Stage where the Dave Bidini Band was just starting up. M’lady and I stretched out a blanket on one of the rising grassy moguls to watch the show and soon we had attracted a crowd of twenty friends, such was the pervasive social nature of the Bluesfest back then. And we were all treated to a fantastic set of music too, as the wordy Rheostatic led his backing band through a string of successful musical experiments disguised as fringe pop songs. The music was so refreshing and so was Bidini’s set-ending maneuver. Breaking down the audience/artist barrier, after singing his final syllable Bidini casually lowered himself down from the centre of the stage and walked away, disappearing anonymously into the crowd as his band flailed frantically on their final chords of the evening.
The great company and my love of traditional African music urged me to stick around for Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab, who were fun enough to keep me at the Black Sheep Stage for a while longer but underwhelming enough to allow me to depart well before they were finished. Good thing too, because I ended up at Allen Toussaint’s set over at the brand-spanking new Roots Stage.
The stage setting was obviously poorly thought out but booking Toussaint certainly was not. The New Orleans legend was simply fantastic despite a hugely annoying soundbleed coming from the much-too-close River Stage. It was a treat when he mentioned that his most covered song was made famous through Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead before launching into Get Out Of My Life. Later in the set Toussaint reminded me of my childhood Devo obsession when he played his song Working in the Coal Mine.
As good as he was, my curiosity got the best of me and I picked myself up and went over to the Main Stage to check out this Feist character. And you know what? She was really, really good. I knew Feist mostly from television commercials and her stint as one of the many members of Broken Social Scene, but this performance showed me why she was the one to take herself farther. When she was up she was up and when she was moody you caught the mood, even hundreds of metres from the stage. She played some solo material that proved how seasoned of a performer she was, and with her band behind her she proved that pop need not be pap. Without a doubt Feist was worthy of her headlining slot, and I’m glad I decided to give her my attention.
M’lady and I cut out a song early in order to beat the rush on the bike lockup and we were on the path heading home before the Peace Tower read 11pm. Corb Lund, Feist, Allen Toussaint, Orchestra Baobab, and Dave Bidini, and dozens of friends. Whew! With the gates opening at noon for the next two days I was gonna need to get some sleep!