During the 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest I was tasked with writing daily glowing reviews of the festival for the festival itself in exchange for a pass to the festival. This proved to be more daunting than it may seem – at least it did to a rank amateur like myself – so I would often try to come up with little themes to help me weave a narrative through my daily romps. Anything to avoid a template-like then-I-saw-this-act-then-I-saw-that-act non-style of narrative.
In keeping with my agreement I felt compelled to be onsite every possible minute the gates were open and I arrived at LeBreton Flats on July 15th, 2011 just as those gates were being flung back. Scouring the schedule I discovered a thematic thread that could take me from open-to-close, and so it was that I kept my evening limited strictly to local music, or at least as local as I could.
I started where the fest did, with Ottawa-based progressive newgrass quintet Silver Creek on the main stage at 6pm sharp. A half-dozen songs and two zillion notes later I sauntered over to the river stage where Cuff The Duke were playing to a crowd nearly as large as Silver Creek had pulled. Though Cuff The Duke weren’t local per se, the Oshawa, Ontario surf band toured their reverb-drenched Fender-smacking grooves through Ottawa so often they might as well have been.
For what was to me the most local music of the day if not the week I ducked into the Bluesfest’s only indoor stage – the oft-overlooked Barney Danson Theatre – where I caught half of Ashley Newall’s set. Ashley has been a constant on the Ottawa music scene forever and his music reflects it, often referencing local landmarks like Gatineau Park or Rideau Street in his lyrics. Bringing his show even closer to home was his band, which for this show included Brendan Allistone on guitar and Jack McGregor on drums, guys who I’ve played music with and both of whom taught with me at the Folklore Centre at some time or another.
There’s a good chance that the inspiration for my daily theme had come straight from the evening’s program that advertised an all-Canadian lineup billed as (what else?) The Canadian Show at the Just For Laughs comedy series that followed Ashley’s set in the theatre.
I stuck around for the first two Canuckistanian comedians, who took scathing comedic bites out of everything from Tim Horton’s to Stephen Harper. ADD-fuelled improv-meister Joey Elias took swipe after swipe, filling his time with his impromptu heckling of everyone seated in the front row while Ottawa-born expat Angelo Tsarouchas delivered a killer funny-‘cuz-it’s-true set based on his experiences as a Canadian living and travelling abroad. I like comedy; it’s funny. And when it’s done right it looks like shooting fish in a barrel. You’d think i would go more often.
Outside the sun was setting and Nova Scotia rapper Classified was ending his set on the main stage with his recent hit Oh…Canada, a history lesson and patriotic love letter delivered in a feast of rhymes that parleyed quite well into my theme, if one uses their journalistic freedom to include the whole country in the term “local”. And of course to deny journalistic freedom would be blatantly un-Canadian. Un-local even.
But I digress. And upon Classified’s last note…er…rhyme I digressed even farther. At least far enough to be out of earshot when Blue Rodeo started their set on the main stage.
Oh sure, one could argue that geography being what it is Toronto’s Blue Rodeo counts as more “local” that Kitchener-Waterloo’s Danny Michel, but if you want to argue that with me you’d have to come to the side stage to do it. You won’t catch me at Blue Rodeo, a band I have steadfastly and successfully avoided all of these fifty-odd years (some odder than others).
And so Danny Michel closed out my evening of live Canadiana, and a fine choice it was. I was actually surprised that he managed to keep so many people away from the Rodeo, but Michel’s experience and ease onstage lends his music an honesty and playfulness that clearly had hold over a sizeable following. Leading a band that elevated bouncy klezmer-like folk music to a ballsy Crazy Horse-like fervour, Danny Michel delivered a set of integrity-laced blatant Canadiana feel-good pop that could have filled a Diamond Mine.
At one point the electric troubadour sent his band into the wings and played a few solo pieces, even calling out for requests. With solid picking and a wonderfully biting tone bursting from his Gretsch guitar augmenting his endlessly clever lyrics Michel’s set beneath a blazing full moon was a sublime maple syrup ending to a wonderfully Canadian nearly-local Friday night at LeBreton Flats.
Afterwards I went home and stayed up until about 5am writing it up. Gosh, I found writing those things so much harder than writing these things. It’s amazing how many journalistic barriers fall away when you’re allowed to use words like “I”, “me”, and “drunk”. At least they do for a rank amateur like myself.