When engaged in taking in a world-class twelve-day festival like the Ottawa Bluesfest it’s sometimes hard to avoid certain time-consuming diversions. You know, things like gainful employment and the comings and goings of daily life. It’s these inconveniences that sometimes have a person like myself forsaking dinner and dashing out of the house to catch the evening’s headliner, and that’s exactly where I found myself as I headed out on July 12th, 2011 to see John Fogerty.
I arrived onsite just as Fogerty was kicking off his set. My growling stomach was overpowered by some of the catchiest rock staples ever written, as the former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman led his stellar quintet through hits including Green River and Looking Out My Back Door. The sound was incredible and the playing fantastic but soon my rumbling belly could wait no longer; it was time to find something to eat.
A wonderful thing about music festivals in this day and age is the variety of conveniences that can be found onsite, particularly when it comes to dining. I bet one would have had a hard time finding Pad Thai at Woodstock or mini donuts at Altamont, while the Bluesfest hosts these culinary treats and more.
I opted for a jerk chicken sandwich served on a huge slab of focaccia bread with sweet potato fries on the side. The meal seemed to pair well with drab lager so I grabbed one and sat down on the grass at the back of the crowd and enjoyed dinner while continuing to watch the show on the faraway bigscreen
Looking like everyman in jeans and a blue flannel shirt and wielding the guitar like a champion, John Fogerty masterfully led his band through one extended jam after another. The aging rocker somehow manages to remain perpetually in his prime, and oh the guitar collection he brings with him on the road! For each song Fogerty’s tech emerged and handed his boss yet another beautiful six-string. Constantly changing guitars is a fairly common practice at big rock shows and one that normally seems somewhat frivolous, but clearly in the hands of John Fogerty the instrument makes a difference.
Setting aside the obvious example of using a guitar fashioned from a baseball bat for his All-American hit Centerfield there was the blues number that opened with a fiery display of two-hand tapping played on Fogerty’s Eddie Van Halen signature Wolfgang guitar, not to mention a crunchy version of Old Man Down The Road that featured a rare and notoriously raunchy Les Paul Gold Top, and culminated in a colossal three-guitar scalar assault.
And while his soloing lies somewhere between the ferocity of Neil Young and the intensity of Robbie Krieger it is his gritty, ultra-distinctive voice that really makes Fogerty stand out as a performer.
Dinner done and eager to get closer to the energy I re-injected myself into the thick of the crowd for the rest of the concert, which just kept getting better and better. Fogerty possesses that rare gift of being able to fashion a setlist riddled with crowd pleasing numbers that double as vehicles for endless improvisation. In addition to a prolific solo career, as frontman and songwriter for CCR Fogerty developed a veritable cornucopia of hits that influenced an entire generation, alongside bands such as The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band. A California band with a Southern sound and a hippie consciousness, CCR captured the culture so completely that it’s nearly impossible to find a major motion picture set in the late ’60’s that doesn’t include some of their music.
Still sounding every bit like those recordings from so long ago, Fogerty proved he can turn the grind in his vocal chords on and off at will with his cover of Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman which he sang in a voice that actually came close to Orbison’s utterly unmatchable original. In another deviation from his bevy of compositions Fogerty led the enthusiastic crowd through a rousing rendition of Midnight Special but it was the Creedence classics that mattered to most.
Saving a phalanx of his heavy hitters for the end of the show, Fogerty dished up hits like Who’ll Stop The Rain and a blistering Fortunate Son, adding a gritty version of Bad Moon Rising while the moon overhead struggled to shine from behind eerily dark wisps of cloud.
By the time the encore came it seemed like he had played everything, which made for a real head-slapper when Fogerty closed with possibly the biggest of CCR’s string of unforgettable songs, the riverboat fantasy Proud Mary.
What a great show, top-to-bottom, and a pretty good jerk chicken sandwich taboot. Gotta love Bluesfest.