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Ottawa Bluesfest Days 10-12 feat. Metric, Kanye West, and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Christopher Cwynar

With the end finally in clear sight, the glorious rain that had been looming for a week finally arrives.

Ottawa Bluesfest Days 10-12

Ottawa Bluesfest Days 10-12 feat. Metric, Kanye West, and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

City: Ottawa, ON
Venue: LeBreton Flats
Date: 2007-07

13 July 2007 As Friday ushered in the Bluesfest's second and final weekend, one could sense the audience fatigue settling in. In an attempt to reignite our enthusiasm, the remnants of INXS and their new Canadian lead singer, J. D. Fortune, performed a serviceable set of reworked favorites and new material. There was more energy on the side stages, however, as Toronto indie rockers Metric brought their clean, almost metallic, sound to the River Stage. The band delivered a decent set, although lead singer Emily Haines’ frustration at technical difficulties lent a questionable energy to her stage banter, which struck an awkward balance between intimate and condescending.

14 July 2007 With the end finally in clear sight, Stephen Fearing’s Saturday afternoon performance brought good vibes back to the Barney Danson Theatre. The hard-working troubadour put massive air behind his expansive voice, singing rugged tales of marginal characters, intimate moments, and faded dreams. Fearing made excellent use of the intimate theater, holding the capacity crowd in rapt attention with his affable wit, deep voice, thunderous acoustic guitar, and humorous stories about the origins of his songs. His set drew heavily from most recent solo release Yellowjacket, though Fearing threw in older favorites as well, including showstopper "Blind Indifference". Exiting the theater after Fearing's performance, I found that the rain had finally arrived. The festival's second half had featured ominously grey skies, and now a steady downpour prompted the donning of ponchos and the opening of umbrellas. Still, the River Stage crowd was undaunted: they had come to support local songwriter Jim Bryson on the heels of his excellent new record, Where the Bungalows Roam. That album’s exceptionally dry vocals create an intimate feel that recalls Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on standouts like "The Wishes Pile Up" and "Cleared the Crowds". Live, these tracks took on a more rocking vibe in keeping with old faves like "Feel Much Better" and "Sleeping in Toronto". Bryson's performance included some good-natured banter with the sodden audience and an ironic blues-ax duel with his lead guitarist.

Kanye West

The rain only intensified as darkness fell, and the crowds began to mass before the MBNA Stage in anticipation of Kanye West's closing set. The mainstage crowd was noticeably younger and denser than it had been on previous nights, as pass-holders relinquished the space to pop-music fans and hip-hop heads. Kanye took the stage 15 minutes late, but made up for it with more than an hour’s worth of hip-hop gold. West kept the grandstanding to a minimum, as he tore through solid versions of all of his prime cuts, including club classic "Slow Jams". Backed by DJ A-Track, two back-up singers, and an all-female string section decked out in gold dresses, Kanye gripped his white mic like a scepter as he stalked the stage. He was all business, and then, as the last notes of "Touch the Sky" echoed across the grounds, he was gone.

15 July 2007 On Sunday, the festival’s final day, underrated Texas singer/songwriter Steve Forbert offered yet another excellent set in the Barney Danson Theatre. Forbert possesses a distinctively soft voice that he bends and shapes around his phrases to great effect. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, Forbert played a selection of originals that spanned all three decades of his career. Later on in the evening, his band, the Soundbenders, joined him for a rocking set on the Black Sheep Stage. There, Forbert played his finest songs -- tunes like "Goin' Down to Laurel", "Wild as the Wind", and "You Cannot Win If You Do Not play". It was an enthusiastic performance of straightforward tunes about international affairs and matters of the heart. After Forbert, it was time for the final night headliners to take the stage. On the MBNA Stage, that meant the Solid Gold Dance Party featuring Peaches and Herb, A Taste of Honey, The Village People, and a host of lesser-known lights. After last year's debacle with KC's Sunshine Boogie Blast, it was a relief to find that this disco line-up was at least organized and committed to throwing a solid, if contrived, "dance party". At least the moves were easy to follow -- especially on the group’s Bluesfest-closing rendition of "YMCA", which was performed in full, classic regalia.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Though the main stage sported a dance party in name, the real leg-shaking, hip-gyrating soirée was hosted by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings back at the Black Sheep Stage. The Dap-Kings took the stage dressed smartly in suits and assorted finery. A tightly wound ball of charisma, rhythm guitarist Binky Griptite quickly took control of the show with a soulful voice and commanding stage presence. Griptite and company worked the crowd into a frenzy before Sharon Jones arrived on the scene, some 15 minutes into the performance. At that point, the music took a heavy funk/soul flavor (with James Brown the most obvious reference point). Jones invited one lucky man up to dance with her during an extended funk jam, then called up a bunch of women during the next. The groove was thick and irresistible. Jones and the Dap-Kings had managed to coordinate a funky and liberating dance party that far out-hustled their mainstage competitors. In some ways, the situation reflected a larger Bluesfest truism: while the headliners brought in the bucks, it was the side-stage acts that consistently delivered the most satisfying and memorable shows. There were some fine blues performances, to be sure, but the strength of this year's Bluesfest clearly lay in the unparalleled quality and variety of the line-up. As has been the case in recent years, the diverse roster of headliners permitted the organizers to offer a fine selection of blues while branching out and also supporting local talent. At the end of the Bluesfest's twelfth and final day, many musicians, volunteers, and attendees were left with a ringing in their ears and dark circles around their eyes. Everyone suffered the same affliction: the glorious fatigue brought on by the sheer excess of our city's gigantic music festival. It’s a shame that, like Christmas, this mad marathon of sound comes but once a year. But now, the stages have been taken down, the lawn chairs put away, and there’s nothing do to but wait until next summer for the 15th edition of Ottawa's most notable civic event.

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