On July 10th, 2008 I rode down to LeBreton Flats to see a Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 concert at the Ottawa Bluesfest.
In almost every other context I would not have written my opening sentence that way. I would have instead written something along the lines of: “On July 10th, 2008 I rode down to the Ottawa Bluesfest to see Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, The Black Crowes, and Three Day’s Grace…” but this was the year that I had been inspired by my good friend (and Bluesfest mainstage multi-veteran) Tony D. Tony commented/lamented to me that Bluesfest booked so many fantastic bands that nobody stuck around to watch any act for more than twenty minutes at a stretch before moving on to another stage. With a festival that in that year alone had put Steely Dan and Zappa Plays Zappa on different stages at the same time, similarly pitted Taj Mahal against The Tragically Hip and even had a few triple-stage conflicts like Widespread Panic versus The Wailers versus Johnny Winter, well, Tony definitely had a point.
And nobody was guiltier than I was. Some of my ticket memories read like nothing more than the sordid confessions of a chronic Bluesfest set-jumper. Five minutes here, three songs there, back-and-forth between this act and that one…if you’ve read these things with any regularity then no doubt you’ve come across expressions like these more than once. And no matter how you frame it, ducking in and out just does not do a performance – any performance – justice.
This was Day Two of my new full-set Bluesfest mantra. I had stuck to my guns the previous night and watched as Brian Wilson recovered from a very odd and shoddy opening few numbers (that was just begging for me to stagejump away from) and turned things around into what ended up being a rather fantastic concert. With that success fresh in my mind I disposed with my preset (and pre-stated) plan of bouncing between Kuti, The Crowes, and TDG and instead planted myself at the Black Sheep Stage for the entirety of Seun Kuti, which proved to be another success.
The son of famed Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti (and brother to Bluesfest alumni Femi Kuti) led his papa’s band through a glorious dancing-not-optional set and it was super-great. Constant movement and vast personnel made for an uncountable amount of musicians onstage, and while half of them churned out the hypnotic overlaying repeated figures indicative of North African music the other half simultaneously blasted out a sound reminiscent of the best Motown has to offer. Constantly taking sides in this cultural jam, Seun split his time between indigenous African dances and honking R&B alto sax lines, all while dressed in a suit made for a wood-panelled 1970’s cocktail party. The band kept up a relentless rhythm constantly punctuated with deftly-placed horn shots and kept the crowd with them the whole set. I know; I was there for it all.
Well, except when I I popped over to the mainstage area mid-set to hit the ATM for more beer money. There were a lot of people over there and it was pretty southern rockin’, but I was amid a deep soul/African dancehall dive back at the Blacksheep Stage and The Black Crowes just wasn’t at all where my musical vibe was at. Though I was just a couple of days into this new one-band thing of mine I was already aghast at the thought of what the constant readjustment of stage-bouncing must have been doing to my inner groove. Egad.
Back at the Blacksheep Kuti and the band kept that inner groove of mine ticking along nice and steady until they left the stage at precisely 11pm on the dot. As I sit here at my desk typing all these years later I wouldn’t be surprised if the woodblock player, wherever he is, still has that constant titak titak titak rhythm going on in his head. I know I do.
Great concert. Previously I would have written something like “:…all-in-all it was another great night at Bluesfest…” but no. This time it’s just: