Ottawa singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Kelsey Hayes, and her top notch rhythm section more than impressed me on Friday night as they kicked things off on day number two at the Claridge Stage. Kelsey performed a collection of well-written originals from her two EPs and peppered her set with some creative cover material.
One of her originals, “Thursday Night”, was a lively piece coloured with contrasting soft/strong intensities and cool tempo changes. Her newest single, “Is It Like That?”, also embodied those similar textures, and the catchy hook in the song’s chorus stayed in my head long after the show. I also liked the very ska/hip-hop flavoured, “Wanted”, that showcased all the sultry, syrupy R&B sweetness of her voice. She also performed one her ballads, “Love Me”, where her vocals were front and center, complimented by minimal percussive embellishments. Her personality and stage presence shone onstage as she instantly connected with the audience, which quickly grew in size.
Kelsey fell in love with music at a very young age and by 12, she was already singing and playing piano. A year later, she would pick up the guitar and began dabbling in songwriting in her early teens. Now 22, she is a grad of Carleton University’s music school and has become quite the songwriter:
“What usually happens is I bring in the chords and melody, and the guys add their building blocks around it. I like to play around with textures based on what the song calls for. I like to be versatile—it’s fun to write a little bit of everything. I’m obsessed with really hooky music. I will sometimes take an album or a song and just play it over and over for days because it’s so addictive. So it’s important for me to create that in my own music.”
Her cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” was spot on, yet marked with a unique style of her own. A very cool version of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” was given a more energetic and playful tone, with a slight reggae groove, and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” was thick with bass backbone and slinkier R&B vocals. By the end of the hour-long set, the crowd had grown substantially and didn’t want to let her go.
Kelsey will be performing in Toronto this coming Monday as part of a showcase of artists being presented by the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, with a follow up performance on Sparks Street on August 19. To keep up with Kelsey Hayes, please visit her on Facebook or on Instagram.
RBC Bluesfest runs from July 5–15, 2018 at LeBreton Flats. Visit ottawabluesfest.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more of Apt613’s Bluesfest coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.