Despite an early June that was speckled with a couple of legendary concerts at the hands of The Rolling Stones (which followed a rather busy May that was replete with another Stones show, Merle Haggard, Mötley Crüe and so much more), to me the summer concert season doesn’t officially kick off until the opening night of the Ottawa jazz festival, which in 2013 was Thursday, June 20th.
And it was a great festival too, with amazing performances from Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis, David Byrne, Wayne Shorter and just so many others. And what better way to kick it all off than an opening night set from Mr. New Orleans himself, the legendary Dr. John.
Though I grew up with Right Place Wrong Time preprogrammed into my musical bones the same way songs like Amazing Grace and Up On Cripple Creek were, when I finally became aware of who Dr. John actually was I discovered that he was already very familiar to me. It turns out I already knew the stocky, lithe, and flamboyant musical professional through his Muppet caricature Dr. Teeth. As a youth Electric Mayhem was one of my favourite bands and as an adult I know why: it was a dream group made up of felt homages to some of the greatest musicians of all time. Like Animal isn’t exactly Keith Moon. As if Floyd isn’t Duane Allman (despite playing the bass instead of the guitar). Ironically I suspect Janis is more Joni than Joplin and while I wish that Rolph was Tom Waits the piano-playing bathmat predates the gravel-voiced whiskey balladeer so it can’t be so. Instead the piano dog is an amalgam of every lounge piano player you’ve never heard of but have seen in all the movies. I could easily go on but I’ve already digressed well beyond my usual allowance.
Anyway, after an instrumental warmup from his band Dr. John hit the stage wearing a purple felt cape and big floppy hat that made him look positively Muppety. He started straight into a swampy Wang Dang Doodle and just got more voodoo from there on out. He had an excellent band with him (of course) that helped keep the butts wiggling and the freshly tapped $5.50 drafts flowing. He played his hit of course, but Dr. John is so much more than a one-hit wonder that I hesitate to even type the phrase. I mean, in certain circles (like the entirely of Louisiana, for example) every song Dr. John cares to play is a hit. Like Goodnight Irene and Makin’ Whoopie, both of which he played at this show as if they were his very own.
I can’t tell you why I skipped out on the late-night tent offering and I’m afraid to look at an old program lest I discover that I skipped something unskippable. I suspect I was feeling tired and/or lazy and/or cold on what turned into a chilly night, but maybe it’s better if I just say Dr. John had already given me enough musical joy for the evening. And after all, it was only opening night.