070614 Drive-By Truckers/Violent Femmes/St. Vincent/Dave and Phil Alvin, Ottawa, ON

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July 6th, 2014 was another typical evening at the marvellous Ottawa Bluesfest, an evening that included something esoteric and interesting, something classic and unmissable, some Southern truth and euphoria, and even some legitimate old-timey blues.  And also par-for-the-course: everything was tons of fun and of rather high quality.

Shunning a pleasant Sunday afternoon of programming I arrived onsite in time to catch the Drive-By Truckers playing on the main stage at 6pm.  You know you’re in for a good night of music when a band as clever and creative, as twangy and notorious, as respected, revered, and downright awesome as DBT are assigned a time slot that is essentially opening for the opening band.  Of course none of this mattered to anyone involved, as the Truckers dealt their usual southern morality ass-kickin’ pickup truck rock & roll to a pre-sunset crowd that was ready and willing to be double-fisting despite the early hour.  I know I was, anyway.  

M’lady and I had spent an epic and odd evening with the band’s new bass player a few months earlier in New Orleans, a night that started in a bar on Frenchmen Street and ended in a friend’s hotel room with the sun beginning to light the city outside.  And the whole time no matter what anyone said to the guy his answer was some variation of, “I play the bass; it’s what I do.”  In short, the dude loves playing the bass, and I distinctly remember him utterly stealing this show solely because of the look of enlightened bliss that enveloped his beaming face with every single note he played.  He wasn’t flashy or trying to show anyone up, but as soon as I pointed out the formidable joy plastered across the bass player’s face to any of my posse of friends that was it; they could no longer look at anything else.

After the Truckers finished with us I headed to my default stage of unknown surprises, the Black Sheep Stage, where I caught the last half of Dave and Phil Alvin’s set, a six-string deep strumming harmonica-laced flat-five upbeat moan and groan that accounts for the old-timey blues component of the evening.  It was a great sunset set to take in whilst sitting with friends on the undulating artificial hill that elevates gradually away from the concrete patio that surrounds the stage, but in truth I was just killing time waiting for The Violent Femmes slot on the main stage.

I was completely oblivious to The Violent Femmes until I went to university, and in retrospect I can’t imagine that anyone could have graduated from higher education in the ’90’s without a capella elevator slam dancing to Blister in the Sun at least once.  In the end they were fine but aside from a few bursts of nostalgic fun it was a rather missable set.

There are some out there who might be shocked that I selected for the final set of the evening the esoteric and interesting St. Vincent on the side stage rather than the astoundingly successful Lady Antebellum on the main stage, but I suspect those are people who don’t know St. Vincent (or don’t know me; when it comes to new country, well, there’s gotta be a whole lot of nothing else going on to draw my attention and St. Vincent is the very opposite of “nothing”.)  

St. Vincent is such a uniquely talented creative force she needs to be seen.  She is subtly quirky and over-the-top talented, a guitarist’s guitarist and a magnetic frontman*.  Almost to the point of being, if I may, a little Prince-y.

So like I say, just another night out at Ottawa’s greatest summer festival.

*In this usage “frontman” is a shortened form of “front manipulator”, as in: ”One who controls the main [front] part of the stage through skilled showmanship…err…showpersonship.”

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