The Bluesfest! It’s coming! Time to brace yourself for the annual immersion in great music, hot sun, cold beer and all around good times. Even if you’re heading out for the big name headliners be sure to catch some hometown bands too. The flats are set to be the most fertile ground for discovering the best of the city’s music scene. Here’s my roundup of 5 locals you have to hear.
The Visit – July 12th / 3:30pm / Barney Danson Theatre
The Visit has been on my must-see list for a while and with good reason. They’re what happens when two fiercely creative artists meet their match and find a way to channel the powerful force of their artistic chemistry. Those artists are cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne and vocalist Heather Sita Black. The duo describes their music as a fusion of “structures and instrumentation from classical chamber music with the intricacy of Middle Eastern and Persian music and the emotional and rhythmic weight of metal.”
It’s dark and mysterious, somehow ancient yet immediate. Their compositions are epic journeys you can lose yourself in. Weinroth-Browne is quickly making a name for himself as an incredibly skilled and versatile musician who’s composed and performed on more than 30 full-length albums since 2009. In the Visit he plays the cello with an exploratory fervour in dialogue with Heather Sita Black’s vocals that disarm you with their freedom and power. When they perform it feels like they’re channelling the spirit of the music instead of reciting pre-arranged pieces. In two words – scary good.
Sample Track: “The Offering”, recorded live at St. Albans Church in February 2014:
The Hilotrons – July 16th / 8:15pm / Canadian Stage
The Hilotrons are for sure one of Ottawa’s most forward-looking bands and have been for over 14 years, seven albums and several shifts of personnel. Currently, the Hilotrons are a five-piece musical monster lead by Mike Dubue (vocals, synths) and featuring some of the best improvisers in the area – Adam Saikaley (MPC/synth), Alex Moxon (guitar), drummer Pascal Delaquis and bassist Phillippe Charbonneau.
Their bio says they “approach music transcending the idea of genre” so what can you expect? A super intense live show, mind blowing musical communication between players, and compositions that are thick and rich and sure to make you move whether you like it or not. It’s a trip.
Sample track: “New Town”
Riishi Von Rex – July 18th / 4pm / Claridge Homes Stage
I’ve been a fan of Riishi Von Rex ever since seeing her play solo years ago. Here she was playing really well-written originals solo, tossing off lead lines on her electric and singing with one of the most rock voices I’ve ever heard. She has a rock voice in the classic sense from when there was a standard of rock vocals, like in that movie Rockstar. In 2012 she teamed up with drummer supremo Michel Delage whose playing has taken the sound into entirely new territory. It’s still solidly rock but stylistically well-read rock. They call it “gypsy rock.” It’s the sound of two very versatile musicians with some fine chemistry charting new sound. If you like good surprises you’ll like Riishi Von Rex.
Sample Track: “Baba Yaga”
Ray Harris and the BSOBs – July 19th / 8pm / Barney Danson Theatre
Ray Harris and the BSOBs deliver the straight-up country cure when you get weary of all the pretty faces in tight jeans and boots belting out party anthems and calling it country. Harris writes and performs songs in the vein of John Prine and Gram Parsons with lyrics full of stories, wry humour and people’s poetry. Backing him up are the BSOBs – Stephen K. Donnelly and his twangy electric guitar, Jason Anderson on mandolin, drummer Mary Gellner, Danny Artuso on pedal steel and Brent Fraser Weatherall holding it down on acoustic bass.
Sample Track:” Big Old American Cars”
Buck N’ Nice – July 18th / 7pm / Canadian Stage
Ottawa may not be known as a hip hop hotbed but it’s home all the same for Buck N Nice, an up-and-coming hip hop duo featuring Rapper Sawbuck and beatmaker DJ So Nice. Slick production, sharp hooks, and verses written from experience like hip hop short stories. They’ve been getting around and making their name, hitting Bluesfest hot on the heels of recent shows at House of PainT, Canadian Music Week and Megaphono so catch them while you can.
Sample track: “Merry Go Round”
There’s plenty more where that came from too.
Ottawa Bluesfest runs from July 8 – 19, 2015 at Lebreton Flats in front of the War Museum. Check out the full lineup to find more great locals playing the fest. Tickets are available at select locations around town and online. Click here for info.