July 7th, 2005 marked the beginning of my journalism non-career*. After posting with much digital verbosity on a local music-geared message board the admin of the site asked me if I would like a free media pass to the Ottawa Bluesfest in return for daily reviews. The daily posts I had been voluntarily writing were essentially reviews already so to me it was all the same and I happily took the pass.
I was pretty excited to see that the pass was actually a lanyard, and I ended up spending day one of the festival seeing what special privileges it might bring me. Turns out, not many.
Though I had every intention of arriving when the gates opened in an attempt to milk my new status as much as possible, a surprise flood in my basement brought with it a menacing pair of tattooed and scarred Turkish carpet men who arrived late and broke all promises of finishing their work on time. Long story short, I made it to the Bluesfest venue on the lawn of City Hall just in time for the evening’s headliner, War.
On the way in I noticed what was to be my lanyard’s only consistent special benefit: my bag was not searched upon entry. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of the next ten days I saved a lot – and I mean a lot – of money on beer. And while that sounds pretty awesome on the surface of it, I had been assuming that there would be a magical free manna-and-beer garden for media pass holders so this “benefit” was actually a bit disappointing.
Once inside the gate I headed straight to stage left and asked if my yellow pass (yes, despite what the photo seems to show the pass is indeed yellow) would grant me access up the stage stairs for a few pics. Nope, blue passes only. Undaunted, I headed to stage right where I quickly discovered that everyone was making up their own rules, just as I had predicted. I spent the next ten minutes watching/reporting/taking pictures from sidestage, where my biggest takeaways were a) stagehands with open laptops that look like they are monitoring sound or doing lights are often just playing video games, and b) every player onstage was pretty damn great.
The guitarist and sax player were New York City hotshots, the young flashy bass player was from Ecuador, the entire percussion section was Mexican, as was (I believe) the harmonica player. Bandleader Lonnie Jordan led the ensemble with a fresh-feeling verve and sonic excitement that can only come from years and years of experience. Never mind that much of that experience hinges on relentlessly performing a mindless hit song that just happens to centre around one of pop music’s most recognizable harmonica riffs. But even while we waited for Low Rider to make it’s inevitable late-set appearance War had the audience dancing hard, and once I pocketed my little point-and-click camera I joined them.
After a few more songs I descended the stage stairs and set off in search of media hospitality. I found what I hoped was it but a security dude with a blue pass assured me I was in the wrong place. Squinting past the gate I was forced to agree…there was not a yellow pass in sight, just a bunch of purple VIP lanyards.
Ah well, I decided to venture into the proletariat section where I wandered among the dancing masses until I found a gaggle of friends with which to enjoy $5 plastic beers. It was about this time the band onstage reminded us all that they were not in fact one-hit wonders when they started playing their other hit, a timeless little chant-along called Why Can’t We be Friends? that inspired the entire crowd to simultaneously turn to their neighbour and say, “Oh yeah, they wrote this one too.”
I was surprised that they went right into Low Rider out of Why Can’t We be Friends? rather than saving it for the encore but I was even more surprised that such a seasoned act would even play an encore after a doubleshot of their only two notable songs. But they did, and of course it was the equivalent of a musical wet blanket being thrown onto a crowd of smiling drunken dancing high-fiving low riders.
But really, that was just a tiny misstep in what proved to be a shockingly good set to open the 2005 Bluesfest. (Not that they were a bunch of Bruce Springsteens up there or anything, but given the minimal expectations from a group like War the band was great.)
For my part, in lieu of finding any onsite snack trays or yellow-pass deli plates I went straight from the festival site to the Elgin Street Diner where I enjoyed one of their legendary poutines before heading home to my freshly carpeted basement where I stayed up for the next three hours drinking and typing. And drinking.
Some elements of journalism seem to come rather naturally to me.
*Though I actually have made a few bucks here and there from writing, financially speaking I can only consider journalism a hobby.