Day 4 of Bluesfest closed out with Los Angeles power vocalist sensation Beth Hart who bewitched the audience with an hour and a half of songs plucked from her 25 year career. The crowd was so thick, it spilled out from under the covered space and onto the grounds, where many watched the performance on the jumbo screen nearby.
Hart headed straight to the raised catwalk at the front of the stage… as close to the crowd as possible. “I love being back in Canada!”, she beamed, waved a big hello, flashed her winning smile, and instantly had us all in the palm of her hand before she even uttered a note. Her three-piece band consisted of Bill Ransom (drums), Bob Marinelli (bass), and her guitarist of 20 years, Jon Nichols. They provided the heavy fuel behind Hart’s signature searing vocals and together they brought down the house.
Hart sank her teeth into every song with passionate guilty pleasure. Her one-of-a-kind voice travelled through colours of soulful sultriness and fingers-down-the-back sexiness, to her spine-tingling ‘Janis’ wails that made my hair stand on end. As much as she could stab in deep with her power rock vocals, the soul she delivered fit comfortably into the Blues shoes she was born in.
One I enjoyed early in the night from her recent album, Fire On The Floor (2016), was “Baby Shot Me Down”, which is a sinful combination of Latin music and Blues, bursting with minor chords, wrapped around the cat-like drawl of her voice. She moved to the piano for gospel-rock piece, “Spirit of God”, and remained there for the smouldering Blues power ballad, “Lay Your Hands On Me” from her third studio album, Leave The Light On (2003). The song’s steady walking beat progressed into heated swells and belting vocals that were absolutely spellbinding.
Another that reached those intense proportions was an Al Cooper cover of “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”, a song Hart recorded on the second of three albums she made with Blues guitarist, Joe Bonamassa. Seated on stools side by side, her and Nichols followed up with long-time favourite, “Broken and Ugly”, full of rockabilly Blues fire. “I wrote that one the first time I tried to get sober,” she quipped. “Today I’ve been 3 years, 6 months, and 3 days sober,” to which the audience responded with cheers of encouragement. The two continued with “The Ugliest House On The Block”, followed by another crowd pleaser, “Boogeyman”, that loomed in haunting plucked guitar chords and dramatic intensity.
“Baddest Blues” had Hart returning to the piano, and the audience became silenced in the throes of the song’s cinematic tones and vocals searing in tragic femme fatale darkness. During encore song, “Trouble”, she led the audience in some call/response banter that had nothing to do with the song, and even had them swearing, to her impish delight. At this point, the band left the stage and she spoke openly about how she made her way back from her dark journey through addiction: “I’m so grateful for so many things,” she expressed, and began to spill out the beautiful piano chord progression to “Leave The Light On”. Earnest and moving, the song’s bloodletting lyrics came straight from her heart and were visibly felt by many in the crowd, including myself. It put an emotional cap on a day, and on a stage that was shared by such outstanding local and international female talent.
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.