The Festival Bobcat
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Photos by Andre Gagne
You may have heard, narrated in the soothing voice of one Sir David Attenborough, that one of the rarest cats out there is the snow leopard. We here in Ottawa, however, know that the Festival Bobcat can be just as elusive.
You can usually only catch a glimpse of this hip cat in his natural habitat during the summer months and then, once you've spied him, he’s pretty hard to miss. There he goes, roaming the grounds of one of the city festivals dressed as though he’s stepped out of 1920’s photograph. This Bobcat’s summer coat is black and dapper, his whiskers evenly twirled and his cane affixed with the colorful reminders of all the concerts he has seen over the years.
There’s a lot of ‘em!
Called a solitary, private person by those close to him, this rare beast really needs a good reason to poke his head out of his den. It’s the music that draws him out and, when it does, Stephen “Bobcat” Corrigan becomes as much a fixture of the summer festival scene as beer, stages, beer, volunteers, and beer. It’s something he looks forward to all year, stashing away his money from a 40 hour a week gig in order to afford the tickets come festival season.
“I'm not sure how, where, when or why music became so important in my life. Even though I've never actually made any music I find the thought of living without it very scary,” Corrigan tells Ottawa Life, revealing that ever since he’s owned his first Walkman music has followed him wherever he’s gone.
If you’re going to ask the Bobcat who some of his favorite musicians are you best pull up a comfortable chair and have a bit of time on your hands. You see, first come his classic rock years where he listened to Queen, Supertramp and The Rolling Stones. Then there was his foray into hip hop with the Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre, The Wu-Tang Clan and Tupac. Later on he was introduced to the blues and found he couldn’t get enough of B.B. King, Robert Johnson or John Lee Hooker. Then there’s the old school funk with Bootsy Collins and the soul of Sam Cooke and the raging guitars of Van Halen and the 90s grunge of Pearl Jam. He’ll even localize for you with favorites like Rebecca Noelle, the SoulJazz Orchestra, Slack Bridges and The Hornettes. Yeah, this dude likes his music and he isn’t particular about where it’s coming from.
“I guess I've always had a pretty busy mind and music helps keep me relatively sane.”
His first festival romp was the annual Blues Fest. Corrigan and a friend would book their vacation around the two week event, something that has now become a yearly tradition. He says the festivals offer a chance at distraction, a detachment from the regular day to day and an escape for whatever struggles he may be going through. It’s a time to discover new music and catch up with people he tends to only see at this time of the year.
He was given the name Bobcat from a friend and either it stuck or he just grew into it, he isn’t quite sure, but he’s gotten used to it these days even though he initially fought it off. He assures us it isn’t tied to him being hard to catch as Corrigan readily admits he uses the cane he carries because of his bad knees and chronic back pain. Yet, when on the prowl for a prime spot near the front of a stage, he does use his stealth and sneakiness so perhaps the name is fitting. That and he tends to lay low when the snow hits mainly to recoup from his busy summer months.
“I tend to hibernate in the winter and try to recover physically and financially. I've went a little too hard in the past and the 2015 concert season of almost killed me. I pushed my body way too hard without proper nutrition and sleep and my already skinny build lost 20 pounds in a month,” he says, admitting that he still managed to attend daily despite finding out that the “human body needs more than just coffee, brandy and beer to live.”
Corrigan is well aware that he stands out in the crowd. For one, there are the suits which he seems to wear regardless of the weather, always paired with a fedora or similarly styled hat. You could almost picture him being a time traveler from a bygone age sent to study the music of the future.
“I use to work a job peddling where I would wear a suit everyday,” Corrigan says of his unique festival wardrobe. “After I left that job I eventually missed the feeling of wearing a suit. I slowly started wearing them again and usually had a better time when I did. Now when I don't wear one people will ask what's wrong with me.”
On a more personal level, as he is generally working through some level of pain, he has come to realize that just because he feels horrible it doesn’t mean he has to look that way and looking better actually makes him feel better.
“Even though I do have a bad knee I don't use a cane every day. I can walk without it and using it all the time will just make my leg even weaker. When I'm at shows it does help a bit especially if I feel the music enough the try and get my two step on. I have also realized it serves many other purposes. I have found people don't give you as hard a time cutting through the crowd when you have a cane.”
It also makes a great place to hang his coat on hotter days, he says, but if you’re a usual festival goer and have seen the Bobcat you know that the cane and signature fedora play a much more important role. When he likes a show he raises that cane high into the air for all, especially the musicians, to see. When he really likes a show he pops his hat on top like a cherry accentuating a Sundae.
“It's hard for me to describe what goes into making a great show,” he replies when asked how he decides who gets the cane and hat treatment.
“I'm sure there's many aspects that goes into it. It probably doesn't hurt if the artist is musically inclined. Even if an artist is extremely musically inclined I still might not consider it a great show. It helps if it's a genre I prefer. I think the biggest thing for me is when the artist puts their soul into the music and you can feel it. It also doesn't hurt when the music is so funky that you can smell it.”
As long as the music returns, you can always expect a summertime sighting of the Bobcat, cane in hand, waiting to see what shows will get his particular seal of approval.
“Bob Marley says in Trenchtown Rock that ‘one good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain,’” says Corrigan. “It brings people together. I can relate to that and it may be a short moment but those are some of the moments that keep me going.”