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Bluesfest Opening Night Rocks Hard

Bluesfest Opening Night Rocks Hard

A popular sentiment echoed by Ottawa personalities introducing musicians and one of the most tweeted phrases in the national capital yesterday rang true on the opening night of Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest – it truly is “the most wonderful time of the year.”

As Tuesday evening set in, overflowing line-ups of hopeful attendees curled around ticket booths and eager early-birds shuffled through the gateways of Lebreton Flats, impatient to set sights on one of Ottawa’s most dazzling spectacles of the year – a handful of towering stages and a buzzing stretch of concert grounds that will host some of the world’s most renowned musicians over the next ten days.

Bluesfest is back, and with the first foot in the gate it was clear to see that nothing about this year’s festival is going to be any less exciting than the previous years. While Coheed and Cambria greeted the first arrivals with the blast of their heavy rock, the rest of the star struck attendees maneuvered into one of the quickly forming beer and food lines before some of the night’s biggest names appeared. The quiet roars from only a few hundred yards away are usually a good indicator that someone big, and someone worth pushing towards, is taking the stage.

A good example of the night’s first big roar came alongside the testing of jangly instruments, which meant only one thing – the Californian caravan-collective known as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros had arrived. The feel-good nine-piece band didn’t waste any time, starting with the thump of “40 Day Dream” – a joyous anthem that had the entire young audience participating off the bat. Scruffy, free-loving lead singer Alex Ebert and his goofy story-telling coaxed the audience into chuckles and cheers while his raspy croon spit out some of today’s most famous upbeat indie-folk. His female counterpart Jade Castrinos (the other voice heard hollering on the hit single “Home”) was adorably shy, despite her impressively haunting vocals during songs like “Fire and Water” which projected through and over all of us. Taking random requests from the audience, the set list included ballads like “Carries On” and the dark and swaying “Black Water”, before Ebert hopped right into the crowd, asked our opinion and sarcastically remarked that the crowd was “really pulling out some obscure requests”. Sure enough, the tousled frontman gave into the majority and kicked off the distinctive opening whistle of “Home” – sending everyone into a hopping frenzy.

Wandering over to the psychedelic veteran indie-rockers The Flaming Lips who were making their consecutive Bluesfest appearance, every bit of what was seen was what was expected: gigantic inflatable balls bouncing overtop of the crowd, bizarre screen imagery, two troops of costumed young girls (who looked too young to even know who The Lips were) dancing on stage, and lead singer Wayne Coyne’s famously inexplicable salt and pepper afro. Coyne was fascinated with the setting Ottawa sun, which he described as the perfect backdrop for their show, which was filled with eclectic classics like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”, “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and an explosive finale of “Do You Realize??” that featured fireworks and a rainfall of confetti.

Calgary-bred indie twins Tegan and Sara played a nostalgic and heartwarming set alongside the Ottawa River, which included some of the female indie-rock movement’s most popular tunes; causing groups of girls and boys alike to turn towards each other and chant the catchy lyrics in sync. Despite strumming a few newer tracks like the soon-to-be-released “Body Work” and the fashionable Tiesto-remixed “Feel It In My Bones”, the pair admitted to feeling like a “mature band” who often receive puzzled looks from their younger demographic when they still use terminology from the 1990s.

Every festival organizer’s dream is to arrange artists in an appropriate order, maintain the energy on the concert grounds during every act, and of course – pick headliners that are going to melt the stage and their audience members. Mission accomplished last night. Reunited grunge beloveds Soundgarden were the musical epitome of ending the night with a (head) bang, treating the masses to nearly 15 year-old classics like “The Day I Tried To Live” and “Black Hole Sun”. Taking a page out of their 90s tour book, the band hasn’t changed a bit; thriving off deafening guitars and handsome lead singer Chris Cornell’s legendary screeches and hoarse howls. After a solo album and stint as the lead of millennium rockers Audioslave, Cornell has grown his rocker locks back down past his shoulders, revisited his grungy on-stage persona and remembered how to drive an air-guitar savvy crowd wild with an earth-rattling set.

The newly designed concert site has the two main stages facing towards the War Museum, therefore moving the crowds towards the exit with ease nearing the end of the night, and allowing everyone to happily soak in their musical awe. With the first night down and many more to go, the pulsing atmosphere at Lebreton is sign that the best is yet to come; now it’s just a matter of pushing through the work days so that we can get back down there and push through towards the stages.

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