On July 24th, 2016 I attended the Kemptville Live! (exclamation mark theirs) Festival for the first time. I think the festival just a half-hour south of Ottawa started just a few years before – I’m not sure – but it seemed to be growing up in a hurry.
I arrived early in the afternoon to a small collection of teenaged traffic directors who specialized in shrugging, but were otherwise very country-friendly. I parked…I don’t know, perhaps it was the parking lot of a school?, walked about fifty metres to the gate where I exchanged my ticket for a wristband with no waiting whatsoever.
The fest is a three or four day affair that takes place on a football field. No bleachers or anything, just an oblong patch of grass surrounded by a chain link fence – this ain’t America. There were a handful of food options including a ribber setup, several vendors selling stuff and a group of covered picnic tables midfield that served as a beer garden.
Okay, you could just sit there and eat or just relax to get out of the sun as well, but I treated it like a beer garden.
The first act of the day was Sean McCann, from Great Big Sea. I seem to recall he played solo and it was much more laid back than I expected. It might have come off more laid back than McCann expected too. The small crowd seemed to do more sitting and staring than whooping and jumping. Somehow that Newfoundland stuff doesn’t seem to play as well off The Rock.
Next up was Fred Eaglesmith, a guy I have a lot of respect for and a guy I’ve only seen once before (if memory serves). It was great hearing such honest, down-to-earth rough-and-tumble rock and roll on such a blisteringly beautiful day. Eaglesmith got down on the lawnchair sitters (which was very understandable*), stopping one song to call out a lady for sitting there reading a book during their set.
“I don’t go to your f***ing library and play raunchy rock and roll…” he said. Good line.
Time and again he all but begged people to get up and dance. “Used to be a time when going to a rock concert was something special,” he said, “Not something you glanced up at in between checking your emails.”
He actually started seriously making fun of people, asking the crowd what they were going to say the next morning at work, that they had a great time seeing great music at a festival?
“No you didn’t,” he spat. “You sat there and tweeted the whole bloody time, but you won’t tell your co-workers that.”
(I should point out that I didn’t record the show or anything and in trying to recall Fred’s rants I’m surely – if unintentionally – putting words in the guy’s mouth. Except the line about playing rock music in the library. That gem was verbatim…pure Eaglesmith.)
It was a great set but I sure did miss hearing the late, great Willie P. Bennett play mandolin in Fred’s band, as he did for so many years.
The headliner of the day was the incomparable Bruce Cockburn. Like McCann he stood on the stage with nothing but a guitar and his own self, but unlike McCann Bruce can draw in crowds of any stripe with just a few genius-like pulls on those strings. The guy is truly a master guitar player with a guru vibe and a thousand miles of experience, and it’s always a pleasure to see him.
That said, after he played Wondering Where The Lions Are I could hold on no longer. The sunny day had inflicted such a fatigue upon my aging Sunday evening soul that even the promise of thirty more minutes of the Bruce Cockburn Six-String Orchestra could not keep me onsite. I dragged my weary carcass back to the car, rolled down the windows and drove north on the 416 just a tiny bit faster than the law would allow.
Good little festival, this Kemptville Live!, though personally I didn’t feel like an exclamation point at the end.