July 4th was day two of the Ottawa Bluesfest’s 2014 edition and it kept me busy! So busy that you’d think it was a Saturday but no, this lowly Thursday evening held plenty of promise.
First up was Darius Rucker, a man who had sold tens of millions of CD’s as a Hootie (or was he a Blowfish?) before making the abrupt switch from retro frat-house demigod to unlikely country artist (I say unlikely because he is the sole member of Conway Twitty’s “et al”). Given his experience and connections it shouldn’t be a surprise that Rucker effortlessly transcended the oddity factor and put on a solid set of catchy new-country-without-being-icky. I’m glad I saw him though I doubt Darius can count on my concert dollar if he ever comes to town with his own ticketed show.
The Bluesfest’s slick double-ended main stage setup meant that Rucker’s “Thank you Ottawa!” was still echoing across the concert pitch when Journey (yes, Journey) struck their first early ’80’s cheeseball power chords on the opposing stage, meaning one merely had to spin around to go from one guilty pleasure to another.
Of course Journey turned in a standard rock arena show, complete with standalone guitar and piano solos that turned into quasi-medleys. There were hits aplenty and a few surprises, like The Star Spangled Banner going into O Canada, a double-anthem two punch in honour of the fact that it was July 4th: Canada Day in the US.
Journey’s set followed the arena rock template right up to the end when they closed the set with their hugest song (Don’t Stop Believin’’*) and then pulled out that one huge song of theirs that everyone had forgotten about (in this case Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’**) for the encore. Nevermind that a band playing the middle slot at a festival shouldn’t even be doing an encore.
Next up I caught a bit of Jamaican duo Sly & Robbie over on the River Stage which was quite good, though retroactive me would have gone instead to the Black Sheep Stage the see the Honey Island Swamp Band, a southern Allmans-esque group that I became aware of only when I saw them at the Joy Theatre in New Orleans a year or two later. But temporal fabrics being what they appear to be, that didn’t happen (yet) so I will have to remain to have been happy with the future non-retrogradient memory prediction of see-sawing Sly & Robbie instead too. Which, as I mentioned, was pretty good.
Finally, in another instalment of trying to get into Jeff Tweedy and/or his band Wilco because he/they must be significantly more brilliant than my perceptions will allow me (which is not much brilliance at all), I went to the Black Sheep Stage for Tweedy’s headlining set. And once again I somehow managed to not become a fan again, rabid or otherwise, though admittedly I was a bit distracted scanning the crowd for my old future self to see if he was going to enjoy having seen the Honey Island Swamp Band soon.
Thank you, goodnight.
*For the record, no part of Detroit is known as “South Detroit”. Due to a curious border dips-y-doodle “South Detroit” is actually Windsor, Ontario.
**Come to think of it, Journey did quite well with songs that featured apostrophe’s in their titles. Surprised they didn’t go with Open ‘rms and Any Way Y’ Want It.