After my two-year hiatus, I finally made it back to Ottawa’s Bluesfest. For our small city, Bluesfest has always astounded me both by the scale of the festival as well as the names that they are able to attract. This year’s headliners included Gym Class Heroes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Estelle, Ben Harper, and KISS. Each stage is set up so that it has a picturesque background allowing performers to serenade crowds with the backdrop of the city skyline, the Ottawa River, the war museum, or the Byward market.
The first performance of the night was the rap stylings of Ice Cube. You know you’ve lost your street cred when you find yourself rapping in the 6:30pm slot on a Tuesday at a Canadian Blues Festival. The highlight of Cube’s performance was his song “Smoke Some Weed” because every time he belted out the chorus, a pungent puff of smoke would emerge from the crowd. Ice Cubes set left me hoping that the upcoming performances would be served neat.
Towards the end of Ice Cubes excessively long set, people began to congregate in front of the stage of the next performance. The crowd was filled with hemp pants, bare feet, dread locks, hairy legs, and questionable hygiene so it didn’t take long to figure out that this was the stage where Xavier Rudd was playing. While Ice Cube's crowd may have had puffs of pot, this group boasted a thick mushroom cloud of reefer that hung over the crowd like a shelter. Facial hair and Castro hats aside, Xavier Rudd has some serious didgeridoo-ing skills and his performance sounded exactly like his recorded tracks, if not better. It almost made me want to hippie dance to the beat of a bongo drum. Almost.
As the sun began to set and Xavier’s flock of peace lovers dissipated into the crowd, it was time for the main event. I was never a major fan of Our Lady Peace, but as they began their performance I soon realized that I knew majority of their songs. Apparently, they played a large part in the soundtrack of my adolescence. The performance was one that was memorable for the band as well as the crowd. Raine Maida, the group’s lead singer, seemed genuinely astounded by the massive gathering as he took pictures and climbed up the stage structure to take a video to commemorate the event. After performing a phenomenal set comprised of older tracks and fresh songs off their upcoming album, the band eagerly returned for an encore. To show his appreciation to the Ottawa fans, Raine Maida climbed off the stage during the last song and made his way through the crowd all the way to the fans stuck out near the porta potties.
I think the evening was best summed up by Raine Maida’s first words as he walked out on stage and the lights came up on the endless sea of people: “Whoa, that was not what I was expecting”.