070711 Steve Miller/Stephen Marley/Girl Talk, Ottawa, ON

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On July 7th, 2011 I arrived at LeBreton Flats a bit late and of course without a cellphone, leaving me with nothing but serendipity on my side if I wanted to hook up with friends for another night of Bluesfest.  Serendipity and good old rock and roll that is.  

With confetti still lingering in the air from the finale of Girl Talk on one of the main stages, the unmistakeable keyboard strains that open Steve Miller’s hit Jet Airliner emitted from the stage opposite to the cheers of thousands.  After a bit of a rocky start the whole thing came together by the first note of the chorus, when Steve Miller was joined by the perfect backup vocals of his crackerjack band and the slightly cacaphonic 15,000-part harmony coming from the field in front of him.  With the crowd firmly on board Steve Miller launched into his next number, classic-rock radio staple and feature-length film in-a-song Take The Money And Run, and as fortune would have it I had already found some friends.  We made our way to the soundboard and made some new friends and we all rocked out to Abracadabra and Swingtown together.  Man, this guy has a lot of hit songs!  But my crew knew we had to leave so we collectively decided to head off, with a plan to return for the close of Steve Miller’s set. 

Over at the secondary stage we found a picnic-like atmosphere.  Girls twirled florescent hula hoops as the mouth-watering aroma of pulled pork wafted through air already thick with great reggae music.  We also found another group of friends grooving to Stephen Marley, son and musical doppelgänger to Bob Marley, and joined them. 

It seems that somewhere along the way the cosmic rules of reincarnation were bent, allowing Bob Marley to become reborn as his very own child.  Next to fellow sibling performers Ziggy or Damien Marley there is no question that it is Stephen who most accurately exudes his father’s presence, from his voice to his very mannerisms.  When he sang such unforgettable songs as Three Little Birds and Buffalo Soldier we seemed as close as we’ll ever get to the late great Nesta Robert Marley, and it felt good. 

There is something about reggae that makes it seem important. Though it is unquestionably party music, the best reggae is never frivolous, and Stephen Marley proved that continually with a clear respect and reverence for his paternity and constant energy and devotion to his music.  While his set was peppered liberally with Bob Marley favourites, when he strayed from his father’s material Stephen tended to lean towards rocksteady and grooves that cater to the second generation of reggae fans. When the band kicked into One Love a child aged about four sprang out from the wings and joined the adults onstage, the next generation of reggae caught in an atavistic dance while we all grooved along. 

Just as my posse and I were leaving to catch the end of Steve Miller’s set Stephen Marley launched into one of his father’s greatest tunes, Could You Be Loved.  Unwavering, we kept walking away when a girl swirled along in a long black and turquoise skirt, obviously entranced by the music.  As she danced by she smiled and asked us with true disbelief, “How could you be leaving?!?”  The sheer elation of that complete stranger was enough to stop us all dead in our tracks.  Me and my crew stuck around and danced for one more Marley tune. 

Bluesfest really is like a family reunion – even if there are a lot of second cousins you have yet to meet.  As karma (or perhaps serendipity) would have it we still made it back for a few more hits from the Steve Miller Band. 

Much like Stephen Marley, Steve Miller had grown up in an overtly musical environment.  His dad was a physicist with an interest in sound recording – back in the earliest days of the medium – so no surprise that he came in contact with the famous guitarist and less-famous inventor Les Paul.  ‘Matter of fact, the Millers were best man and maid of honour when Les Paul married Mary Ford, and when little Steve Miller was born Les Paul became his godfather.  Crazy, huh?  Oh yeah, people like Charles Mingus and T-Bone Walker regularly popped by the family home to record, and as Steve Miller developed his guitar playing he was afforded the opportunity to play with legends like Muddy Waters and The Howlin’ Wolf.  Quite a background, I tell you.  

Speaking of backgrounds, by the time we got back to the main stage Miller was standing before a sparkling, swirling background of giant guitars and playing his signature song Space Cowboy, which led appropriately into that ever-ubiquitous* campfire favourite The Joker.  Famous both for its drunken yell-along chorus and for introducing the still-unexplained neologism “pompatus” into the English language, the song that launched Steve Miller’s pop career ended the show. 

Wishing us all “peace, love, and happiness,” Steve bid the crowd goodnight with an obligatory toss-of-the-guitar-pick-into-the-audience, bringing the Bluesfest officially to a close for the evening. 

Of course we ran into yet another crowd of friends on our way to the bicycle valet and stopped for a quick chat.  We parted company without bothering to make plans to meet up next time.  No need; with all the high-quality serendipity going around we wouldn’t need plans. 

*Redundancy intended.

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