One really great element of Ottawa’s annual jazz festival that I often overlook in these missives are the free lunchtime concerts that happen daily in (or around) Confederation Park. On any given sunny afternoon in late June I knew that an hour of high-quality local entertainment was simply a short, pleasant bike ride away. I took that ride often, especially when one of my good friends happened to be on the gig.
June 24th, 2015* was one of those days, so along the Rideau Canal I rode to go see Mike Essoudry’s new band The Sun Crescent Barbeque Stompers who were performing in a big white tent on the lawn of City Hall. I arrived, ducked inside the flap and stood there amused by the awesome music and amazed that it was being enjoyed by such a sparse crowd of perhaps a dozen or so and no more. I needn’t have been shocked. Teensy tiny crowds [sic] are par for the course when it comes to free lunchtime jazz. I know; I’ve played my share. Ah well, at least they weren’t playing for the door (er…tent flap).
I remember being taken with the guy on the left playing the mandolin. I was surprised that a) he was so damn good and such a unique player, and b) that I had never seen the guy before. Not only did I get out to local shows an awful lot, but lots-to-most of those shows were jazz shows. Besides, half of my friends are local performing musicians. Where had this guy come from?
I asked Mike about him later. Turns out his name was/is Lucas Haneman and his main instrument is guitar, not mando. Also turns out he is blind, which explained his somewhat curious mannerisms but is otherwise trivial to the main points, which are that Lucas is a heck of a creative musician and a super-nice guy besides (as I found out when he agreed to perform at an Instruments For Africa benefit concert that I’d organized). Anyway, it was a great set by a band that existed for just a short time and it introduced me to a whole new Ottawa player. And all that before 1pm!
Appearing at the festival proper that evening was one of the big headliners of the season, Huey Lewis and the News. I had seen the band back in the ’80’s before they were retro and while that show was really great and the band was certainly worthy of continued success I was rather amazed that they were still headlining festivals and had not yet been relegated to casino status. But then, I had never heard of Yacht Rock before. Turns out there was a whole new old genre coming ‘round that centred around nostalgia towards cheesy AM staples from the ’70’s and 80’s, and in a situation like that a guy like Huey Lewis could only be a king. Turns out what we really want is an old drug.
Now, let’s just ignore the tired issue of whether or not a pop group like HL and the N “belongs” at a jazz festival – they do – and skip right to the part where they put on a really fun show in front of a huge crowd that ate it up like it was Back To The Future. Everyone got drunk and swayed arm-in-arm and sang along and it was really quite awesome. Just like we did the next night when Steve Miller played.
But same as it was, that’s another story.
*Happy Birthday Mom!!!