Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: A prologue

So here we are, already eight days into July. And if all had gone according to plan, I would be preparing to attend the first day of Ottawa’s Bluesfest tomorrow. I would be packing a change of clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses, probably a rain poncho, my camera, and my festival pass in my satchel, all to bring with me to work so I could head on down to the festival grounds right afterwards. I would probably be planning on which brewery to stop in at beforehand, something I’d been doing with more and more regularity, ever since the festival had adopted Molson and its overpriced cans of macro beer as a sponsor. The excitement would be palpable and my wife would likely be rolling her eyes and preparing to be without her husband for a week and a half…

But alas…

A few weeks after the festival lineup was released to great excitement (Alanis Morissette! Rage against the Machine!) and tickets went on sale, COVID-19 was announced as a worldwide pandemic and a threat to public safety in Canada. Everything was shut down. Concert tours and music festivals around the world were being cancelled. Bluesfest’s organizers held out for as long as they could, hoping against hope that things would clear up, and that the show could still go on. At the end of April, they pulled the plug, offering refunds or the option to transfer tickets to the following year, for which many of the very same exciting acts had already been confirmed. Of course, it was disappointing at the time, albeit completely understandable, and today, on the eve of what would’ve been the opening day, there’s more than a bit of a heavy heart in my chest.

The first time I attended the festival was back in 2009 and I have seen amazing sets at ten different editions of Bluesfest over the years. So what I thought I’d do for the next week and a half was to share photos and words from ten of my favourite sets from over the years, one for each day on which the festival would have taken place. Of course, I have already shared some great Bluesfest sets on these pages that likely would’ve been included. I won’t share them again but if you want whet your appetite for live show photos, you can click on the links below for those posts.

Father John Misty on the River Stage – Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Camera Obscura on the River Stage – Friday, July 5th, 2013

The Specials on the Claridge Homes Stage – Monday, July 8th, 2013

July Talk on the River Stage – Friday, July 11th, 2014

The Decemberists on the Claridge Stage – Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

Are you ready now? Good! For the next eleven days (the festival always takes one day off after the first weekend for rest), I’ll be sharing a handful of photos, some thoughts, and where possible, the set list (thank you setlist.fm) for ten of my favourite Bluesfest sets. Grab your sunscreen, earplugs, favourite beverage, and let’s get ready to rock.

New release: One Great Tribute! A Love Letter To The Weakerthans

So here’s something I don’t make a habit of doing very often on these pages: a review (of sorts) of a newly-released album. I figured, given that it’s my younger brother that is behind this pretty extensive tribute album to one of Canada’s musical treasures, that I should give it a listen and share my thoughts.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the know but just in case you’re not… The Weakerthans were an indie rock quartet from Winnipeg, Manitoba that released a handful of excellent albums from the late 1990s and into the late 2000s. Their sound was a melodic blend of folk and punk and the songwriting was pure gold. Frontman John K Samson was a poet laureate of sorts, imparting honest and astute observations on life in Canada and otherwise.

“One great tribute!” is twenty-three tracks long, clocking in at just over an hour, and covers a good portion of The Weakerthans’ four LPs. With the exception of one blip of synths, its entirety dwells in either angsty punk or rootsy folk or a combination of the two. It is bookended by two versions of “Bigfoot!”, both featuring stripped-down piano to the original’s acoustic plucking. However, I think Frank Turner’s opener is the bigger star here to the Bry Webb closer, but more because it feels more aptly upbeat than due to his more well-known name.

The Lowest of the Low’s ska-tinged cover of “Pamphleteer” made smile quite a bit as well, given that the first time I ever heard The Weakerthans was when I saw them open for The Low in 2001. It’s also kind of fun because their current bassist is none other than Greg Smith, though he didn’t play on the original version of the tune.

Del Barber’s choice of song to contribute was pitch perfect. “One great city!”, from which the compilation draws its name, is the love/hate ode to Winnipeg, the hometown Barber shares with The Weakerthans.

Some of the other highlights for me include Skye Wallace’s take on “Without mythologies”, the Have Gun, Will Travel cover of “Psalm for the Elks Lodge last call” and the version of “Sun in an empty room” by Ben Rough with Peachykine.

If I had any complaints to make about this tribute, they would be that it does get a bit long near the end and that despite all the songs, no one managed to take on what is possibly my own favourite Weakerthans tune: “Tournament of hearts”. However, I don’t think this would take anything away from fans of the group enjoying all the love these songs are getting. I personally dug out my copies of all the Weakerthans’ albums to compare notes after giving the compilation a few spins yesterday. I highly recommend you all check it out.

“One great tribute” is available for digital purchase here as of today. If physical formats are more your thing, there are plans to also release the album on CD but a date for that has to be announced.