July 8th was Day 2 of Ottawa Bluesfest’s 2005 edition and of course I was onsite to see what I could see. On the previous night only the mainstage had featured programming while all the sidestages had remained dark. With the fest now firing on all cylinders I made a point of checking out all four stages, though I didn’t find much in the way of reward for my efforts.
First up was the only big name of the evening, The Black Eyed Peas performing on the main stage. It may not surprise you to discover that the band falls very much outside of my musical wheelhouse and after seeing them live for the first time I decided to keep them there. Not that I gave the band much of a chance, though I doubt strongly that my opinion of the group would have changed much if I had. I showed up, I stood near the back with my arms crossed, I held myself to a single snuck-in beer, I heard enough to relabel the band as The Black Eyed Poos and I walked away without regret.
I stopped by the stage-named-after-a-corporate-acronym for a few blasts and blares from a very smartly-dressed Cuban band whose name escapes me and soon moved on to my favourite sidestage, one which owes it’s name (and much of it’s booking back then) to Paul Symes’ wonderful small-town Quebec-side venue Le Mouton Noir, AKA The Black Sheep Inn. Unfortunately, it was at the Black Sheep Stage that I happened upon Lhasa, who stands as my most-hated of all Bluesfest acts from any year ever.
I suppose it’s rather fortunate that the self-preservation mechanism in my brain has blocked all memory of Lhasa’s set from my memory – a coping strategy that has surely saved me from many nights of insomniated torture – although this much has leaked through: I found her speaking voice so irritating that my sonic psyche was already blocking out her music even as I was hearing it in real time. I can only imagine (though I try hard not to) the horrors I witnessed as I stood there numbing myself with fistfuls of illicit beer.
On this night, however, the fourth stage was a charm as I discovered Neko Case on the Grassroots Stage, an aptly named home for her rootsy-with-a-touch-of-twangy set. You can’t go wrong with having The Sadies as your backup band, and she didn’t. It wasn’t quite as ballsy as a proper Sadies show but the two acts made for an excellent pairing to be sure.
And with my ears filled to the brim with good music for the first time of the lengthening evening I decided to hedge my bets and head straight for the exit after Neko Case bid the crowd good night. I even still had a beer or two left in my rucksack when I walked out the gate, lukewarm treasures that I enjoyed as I typed my brain dry for the next few hours trying to muster a “review” out of the night’s experiences for a local website.
As I submitted my pixels at 4:20am I was woozy enough to almost feel like I was living the life of a vastly underpaid and even more under-skilled Hunter S. Thompson.