All photos by Andre Gagne
Ask yourself how many concerts you’ve attended in the last couple of years. Can you count them on your fingers? Perhaps they are in the higher double digits? Are you approaching triple? Now, if a few of those were in Ottawa chances are you’ve seen Ming Wu. He averages about 300 shows a year.
“I usually go out three times a week,” Wu says on his staggering dedication to the local music scene. “On weekends I go to more than one show.”
Wu, who graduated from Algonquin’s photography program in 2007, took an interest in going to see local Canadian bands from listening to CBC Radio 3. From there he started attending shows, a lot of them, and his camera went with him both creating an encyclopedic document of Ottawa’s music scene over the last decade. Since 2010, he’s parlayed the work into PhotogMusic, a blog where Wu has the uncanny ability to spotlight bands early that soon get noticed by the mainstream press.
On March 25 at the Black Sheep Inn it was time to give a little back.
“Ottawa is a music city and Ming encapsulates the spirit of it every single week,” says Kelly Symes, organizer of Ming Break, a night of music and festivities dedicated to Wu. “I haven’t met anyone else in the city that sees more live music on a weekly basis than he does. He is a beacon of light that has illuminated the scene for years. Without the exposure he’s given to so many bands, some of them may never have gotten propelled. He’s an important person to have at your show.”
This isn’t the first tribute in Wu’s name. Back in 2014 the Black Sheep hosted a weekend festival called WuFest that Ming helped program. Wu, himself, finds it all very humbling.
A party bus departed the Museum of Nature for an event that encouraged people to ignore the snow on the ground and break out their Spring Break wear. To a chorus of “Happy Ming Break”, Wu thanked all for coming as the bus rocketed Ming Breakers on a bumpy ride to the Black Sheep where music, cheap Palm Bay and a BBQ where a couple dozen hotdogs would be served in the parking lot awaited.
While Wakefield isn’t exactly Fort Lauderdale, the inn added to the theme and decorated accordingly with a few palm trees. Decked out in Hawaiian skirts, chef hats, huge sunglasses, colourful shirts and even a lumberjack outfit, by the time Wu arrived on the scene it was clear the people were ready for a party beach or no beach.
“Some of the best shows I’ve ever been to were at the Black Sheep,” says Travis Kinnear of Fire Antlers, the first band to take the stage. It was a good choice because any band with a beat pulsating robot that classifies itself as sci-folk is sure to be a good time. “It’s no surprise to me that the Sheep has drawn big names and has been around for such a long time. Its location on the water is amazing, the sound is perfect, and the space just seems to bring out good vibes and get everyone dancing.”
Dance they did to the funky soul sounds of Slack Bridges, a new band to the scene performing only their second show. You couldn’t tell. The sound was as tight as parking in the Market on a Saturday with some killer sax solos by Julian Selody whose fiery hair could very well have been that Spring Break sun. Bassist Garett Barr has floated around a couple of bands in the city over the years and is thankful for Wu’s unique perspective and coverage.
“He wants to find events that are exciting, weird, interesting and light a fire under the crowd which means there’s a bit of pressure to plan those types of events,” Barr says. “I think a lot of other people covering the scene have had to up their game.”
“The Ottawa music scene is lucky to have a guy like Ming on its team,” says Brad Sheffield of Loon Choir adding that he doesn’t quite understand how Wu manages to be in so many places seemingly at once.
The 7 piece indie-rock/art-pop band headlined the event and, by that time, a beach ball had finally managed to make its way off stage and around the crowd as singer Derek Atkinson belted it out into the mic. Before they hit the stage, Wu addressed the crowd gathered with much thanks and selected winners for the evening’s costume contest. However, even at an event where his likeness is on the poster art he couldn’t resist breaking out the camera and firing off some shots.
It’s easy to imagine a few Ming clones doing the exact same thing at other shows in the city that night. Wu doesn’t’ plan on taking a real Ming break anytime soon and says his favourite shows are far too numerous to mention. When you have a track record like his that’s pretty understandable.
“I do other events that aren’t music related,” Wu ensures noting he likes to shoot art openings, and “any other type of gathering where interesting and creative people are getting together. I also take a lot of photos of my friends at VIP Karaoke.”
Ultimately, with Wu, it all comes back to the music.