Scenes From TD Ottawa Jazz Fest Late Night Tent
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Photos by Andre Gagne
The first time I stepped into the late night tent at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, sure, I had an idea. ‘Round midnight jazz is usually associated with smooth sax solos, breezy vocals and smoky lounges. Well, abandon the usual all ye who enter the late night tent!
My first foray into the great white circus-like structure was just that: a circus! Wait, are they dancing on the tables? They were! Why is this big pile of chairs here by the entrance? They needed to clear room for a dance floor. Wait, is this jazz? Jazz, no. A rave style party set to the beat of an Arabic DJ and slightly insane sitar player, yes! Was the floor rumbling? About a 6.1 on the vibro-scale!
If the tent was a rockin’ everybody wanted to come a knockin’ as the line outside wrapped around the side and vanished somewhere towards Laurier. You’d think that this was the biggest, most elite party in town and, in some ways, it was and that’s just what Festival Programming Director Petr Cancura hopes for each year he slaps together the late night series lineup. It's one that, like improvisational jazz, continues to be all over –and frequently off– the charts!
Not always part of the festival, Cancura says what’s become known as the After Dark Series has taken on a life of its own and, in some ways, can be looked at as a separate festival altogether. Call it the wild sibling of the Jazz Fest proper. Though the tent does attract some of the trickle over from the earlier main stage Confederation Park shows, the usually offbeat series tends to attract a unique mix of audience, some just there for the party those shows can provide.
“It’s become one of my favourite venues. It’s really more of a club atmosphere with a large capacity. So we wanted to make it an exciting program, with lots of energy,” Cancura tells Ottawa Life relaying how the festival is always careful curated and the late night tent, while providing a different atmosphere, is no different when it comes to maintain inventive, high quality music.
“The size of the venue lets the audience experience intimate shows with groups that might sometimes headline festivals. For instance before we put Snarky Puppy on the main stage they played the After Dark Series.”
Sometimes they come back for another round. Like Lindi Ortega, for example. The breezy country crooner played the tent a few years back and this year she’s back to open up for the legendary Kenny Rogers.
But back to Snarky Puppy. I remember that show well. In fact, my legs might still be feeling it as that concert like others, just became an all out jazzer dance party. You know what kind of show it’s going to be when the volunteers start clearing away the seating.
Then again, even they get struck by surprise as a band’s energy just carries the audience upward out of their chairs causing a mad dash of volunteers and attendees to make way for the oncoming wave of vibrancy and vibration like the time Moon Hooch couldn’t be contained on the stage and jumped into the crowd to be swarmed by shocked fans. Musicians getting swept up in the excitement and joining the crowd is actually a pretty common occurrence in the tent. Best be on your guard because it’s not always easy to move out of the way of an oncoming tuba like you’d have had to the night the Dirty Dozen Brass Band decided to parade through the increasingly growing audience leaving puddles of sweat in their wake.
“I have noticed a lot of people who go to the main stage show will take a chance and walk over to check out the next band but then the After Dark Series artists have die hard followers in most cases and those folks all come out,” Cancura says.
One of these die hards is Stephen (Bob Cat) Corrigan. Dressed like a dapper man you might have found on any given fair grounds at the turn of the century, he’s usually found near the stage with a cane sporting a slew of festival bracelets he’s gathered over the years.
“It's something I look forward to all year and can be a great release for myself. It gives me a chance to distract myself from whatever struggles I may have at the time and just focus on doing something I enjoy,” says Corrigan who often shows his appreciation by placing his hat on his cane and raising it above the crowd.
Those attending most outdoor festivals in the summer know all too well of Ottawa’s curfew bylaws but the After Dark Series skitters nicely around this by placing all the action in the tent, not outside of it and some shows have been known to push past 1 a.m.
Along with the wilder shows, the series has seen some quieter moments like the time Glen Hansard held an entire crowd in perfect, musical captivity for 90 minutes. Then there have been the shows that have fused traditional music with more recent beats like when South Africa’s Freshlgroud performed a few years back. Want even more unexpected? Cancura has even programmed a silent movie in the tent set to live score. Then, of course, there was that night with a torrential downpour outside hammering on the tent roof that Socalled played to about a hundred wet people who danced themselves dry to his insane mix of klesmer, electronica and folk. Don't even get me started on the awesome lunacy that was Japan's “death jazz” thrillers Soil & “Pimp” Sessions!
“(This series) often has the most exciting shows. When, for instance, the weather does not cooperate, the artists still give it their all and the frustrating thing is when those moments happen and it’s not as packed as it should be I always think history is being written here. Everyone should be here!" says Cancura.
His top picks for the After Dark Series this year:
- Robert Glasper Experiment, a show that will mix jazz and hip-hop. (June 26)
- The breakout ensemble form New York City’s Winter JazzFest, Shabakah & The Ancestors (June 27)
- The personally endorsed by the late, great Prince, Kandace Springs (June 29)
- Two-time Grammy winner and electronic music pioneer, Jacob Collier (June 30)
“I would not miss any one of those regardless of your musical taste: these are all innovative, powerful and extremely talented musicians worth checking out.”
And if you still got more in you there's always the Late Night Jam Sessions!