Rockin’ the Blues
Classic rock will share festival stage with crooners, rappers and, of course, the blues
BY LYNN SAXBERG , THE OTTAWA CITIZENAPRIL 22, 2009 6:24 AM
Ottawa - Get those vacation requests in to your supervisors, people, and make sure you block off a couple of weeks in July. No camping trips, no family reunions. Bluesfest is back to take over the grounds of the Canadian War Museum.
You will require a full 12 days away from your job this summer to absorb the massive injection of live music that is to be delivered at Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest July 8 to 19. Seventies hard-rockers Kiss, Canadian crooner k.d. lang, rap superstar Ludacris and funky soulman Ben Harper are among more than 200 artists headed to this year’s festival. The preliminary lineup is being announced today.
Also part of the 16th annual edition of Bluesfest are Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Jackson Browne, Jeff Beck and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. Gravel-voiced Brit Joe Cocker will perform, as will Brian Setzer, the former Stray Cat now swingin’ with his own jump-blues band.
For rock fans, Stone Temple Pilots, Our Lady Peace, Live, Cake and Styx will pound it out, while festival stalwarts Blue Rodeo and Sam Roberts will help prop up the Canadian content.
Close to 60 Ottawa-area acts, including Amanda Rheaume, Lindsay Ferguson and MonkeyJunk, are also confirmed.
There’s worldbeat, indie rock, reggae, country, folk, rap and, hey, a generous amount of blues, including Chicago legend Hubert Sumlin, electric blues-rockers Los Lonely Boys, Doyle Bramhall, acoustic master Chris Smithers, the teen sensations Homemade Jamz Band and the veterans Roomful of Blues.
With six stages in operation, the complete list of artists barely fits on a page. The talent budget has swollen to almost $4 million and two important new sponsors, Subway and the HardRock Café, have climbed on board.
Looking at the schedule, there’s little sign of recessionary spending. Organizers are betting the economy won’t affect the habits of festivalgoers. Their crowd surveys show that most people who go to the festival live in the region, come back every year and attend multiple concerts.
“Our approach to programming wasn’t dramatically different,” said Bluesfest co-founder and executive director Mark Monahan. “We didn’t react, because about 80 per cent of our crowd is local, and if you look at the micro aspect of this whole (economic) thing, Ottawa has been affected but not to the extent of other communities.
“One idea would have been to pull back and not take as many gambles, but we’ve never really done that before,” said Monahan, laughing. “So my idea has been that this is what makes the festival: the artistic programming and the artistic budget. We had a reasonably good year last year, and more sponsorships so let’s put the money into programming. That’s what really drives the event.”
Though it runs later into July than usual, due to the quirky 2009 calendar, Bluesfest actually starts on a Wednesday instead of Thursday this year. It begins July 8 with a mainstage performance by Jeff Beck, the legendary blues-rock/jazz-fusion guitarist.
Thursday, July 9 brings the long-awaited return of Ben Harper, the funky and soulful musical activist who dazzled the Bluesfest troops back at Ottawa City Hall in 2003. He’s on the Bank of America stage, while Canadian songbird k. d. lang will play the Rogers stage that night.
Browne is sure to include the hit song Running on Empty in his mainstage show on Friday, July 10. A full day of programming on July 11 will be topped off by a a Saturday night dance party with the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Cocker wraps up the first weekend on the mainstage on July 12. Monday, July 13 brings Stone Temple Pilots, and Tuesday features Our Lady Peace and Xavier Rudd.
Kiss will blast their sound out of the park on Wednesday, July 15, and the classic rock band Styx rolls in on Thursday, July 16.
Blue Rodeo returns on Friday,
July 17, but there are still open slots on the mainstage for the final weekend, July 17 and 18. They will be filled soon, Monahan says.
One new feature of this year’s festival is the first concert in LeBreton Gallery, the glassed-in area of the war museum where the tanks are displayed. Set up as a 1,000-capacity venue, jazz saxman Ornette Coleman performs there July 11.
Festival tickets go on sale Saturday through Capitaltickets.ca.
Day passes start at $35.
Full passports start $225 for 12 transferable tickets, one for each day of the festival.
(The non-transferable wristbands are no longer available.)