Locals Love Playin’ the Blues(fest)!
Who’s ready for RBC Bluesfest 2018?! I’m all set to slather on the sunscreen, double fist some brewskies and see groups like the Foo Fighters and Dave Matthews Band dump some awesome sauce all over LeBreton Flats. While the fest does bring in those big ticket acts each summer, there’s another group of musicians you should be equally as excited to see: the locals!
If the headliners make up, well, the head of the festival, Ottawa and area artists are certainly the heart of it. They are the ones filling out the undercard on the Flats and showcasing just what O-town has to offer.
“Over the past few years, there's been an evolution and a flight to quality regarding the musicians that are thriving in the region. We're seeing a number of artists excel from a variety of different genres. There also seems to be more collaboration amongst local artists,” says Bluesfest Project Manager Kelly Symes.
She knows a thing or two about working with locals having been involved not only with a few fests but also as part of the always popular with Ottawa musicians Black Sheep Inn out in Wakefield!
Guess what? Just like you and I, those locals love when festival season rolls around. Outside of being part of fantastic line-ups and getting to catch shows themselves when not performing, a festival gig like Bluesfest allows an artist to network as well as perform in front of a substantially larger crowd then they are used to.
“Bluesfest is the most well-known music event in the city and playing the festival is considered an achievement and a great resume builder for future opportunities,” says Symes who goes on to explain how a developing Ottawa band can find themselves on one of the festival’s stages one day.
“We have developed a process for evaluating local artists based on certain criteria such as: a band or artist's commitment to performing original material, their ability to develop an audience and their desire to make music a career. We've also engaged a team – internal and external – to help us evaluate important local artists that we can include in the program.”
This year there are over 55 local artists performing at Bluesfest which makes for a lot of stage hoping discoveries. Take in as many of them as you can, says I, and after the fest is over and all that’s left are the imprints on the lawn, check your local venues for Ottawa talent year round.
Gearing up for their gigs, I pin down some festival returnees and newcomers to find out what a performance at Bluesfest means to them and how they feel others can get the most out of the festival experience.
Thursday, July 12 / 9-10:15PM / Claridge Homes Stage
You've played the fest a few times. What has you coming back?
Lynne Hanson: I love playing Bluesfest so I feel extremely privileged to have been invited back now for the fourth time! The festival is world-class both in terms of the musical line-up and the way the festival is run. The sound is top notch, the crew are totally pro and all the volunteers are super helpful. It’s the highlight of my summer to be on the Bluesfest stage … especially because it’s also my hometown!
What do you think a gig a Bluesfest has done most for you and your music?
Playing Bluesfest has impacted me on a number of levels. First there’s the profile of getting hired which helps in markets outside of Ottawa. It’s a heck of a lot easier to get gigs when you’ve got Bluesfest on your resume. Then there’s the playing experience itself. I think playing on a big stage has really helped me grow as a live performer. And it’s done tons for my confidence to get this kind of gig, to really help me to believe in what I do.
So, then, what would you say Bluesfest does most to promote local musicians?
Putting local acts on the bill with major artist and in front of a ton of people is incredibly helpful to building the presence of local musicians in the Ottawa market and helping to get our music “out there.” Bluesfest has a huge audience and they do a great job promoting all the artists who play the festival… not just the headliners.
Totally agree! What has been your favourite moment at the fest either on or off the stage?
I think my favourite moment was getting to see Tom Petty last year. One of the perks of playing Bluesfest is getting passes for the entire festival, which means local artists get to take in all the great music the festival has to offer. In terms of my own playing experience, though, it was probably getting my band tagged on social media on the big screen. Nothing makes you feel more like a rock star than being on one of those screens
Amos the Transparent
Sunday, July 8 / 6:30-7:30PM / City Stage
Welcome back to Bluesfest! What can you tell me about the first time Amos the Transparent played there?
Jonathan Chandler: The first year Amos played Bluesfest was in 2007 and we had an early evening slot on the River Stage. It was decorated with all these weird court jester type mannequins and it was pretty awesome. I don’t remember much of the set but I’ll never forget that right after it ended, Danny Michel popped into our trailer just to say that he enjoyed it. It was a super cool for him to do and most definitely instilled some unique confidence in the band.
How do you feel some of the larger acts brought to a festival like this actually help benefit local performers?
The crossover of audience is definitely the biggest benefit. Amos is fortunate to have an amazingly loyal following but the larger acts undeniably get folks out of the house which increase the chances of a local band being heard right before or after a bigger drawing bands set. (It brings you) notoriety and gives deserving artists the chance to be treated like Jack White for a day.
Thursday, July 5 / 8-11PM / Casino du Lac-Leamy
Saturday, July 14 / 6-7PM / Claridge Homes Stage
You are another local band returning to the festival this year. That has to feel great. What was the first time like for leMeow?
Gin Bourgeois: Playing Bluesfest 2016 was our first major event as leMeow and it was about a month after we released our debut album York St. We were quite nervous leading up to it but it quickly became exhilarating. The huge stage and the loud audience – it's an adrenaline rush!
While outside acts tend to get more attention, how would you say the festival treats locals?
It's automatically the highlight of the year if you're lucky enough to perform. The staff and festival are truly the best. People carrying equipment for you, chauffeuring you around in a golf cart, your own stocked, air conditioned trailer, etc. I wish every gig was that glamorous!
What should musicians do to really make the most of this opportunity?
Use every service and option available to you! Bring your merch to sell, go to the autograph tent after your performance, hire the Texas Horns, get the video of your performance, use every inch of the festival stage, encourage the audience to participate in your show, and, lastly, use your own passes to go get inspiration from other bands!
While they certainly could just rest on outside acts, the festival is made up of so much local talent. Why do you feel they fill the roster each year with the home-grown groups?
They genuinely care about and invest in our local music community. Outside of the two week festival, they're helping the community all year long with events, workshops, and opportunities. I also think it’s because there’s a ton of really talented musicians in Ottawa. It’s awesome that Bluesfest gives them an opportunity to shine.
Sunday, July 8 / 5-6PM / Barney Danson Theatre
This is your first time at the fest as a performer, right? How do you a feel an artist like you can most benefit for a Bluesfest gig?
Matt McKechnie: Yes, this will be my first kick at the proverbial 'Bluesfest can', if you will. I think performing at Bluesfest adds a credit to your musical resume that can't be falsely manufactured or conjured up. I've told a few people, jokingly, that even if the whole festival is rained out, or doesn't happen due to some ungodly circumstance, I'll still have my name on the same festival poster as the Foo Fighters, Bryan Adams, Beck, Dave Matthews, Blue Rodeo and Larkin Poe! It allows smaller artists in a community to get a shot at a larger playing field, and I am super grateful and overly jazzed to play there this year.
Big name acts like some you just mentioned tend to get the most attention. How would you suggest Ottawa bands get word out to see their show?
Like any other show you play as an independent artist, you still need to promote it and tell your usual audience all about it. Tell everyone! You still need to call your aunts and uncles and cousins. In my opinion, any time you start assuming anything, within the course of any artistic career, you start sinking. The work of promotion can't stop. Truthfully, though, there is an obvious massive crowd and ticket-buyer base to Bluesfest, but still I see it as an opportunity to have friends and family, who have seen you many times before, experience your performance on an amazing stage with a top-notch sound system. Wouldn't you want as many people as possible to be there for such a special night? I definitely do.
What do you think Bluesfest does best byway of promoting local artists?
I think Bluesfest does well in promoting local artists just by way of its mass machinery. They do a lot online, through social media and through their own website, to pump out information. But I think they do a fair amount of research, because they have many folks and programmers who attend shows in the community, even when you don't notice it. And I think they do a great job of diversifying the local line-up, with both male and female artists. There are some great, powerful, talented names on this year's line-up, like Tara Shannon, Catriona Sturton, Her Harbour, Alanna Sterling, Kimberly Sunstrum, Joe McDonald and so many more – and I'm stoked to represent Ottawa with them.
Got a fave fest moment?
I think a favourite moment for me was getting the chance to volunteer at Bluesfest in 2014 and to take in the festival in a way I hadn't before. I worked at the outdoor grill, in food service. A guy I met that summer (Michael Lanning) and I are still pals today. He has come out to a few of my shows. That summer I just got the chance to roam around after my volunteer shifts ended (usually smelling like burgers and smoke), and check out acts like Queens Of The Stone Age (many years before Josh Homme kicked a reporter in the face), Childish Gambino, Snoop, The Killers and even some gut-busting comedy from Bob Saget. It was a great way to get more integrated with the community of the festival and to just meet some fun, musically-minded people. I'll never forget that summer.
Megan Jerome and Together Ensemble
Friday, July 6 / 6-7PM / Barney Danson Theatre
From your experience, how does the festival treat and elevate local musicians?
Megan Jerome: Bluesfest hires us and pays us well to play gigs! We are also given festival passes so we can enjoy ourselves, hear each other’s shows, support each other and create connections. Bluesfest is an event. There are lots of people who go to Bluesfest that don't normally go to hear bands in clubs during the rest of the year. Playing at Bluesfest means we get to play for those people too – so I think it helps us reach a wider audience. People get excited for Bluesfest, and they get excited for you when you are playing at it so that's really fun
Along those lines, how can a local best use a gig at Bluesfest to obtain other bookings?
Bluesfest and OMIC generously offered a workshop this year about how to make the most of our festival gig. Presenters, media and promoters from other venues and festivals come to each other’s' festivals to check out bands, and certainly talk to each other throughout the year. You can find out who might be there, and connect if you wish to. You can be sure to include your festival gig in all of your promos –it's a big, well known festival and a current booking there is great to have in your promo materials. I think as a musician you need to play your best –be really well rehearsed be easy to work with– prompt, respectful work with the festival's marketing efforts – use their logos, social media tags so that they can re-post and support you too.
Thursday, July 12 / 8-11PM / Casino du Lac-Leamy
Sunday, July 15 / 9-10:15PM / Claridge Homes Stage
This is another return for the PepTides to the Bluesfest stage. You’ve become one of Ottawa’s go to party bands since your first time at the fest. What did that performance mean to the band?
The PepTides band originally came together for the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2011. One summer later, in 2012, our first Bluesfest appearance confirmed that it wasn't a case of "flash in the pan"— more like "sex in a pan."
Sizzlin’! Now being offered a night time fest gig, do you feel the band has climbed the ladder somewhat into a timeslot that reaches a wider audience?
As thoroughly nocturnal creatures, we love to be observed in our natural habitat! I suspect the slot is the festival's nod to the work we've been doing to wave the flag for Ottawa's burgeoning music scene, for example touring in five provinces and representing Ottawa at Festival d'été in Quebec City.
How do you feel a festival like this one best caters to local musicians?
Why, in the catering tent, of course. Unsung heroes: Monika Vlcek and her hospitality team!
Touché! As a band that has played the fest multiple times, what advice would you give first time performers on how to get the most from their festival experience?
A festival is so much more than a sound check and a show. First-time performers, this is a golden opportunity to see great sets from international artists and Canadian acts who have been doing this longer than you have. There is something to be learned and inspired by at every turn. Shower your audiences with love, chat with them, sign autographs. Show them what you're made of—and don't hold back!