Published Jul 20, 2009Striving to become Canada's largest music festival, the 2009 Ottawa Bluesfest began its urban sprawl into Ottawa's Byward Market, featuring five days of outdoor performances from George Clinton, Arrested Development, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Broken Social Scene and Serena Ryder, while incorporating club shows from the likes of Elliott Brood, RJD2, Gift of Gab and the Juan Maclean.
However, drawing around 50,000 fans, Bluesfest Byward came off as small fries compared to the main event on the picturesque LeBreton Flats, which brought together 300,000 festivalgoers, 220 bands on six stages over 12 days.
Although fare like the Yardbirds, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss and a surprisingly relevant Zombies have replaced actual blues acts, younger fans arrived in droves to catch Holy Fuck, K'naan, Black Mountain and the revved-up and explosive Handsome Furs, while the smaller stages featured workmanlike performances from Japandroids, Mother Mother, the Deep Dark Woods and Sunparlour Players.
Once again, the Bluesfest team did a fantastic job at showcasing Ottawa's best up-and-comers like the Watters Brothers, Sedatives, Giant Hand and the Balconies, who received much admiration from stage-mates Land of Talk. The finest in Pitchfork-approved rock (Iron & Wine, the Dodos, Okkervil River) and NPR-friendly acts (Steve Earle, Neko Case, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings) drew the most varied crowds with highlights coming courtesy of M83's gentle electronics and DeVotchKa's genre-bending stomp-romp.
As rain, wind and cold hampered crowds throughout eight of the 12 days, those who roughed it out were treated to some of the festival's preeminent performances, including the Dead Weather and the National's gritty/glossy stage-shows, Ornette Coleman inside the War Museum and Yeah Yeah Yeah's wildly fervent festival-closer. But it was Girl Talk's completely bat-shit gang-bang that kept the crowds dancing, mashing together classic rock, hip hop, world jams and indie rock, and acting as a fitting metaphor to a festival growing more adventurous and extroverted as each year passes.