Bluesfest is an outdoor music event like no other. Over the span of 20 years, it has grown from a one stage – three day Blues event, to one that now has multiple stages with ten days of local, national, and international acts incorporating a wide range of musical tastes from around the world. It is recognized as the biggest outdoor music festival in Canada, and the second largest in North America, attracting hundreds of thousands every year.
You may ask why it is still called “Bluesfest”, even though there have been so many other musical styles thrown into the mix over the years? Because, just like the Blues, it is the root from which so many other forms of music were born. And because of this development, it has also allowed for a larger audience, reaching out to different tastes and age groups. There is something here for everyone. My congratulations to Executive Director, Mark Monahan, his team on the Board of Directors, and the essential volunteer staff on 20 successful years of this phenomenal event, which keeps growing and getting stronger year after year.
My picks on this 4th of July included a local Ottawa act, and one on a global scale on day 2 of Bluesfest. With this being my first day on the grounds, I was immediately impressed with the layout of the stages this year. Having the Claridge and Bell stages at opposite ends lengthwise has certainly made for a more spacious area, allowing people the ability to move about freely. And by way of a convenient shortcut through the foyer of the War Museum, one can travel to the Black Sheep Stage, tucked in behind the building.
This five piece sensation are local boys from Ottawa who have been churning out their heavy, infectious blend of southern rock infused blues for a few years, playing to venues all across Ontario, with this year marking their debut performance on the Bluesfest stage.
Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist/ keyboardist, Erik Hertzberg, and his talented brother Nick on guitar/keys/vocals, offer up two very distinct musical tastes. Erik’s more folk/country rootsy style, and Nick’s heavy blues-rock riffs…but blended, give a wonderful chemistry of a rich and melodic southern rock infusion.
Matt Muir, adds his second layer of guitar to create an even heavier groove, with some impressive lead work on that lovely Gibson Les Paul of his. The steady rockin’ rhythm work was laid down by bassist, Andrew Erlandson (who also plays guitar), and drummer, Jason Cote. Cote replaced their previous drummer two years ago, when he answered an ad in the Ottawa Musician on-line network site for a band that was “looking for the heaviest hitting drummer in Ottawa”.
Their music weaved in and out of flavours reminiscent of the Black Crowes and Led Zeppelin, with a dash of the heavier style blues playing of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I enjoyed the swampy seasonings of “Sign Me Up”, and my personal favorite, “The Truth”, rich in slow, smouldering blues, with Erik‘s vocals coming through deliciously edgy during the chorus.
Cold Capital, a definite must-see, have a 5-song EP simply entitled, The Cold Capital EP, released just last year…free to download for your listening pleasure.
Journey – a band that started as a more progressive rock/jazz fusion band in the early seventies, later turned their sound into the more melodic rock format that it is known for today.
When lead vocalist, Steve Perry came onboard in 1977, they began churning out stadium rock/pop hits, with albums reaching multi-platinum and diamond selling levels. They have created a legacy of some of the biggest and most endearing rock masterpieces of our time. After many band member changes over the years, they have still continued to tour endlessly throughout the world and have recently joined forces with the Steve Miller Band touring through the states starting this week.
The Journey of today consists of five insanely talented men: lead guitarist/backing vocalist and original founding member, Neal Schon; keyboardist/backing vocalist, Jonathan Cain (1980-present); bassist/backing vocalist and founding member, Ross Valory (1973-85; 1995-present); drummer/percussionist/lead and backing vocalist, Deen Castronovo (1998-present); and lead vocalist, Arnel Pineda (2007-present).
The show began to a packed grounds with “Be Good to Yourself,” followed by “Separate Ways” and “Anyway You Want It,” which sent the audience into near hysteria. The brigade of favorites continued, with the crowd at times nearly taking over the vocals. I was later told that the roar of those voices could be heard for quite a distance. Arnel Pineda exploded onto the stage with enthusiasm and energy, nailing every note with ease, and flashing that winning smile. After nearly seven years as lead vocalist with the band, Pineda has become a key element to the Journey sound, and has won the hearts of fans worldwide.
The highlight of the show for me was a heart-stopping rendition of one of my favorites, “Mother, Father”, sung by the unbelievable vocals of Deen Castronovo while playing the drum parts simultaneously. All band members lent their voices in the chorus of the song with multiple harmonies, sending chills right down to my feet. Castronovo demonstrated that he is every bit as talented a singer as he is a drummer…I was blown away.
Neal Schon continues to shine alone as one of the world’s guitar greats, as he delivered the most impossibly beautiful melodic solos throughout the show. There came a wonderful pause between songs to allow Schon to break into the American anthem, in ode to the 4th of July celebrations, then respectfully, he dove straight into the Canadian anthem, to the sheer delight of the crowd.
Keyboardist, Jonathan Cain, took us on a solo ride with excerpts of his gorgeously played compositions in a medley format, highlighting the beautifully crafted masterpieces he has brought to the band…”Faithfully”, “Who’s Cryin’ Now”, “Open Arms”, and of course later, one of the most recognizable piano riff introductions of all time, “Don’t Stop Believin’”.
The show ended with the steady thumping beat of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”…leaving the crowd to chime in on the “Nah-nah” chanting at the end. The Journey fans tonight were a mix of older and younger generations…a unique draw this band has achieved that truly shows how their music continues to be timeless.