July 7th was the opening day of the 2006 edition of the Ottawa Bluesfest. I was onsite early, I stayed late, and I saw just about every act on offer in between.
After contemplating my strategy on a park bench overlooking the Rideau Canal I headed onsite and went straight to James Cohen’s killer flamenco set. By that time James had been teaching in the room next to me at work for several years and it was great to hear his brilliant playing unfiltered by drywall for a change. I ran into some friends and we all headed over to the Blues Stage for a little Tony D and a big dirty hot dog. Another fellow teacher from the overly talented roster of basement dwellers below the good old Ottawa Folklore Centre, Tony is a damn fine blues guitar player who was lined up to play a bunch of sets at Bluesfest that year (and the next, and the next, and the next…). This would’ve been back in his pre-Monkeyjunk days so it would have been the Tony D Band, which featured the fabulous Zeke Gross on saxophone. My friends and I basked in the blues as the sunny afternoon began to wane to evening.
I spent the cusp between day and night watching as much of Broken Social Scene as I could handle. I’m not sure if they were super-famous yet or not, and I wouldn’t have known or noticed if future solo notables like Feist or Final Fantasy were still in the band, but if this is the show I’m thinking of it was not on the main stage. Which means that the Canpop collective was either on their way up or on their way down, because they were certainly a main stage act at some point, weren’t they? Anyway, my main vision from this show is a wall of performers lining the front of the stage playing a meandering, directionless E minor chord.
Eventually I stage jumped to check out Quebec’s newest indie sensation MALAJUBE and along the way I encountered my first ever Cupsucker, a cleverly named enviro-invention that is as wonderful as it is simple and whattya know, it was a Bluesfest invention. They took a length of PVC tubing, added a bottom to it and attached one to every garbage can onsite. The idea is that when used beer cups are discarded into the tubes they naturally stack together and take up dramatically less space than when they are tossed willy-nilly into garbage cans. So a festival run of, say, 200,000 plastic beer cups discarded in Cupsuckers will take up a tiny fraction of the landfill space, and the festival was using biodegradable cups besides. I used the Cupsucker, I loved the Cupsucker, I enjoyed saying the word Cupsucker, and I assumed the Cupsucker was going to change the world.
But it didn’t because in an unholy lack of foresight the Bluesfest decided to copyright the Cupsucker, so any other festival in the world that attaches a PVC tube to a garbage can with the intention of having people discard beer cups into them would have to pay a royalty to the Ottawa Bluesfest. So of course none of them do. Take that, planet Earth.
Anyway, MALAJUBE were really good, sounding at times like The Golden Dogs (who I was very smitten with right about then). The rest of my opening night was spent socializing with tons of friends at the Black Sheep Stage, first with Seu Jorge as our musical backdrop, and then Calexico. In case you’ve forgotten, Seu Jorge was the dude who became momentarily famous playing Caribbean-style covers of David Bowie songs onscreen during that Bill Murray/Jacques Cousteau movie The Life Aquatic. He basically disappointed everyone in the crowd by only playing one Bowie tune but it was still a fun place to be hanging out with friends.
Calexico was cool – if not a wee bit boring – and I ultimately decided that a walk over to the main stage was in order. I believe this stands as my one and only Great Big Sea concert (though I’ve seen both Alan Doyle and Sean McCann a number of times) and as jaded as I can be when it comes to feel-good three-chord singalong bands I gotta say those guys put on a heck of a fun show. Big old East Coast guitar strumming, everyone (except me) knew every word and they sang ‘em all. The crowd was huge and overtly happy. It felt like a shoot for a Newfoundland and Labrador tourism commercial.
It’s too bad the moody dance party over at Calexico had been engaging enough to keep most of my friends away from Great Big Sea’s set of eastern shanty ecstasy but at least everyone was happy, wherever they were.
I hope you were too, wherever you were.