Arts & EventsWild Night at Caravan Palace

Wild Night at Caravan Palace

Wild Night at Caravan Palace

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Photos by Andre Gagne

It was a night that would go down in Jazz Fest history but, first, it rained.

Sure, some jazz and a damp night of drizzles pair nicely together. Miles Davis' seminal recording A Kind of Blue or Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin, for example, are a fine compliment to a grey day and its accompanying mellow mood. Blending last night’s festival headliner and a wet lawn, however, would be like mixing toothpaste and orange juice or lobbing a pack of howler monkeys into the foyer of the public library. Some things just don’t mix, folks. Thankfully, the weather only hit those heading into the park with a pre-show smattering, holding off the rest of it long enough to not rain on what would become the dance floor of Caravan Palace!

Oh, how to explain the Parisian electro swing band’s electro swing sound to the electro swing uneducated? Well, it’s like the Quintette du Hot Club de France took the Triplets of Belleville to an EDM festival. There’s a lot less glitter and a lot more sax but the pulsating intensity in the performance rivals anything Skrillex might pump out.

“Now you’re going to dance,” shouted Zoé Colotis about a song and a half in. Nobody budged outside of a few fans left of the stage in what was an expansion of the Festival’s usual area devoted to those without:

a) lawn chairs
b) an inclination to remain still.

The widening of the dance section revealed that somebody in charge knew something was going to happen but whoever that was, along would Zoé Colotis and Caravan Palace, would have to wait a little longer.

Colotis was unperturbed, bouncing around the stage with a continuously rising degree of velocity. Stagehands might want to check the deck because there has to be a series of figure 8 shaped grooves cut into the canvass from the hummingbird-quick whirring and twirling of the band’s spitfire lead.

Somewhere in the crowd butts started to wiggle.

Fire up any of the group’s performance clips on YouTube and you’ll see what was about to dawn on the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival audience. You just DON'T sit for a Caravan Palace show. Still there was a noticeable gash running down the centre of Confederation Park filled with chairs currently firmly parked in the middle of a show that was sure to polarize your sometimes so laid back they’re practically horizontal Jazz Festival crowd.

Hummm, how to put this lightly? Caravan Palace is a band you could picture blowing the roof off Barrymore’s forty-five seconds into a set that is filled with more strobe lighting then the entire 37 year run of the Festival has ever seen. It’s like David Lynch was given the keys to run a Montmartre cabaret for an evening and, surely, one could picture Colotis and the Caravan being just as comfortable mingling with Warhol’s Factory collective circa 1968. Their music is the rapid fire beat you’d find in most downtown dance clubs mixed with the swinging style of jazz that dominated music in the 1930s and 40s. Plainly put, Caravan Palace resembles what a session between Django Reinhardt and Daft Punk may have sounded like.

Even simpler: DANCE, PEOPLE, DANCE!

Three songs in and somebody near the back got the message, arms flailing upwards as though swatting at a mighty swarm of midges. The lawn chair congregation didn’t notice her nor did they see that ever so slowly they were being flanked by a growing number of groovers. Then another pocket opened up, a couple who busted out the moves as though they were polishing the floor of the Trocadéro on a Saturday night. Then another, closer this time. The sitters were soon going to have to face the facts. They were being surrounded!

The age-long battle between the dancers and the stagnant was about to come to a head. Would there be a vocal uprising of “down in fronts” emulating the most heated of political debates? Would chairs start soaring into the air like caps on graduation day? Thankfully the imagery of this clash would remain only within the minds of festival scholars that will ponder the what ifs for years to come as what happened next was nothing short of miraculous.

As Colotis turned up the heat, as the band pushed that pulse to near breaking point, first one by one, then two by two and then as a whole the sitting centre rose up possessed by the power of the music. My God, what a sight! Caravan Palace knew it too and they quickly upped the tempo.

The result:

To the left they boogied!

To the right they woogied!

In the centre they folded their chairs and began to swing!

Somewhere at the Civic somebody woke up from a ten year coma doing the Jitterbug.

And a TOERSA Security guard just might have twitched!

As the band moved into a cover of “Black Betty”, Colotis held the crowd in the heels of her groove shoes and she wasn’t about to release them.

“Now you’re ready for what’s coming next,” she shouted, the barricade being the only thing preventing her from soaring off the stage and kicking up a torrent of grass and dirt on the lawn.

“Don’t you sit down because now we’re going to dance!”

And, yeah, a few would tuck their tush back down into their chairs and, sure, the rain did eventually come but there was way too much grease on the wheels to slow this caravan down. When the band came out for a rousing encore one man near the front shouted the only request the rest of needed fulfilled. Not another song, no, but “more action!”

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