Those that wandered into the Barney Danson Theatre during Bluesfest early Friday night were treated to something more than your average bluegrass band. Ottawa trio Old Man Grant whipped up their own brand of bluegrass brew that had flavours of country, folk, New Orleans dixieland, and a hefty heaping of foot-stomping hillbilly goodness. The three blended their talents of vocals and instrumental work to produce a variety of textures in their completely organic and unique sound. The magic of their performance was brought to life inside the pristine acoustics of the theatre… a place they had always wanted to play. It perfectly showcased the dynamics and dimension of their music.
Old Man Grant, consists of lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Jensen Grant, vocalist and percussionist Ally Snedker, and bassist and vocalist Peter Klaassen. The three took to the stage which was laid out with an arsenal of guitars, a banjo, a small kick drum, a full sized upright bass, and a single silver compressor mic on a stand. The three resumed their stance around the mic together, instruments in hand, looking very much like an old-tyme radio show was about to take place.
The band wasted no time in delving into their more quicker-paced material from their current album, “Why Not” (2016). “Crazy” immediately set the tone of their style, with Grant’s changing guitar rhythms, Klaassen’s rapid walking bassline, Snedker’s percussive embellishments, and very smooth three-part harmonies. More from the album came with the two-stepping catchiness of “Bad”, followed by the title track, which carried an upbeat chugging rhythm, and induced the captive audience in a call/response early in the set. “Devil Take Me”, a bluesy-country number with a jug blowing beat, moved from soft to strong intensities of vocals and instrumental work, which showed off their signature abilities of versatility, control and texture. Its minor-chorded structure and Klaassen’s use of a bow during some short solo segments brought on the song’s foreboding moodiness.
I enjoyed the bright vibe of “Not Too Long From Now”, a song they wrote last summer during an east coast touring stint, introduced as, “a happy song about death”. Many of their songs are told like stories, with lyrical content that is entertainingly witty, comparative to bands like the Barenaked Ladies. Next, it was Ally’s turn to shine vocally, as she switched over to take center on one called “Destination” and her lovely country-flavoured voice showed great control over the peaks and valleys of the melody.
Grant spoke to the audience about the band’s next tour coming up which will send them out west this time. Their wanderlust for travelling and playing shows in smaller venues and house parties, has been part of an adopted nomadic approach to a simpler, more fulfilling life, and an opportunity to really discover the country that they live in. “The less I have, the more it makes me whole…”, sung Grant in another east coast-written piece that described those very principles.
Grant donned his banjo for the final song, “The Salesman”, which was another steeped in those New Orleans, vaudevillian dixieland tones, with layered vocals and full of dramatic stops and starts. The ending built into double-timed craziness that gained even faster freight train momentum before it came to an abrupt finish, and with it came the audience’s task of winding themselves down. The hour had gone by in a flash, but the songs’ very palatable flavours and the enjoyment of the performance remained in my head, and in my heart for the rest of the night.
For more info on Old Man Grant, performances, or to buy their CD, “Why Not”, please visit www.oldmangrant.com.
RBC Bluesfest runs from July 6–16, 2017 at LeBreton Flats. Visit ottawabluesfest.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more Apt613 Bluesfest coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.