Published Jul 19, 2010Just when the 2009 incarnation of the Ottawa Bluesfest looked like it had taken the festival to its zenith, festival organizers showed that they had even more ideas up their sleeves for 2010.
Adding a 13th day to the festival, this year's Ottawa Bluesfest featured around 240 artists across nine stages, with the Black Sheep Music and Comedy Tent causing the most uproar. In a last-minute decision, the long-standing Black Sheep Stage, which normally houses most of the festival's world beat and up-and-coming Canadian indie rock artists, was encased in a colossal tent to allow for a series of comedy acts. SNL alum Finesse Mitchell and Jim Breuer provided some of the highlights, along with Louis C.K. and Lewis Black, who packed the tent despite the additional $56 admission price.
Grievous Angel: The Legend of Gram Parsons and Night of the Living Dead Live were both performed in the Barney Danson Theatre, marking the festival's first foray into musical theatre, while three kilometres away, the Bluesfest's ByWard Market stage returned for a week of free shows featuring Born Ruffians, Tokyo Police Club, the Sadies and Jason Collett. Back at LeBreton Flats, the Soiree, White Wires, Hollerado and Ottawa's Kelp Records showcase, featuring Andrew Vincent, the Flaps and Rhume, did much to show off Ottawa's excellent local scene.
The tiny, air-conditioned Barney Danson Theatre enjoyed large crowds, thanks to intimate performances by Dan Mangan, Hannah Georgas and Alvin Youngblood Hart. But it was the truly bizarre that made the festival's "hidden stage" worth the jaunt, as Meaford, ON's Electric Eclectics Festival presented John Kilduff and NYC minimal electronic composer Nicolas Collins. Kilduff, who brought his L.A.-based public access show Let's Paint TV to the stage, painted, blended smoothies and answered audience questions all while running on a treadmill.
Although the Black Sheep Music and Comedy Tent remained the focus of discontent from festivalgoers and local newspaper columnists, fans still found their way to the stage to see performances from the Planet Smashers and Basia Bulat. Unfortunately terrific live shows from Konono No. 1, We Are Wolves, Tusks, the Mohawk Lodge and Eamon McGrath didn't receive the "walk-up" crowd traffic the stage was known for.
The two medium-sized stages continued to draw the most diverse crowds of the festival, thanks to eclectic lineups and dynamic headliners. Great Lake Swimmers, Bear in Heaven and Timber Timbre all battled extreme humidity, looking exhausted and beaten because of it. Andrew Bird and Passion Pit played to smaller-than-expected crowds due to stiff competition but managed to pull off bubbly performances, while Islands took their scheduling woes less valiantly. Playing to hordes of teenage girls, who jammed the front of the stage in anticipation of Marianas Trench, Islands sulked their way through the entirety of their brief set. Conversely, Woodhands followed and took advantage of the situation, churning out one of the best performances of the festival. Steel Pulse, Rural Alberta Advantage, Plants and Animals, Stars and Blonde Redhead all found inspiration in the gorgeous views of the festival grounds, while The Hold Steady looked completely enamoured with the adoring crowd.
As expected, the festival's two main stages contained some of the best performances as Hole, Metric, Drake and Jimmy Cliff looked surprisingly relevant and in control, while Iron Maiden and the B-52s looked rather bloated and uninterested. Predictably, Arcade Fire and the Flaming Lips owned the main stage, as the former relied on unadulterated energy coupled with a batch of terrific new songs and the latter utilized a dizzying stage show with loads of charisma. But the biggest shock of the festival was the great performance delivered by Weezer, as indie rock punching bag Rivers Cuomo delivered the performance of his life - climbing scaffolding, hiding in garbage bins, dancing with fans, foraying into the audience - effectively providing this year's festival with a Hitchcock-worthy twist ending.