070514 Lady Gaga/JJ Grey & Mofro, Ottawa, ON

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There are lots and lots of great things about attending a major music festival like the Ottawa Bluesfest and on July 5th, 2014 I got to experience at couple of these wonders.

Music festivals often play on the collective aesthetic of a demographic or two.  Whilst a major fest is always happy to book a ringer (like Springsteen or Clapton or someone else who is pretty much guaranteed to sell a pile of tickets all on their own) I think their real bread and butter comes from the cumulative booking of acts of marginal interest.  Sure, the average musical Joe might not shell out for the B-52’s or Molly Hatchet or Debbie Harry or Bootsy Collins but boy oh boy, if you roll enough of those acts into a single ticket people will come out in droves.  

It’s one of those inverse financial prospective allowances that you learn about in the later years of a self-curated music festival doctorate program.

Both acts I witnessed on this fine summer’s eve fell distinctly into this category.  First up was JJ Grey & Mofro, a trailer park Skynyrd-bred grease and sweat three-chord quartet from Florida that plays true roundhouse roadhouse rock and roll with no flash, no glitter, and no pretensions.  I first saw JJ Grey & Mofro at this very festival and though I loved ‘em from the first note I’ve never bought an album or even heard a recorded song of theirs.  And every time I’ve seen them since (which has been many) they’ve been on the bill at a festival that I already had a ticket for.  Once again they were fantastic yet I doubt I would ever buy a ticket to a standalone Mofro show (unless I happened to be standing outside a roundhouse roadhouse that is across the street from a trailer park and flying a tattered American flag …then they can have my eight bucks).

The other act I saw on this night was a mainstage set from a popular culture darling who is ubiquitous even to those who would never dream of listening to her: Lady Gaga.  Based on the flickers of glittering fame I’d absorbed from the magazine covers in the checkout aisle I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be interested in Miss Gaga one little bit and I certainly would never had bought a ticket to one of her stadium shows, but here she was playing a venue I already had a ticket for so why not?

And you know what?  She was really, really good.  Okay, she was great.  Amazing even; I was shocked.  It was obvious from the get-go that she was a crazy-talented singer and performer and after a few songs it became clear that she was encompassing the more intelligent edge of pap pop but man, when she stopped the show to inject some straight-up blues into her set I was floored.  “Well, seeing as it is a blues festival,” gushed the diva as she sat at her grand piano, “I guess I should play a little blues.”

And then she crushed it – I mean absolutely crushed it.  Just her, all by herself tearing up the ivories like a pro.  And I don’t mean like a professional pop star, I mean like a professional musician.  I was flabbergasted, though I suppose I shouldn’t have been.  If all it took to hit the upper reaches of the music biz was a goofy name, a pretty voice and some wacky costumes…well…okay maybe sometimes that is all it takes, but Lady Gaga has that and more.  And when I eventually saw that movie remake she did with that good-looking guy from The Hangover I was further convinced that Lady was the real deal.

But I wouldn’t have known any of this if she hadn’t been part of a ticket I already possessed.  Come to think of it, after seeing her at Bluesfest I’m half-convinced that I would pay to see Lady Gaga all buy (sic) herself.  Such is the power of the festival ticket.

It’s a reverse-inverse snowball effect that bundles a pile of entertainment into one a single cost-effective ticket that ends up costing you a fortune in arena futures, and it provides a significant sidebar to my not-for-credit internal master’s thesis.

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