071306 Etta James/Mofro/Tony D/Konono #1, Ottawa, ON

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Being a Thursday, July 13th, 2006 found me stuck at work teaching children and adults alike the secrets of the phrygian mode, the merits of alternate picking, and the solo to Stairway to Heaven, all in thirty-minute chunks of time that were simultaneously financially rewarding and Bluesfest-eating.  Heck, I was rewarded so heavily that I missed the entirety of Dan Bern’s second consecutive early set down at Festival Plaza.  I did, however, arrive in time to catch most of Tony D’s set of consistently-great crunchy sidestage blues, after which I accompanied my backstage pass backstage where I hung out with Tony’s cooler full of beers and the lead singer from Mofro (I’m pretty sure this was before they were called JJ Grey & Mofro).  Nice guy, and he was really impressed with Tony’s band.  We talked about touring and borders and the usual, he told me some great stories from when they were touring with BB King and Jeff Beck.  The beers ran out so I headed to the main stage to see Etta James (1938-2012).

There’s no arguing that Etta was a legend and she was a little bit feisty too, but most importantly she could still pump the tunes out with the strength and talent that accompanies such a lifetime of experience.  It made for a fun show but with so much different music reverberating around the plaza I felt bound to ramble.

I headed to the Black Sheep Stage to check out an African group called Konono #1 that was centred around three thumb-piano players.  It was a great sound, a trance-inducing off-kilter loop that emanated an unmistakeable African vibe.  Shortly after I arrived a friend informed me that the band had been playing the same groove for the last twenty minutes so I stuck around for five more before heading back to check out Mofro, which I watched drunkenly from sidestage.  Man, I like Mofro, and to this day I’ve not heard a single note of their recorded music.  

I was still standing when Mofro finished so I injected myself into their post-show chill-out, which was mostly just me loudly insisting that they should play in Canada more often.  Oh, I was ever so effervescent, slurring details about bars in cities that I’m sure nobody in the room gave a damn about.  But sitting (as I was) on their beer cooler forced them to continually engage me.  This strategy is especially effective with bands that aren’t big enough to travel with their own security crew.  

It’s just another of the rock and roll tips I’ve collected over the years. 

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