Published Jul 18, 2011Eclipsed by the international news coverage surrounding the disastrous ending to this year's Ottawa Bluesfest, the colossal music festival entered its final day riding high on stellar performances and pristine weather. Showcasing more than 200 national, international and local acts across six stages and over 12 days, the curiously named festival made a stellar return to the picturesque LeBreton Flats. Going back to their roots, fest organizers scrapped their two-year experiment with Ottawa's ByWard Market satellite stage while moving last year's much maligned comedy showcase into the Barney Danson Theatre, located on festival grounds, inside the Canadian War Museum.
This year's incarnation featured some of Ottawa's strongest local acts, including Ukrainia, Giant Hand, Glenn Nuotio, Paramedics and the Murder Plans. Unfortunately, they all occupied early slots, mostly attended by supporters and festival workers. Only Ottawa's the Balconies were billed as headliners, closing off the first Sunday night with a charming performance inside the Barney Danson Theatre.
As the 200-seat theatre traditionally housed experimental and left-of-centre oddities, the decision to bring in accomplished artists like Peter Elkas, Little Scream and Winter Gloves worked well, as each provided intimate sets attended by chiefly open-ear audiences. As for the festival's outdoor side stages, they either looked over-packed with back-from-the-dead artists like the 73-year-old Wanda Jackson and the newly reformed Tea Party, along with fan favourites Tegan and Sara, M. Ward and Buck 65, or sparsely attended when such acts as Mark Kozelek, Diamond Rings and Cuff the Duke played slightly uninspired sets, likely due to the poor crowd turnout. But just as Mother Mother worked their large, fervent crowd, PS I Love You, Braids and Neon Indian conquered the extreme heat and paltry turnouts with energetic sets, winning over more than a few walk-uppers.
However, all eyes were on the festival's two main stages, this year situated side by side, facing the Ottawa River, as the festival strove to forego most of their traditional nostalgic fare (save for Steve Miller, John Fogerty and Peter Frampton) for more current acts. Although Gen X headliners Soundgarden and the Tragically Hip stuck to the program, nary changing their 1990s stage show, the Flaming Lips, the Roots and Jane's Addiction scored with new arrangements and heady stage set-ups. But this year's Ottawa Bluesfest truly belonged to the youth. While uneven sets from a dazed Erykah Badu and a confused Death from Above 1979 didn't seem to affect the gracious crowds, Girl Talk, My Morning Jacket and the Black Keys took full control of the immense stages, delivering star-making performances.
However, it was Metric and Lupe Fiasco who really had the audience jumping, as the latter proved that he deserved a headlining spot. Luck may have been in Fiasco's corner, though, as Cheap Trick, following Lupe on the adjacent main stage, were forced to end their set short as mass chaos erupted when black clouds and 140-kilometre gusts sent the stage toppling to the ground, sending five people to hospital and thousands fleeing. After emergency vehicles rushed to the scene and shows by Ra Ra Riot, Chali 2na and Death Cab for Cutie were promptly cancelled, many were left hoping that the collapse of Ottawa Bluesfest's monolith stage isn't a metaphor for the festival itself.