Finally! Friday went off as planned for Bluesfest, and organizers got a reprieve from all the cancellations (weather and otherwise). Unfortunately, Saturday’s forecast doesn’t seem to be as cooperative, with thunderstorms menacing the afternoon and evening. Hopefully they will pass by and leave the festival alone.
As usual, Saturdays are chock-full of artists, both local and beyond, starting at 3:30pm, with the prime focus on some of the biggest names in hip-hop history on the main stage.
City Stage: Del Hartley (3:30pm), Cartel Madras (4:30pm), The Sorority (5:15pm), K’Naan (6:30pm), Wu-Tang Clan (8pm), Snoop Dogg (9:30pm)
Videotron Stage: YUKA (5pm), U.N. Jefferson (6:30pm), Pokey LaFarge (8pm), Matt Andersen & the Mellotones (9:30pm)
Bluesville Stage: Sly High (4:30pm), After Funk (6:30pm), Southern Avenue (8pm), Pussy Riot (9:30pm)
Barney Danson Theatre: Ellie Gadzos (3:30pm), She’s The One Competition (4pm), Ikirezi (7:30pm), All-Star Blues Revue with MonkeyJunk (9pm)
Spin Stage: Matt Tamblyn (6:30pm)
Ottawa R&B/soul singer Del Hartley will launch Day 9 on the City Stage. Drawing from last year’s EP Sinphony and two follow-up singles released in 2018, “Money” and “Closure,” his smooth vocals can swing easily from a deep baritone to a falsetto and back, seemingly effortlessly.
Manotick teen Ellie Gadzos will open the Barney Danson Theatre at 3:30pm, her last concert as the reigning She’s The One winner, since this year’s competition will be held right after her set. That said, she’s bound to have more appearances in the near future with the talent she already displays.
Ottawa-by-way-of-Rwanda’s Annais Deborah Ikirezi is a soul singer with phenomenal control, as demonstrated in her cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Her understated yet powerful rendition exemplifies the vulnerability and quiet strength the song should convey.
Ottawa’s Sly High are a Sly & The Family Stone tribute band, bringing the funk to the stage with almost a dozen performers. Their high-energy performance is sure to get the Bluesville tent moving.
The All-Star Blues Revue with MonkeyJunk closes out the Theatre, with guests Southern Avenue joining them. Matt Tamblyn will take over the Spin Stage tonight for his one appearance at the festival.
While Wu-Tang Clan and Snoop Dogg may have the well-deserved top billing, hip-hop fans should make a point of getting to the grounds early to catch Canada’s own K’naan. While his claim to fame internationally is his “Wavin’ Flag” single, the anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, his discography leading up to that track earned him Junos for Rap Recording of the Year in 2006 and Artist and Songwriter of the Year in 2010. He followed up that breakthrough success with a pair of platinum singles in 2012: “Is Anybody Out There?” (with Nelly Furtado) and “Hurt Me Tomorrow.” He hasn’t performed in Ottawa since, so he’s long overdue to bring his introspective rhymes to our city’s stage.
In Conversation With… Matt Andersen
New Brunswicker Matt Andersen‘s appearances at Bluesfest have all been memorable, from 2014’s show with the Mellotones to 2017’s set in the Bluesville tent with his smaller touring band. He’s always rated as one of the top acts of the festival. This time around, he’s back with the Mellotones for a show on the Videotron Stage. We caught up with him at home on a short break from the road, where he seems to be most of the time these days.
Apt613: Looking at your tour schedule, you’re going to be on the road for quite a while.
Matt Andersen: Yeah, we’re looking at about 130 shows this year, all together, so it’s going to be a busy one.
Most of your dates coming up are solo shows, but we get the pleasure of having the Mellotones join you here.
Everything we’ve done in Canada this year so far has been with the Mellotones, starting on the West Coast and working our way through to Ontario, and we wrapped up the East Coast this past weekend. So the band is in fine form and ready to hit the stage there, for sure.
How do you decide whether you’re doing the smaller five-piece backing band or bringing the Mellotones for Bluesfest?
Oftentimes it just comes down to economics. It takes a lot to haul around that many people. If we take the full band it’s a 12-piece, including band and crew, so that’s 12 people on the road. But also, places where I’ve done a lot of solo stuff, it’s nice to take the band out. This year we didn’t get to Ottawa on this tour, so this is a chance to bring the band, with the new album out, and play those songs.
You’ve got a couple of dates in Minnesota bookending your show in Ottawa. How much of a grind is that?
Oh it’s gonna suck, I’m not gonna lie. I’m not looking forward to those three days. The shows are going to be great, but yeah. I’m doing shows with Steve Miller and Marty Stuart, that’s what set up my summer. I’m playing Minneapolis on Friday night, then I’ll be heading to the airport and flying up to Ottawa, playing that show, then flying back to Minneapolis the next morning. I’ll need a rest after a few days, but I’ll be in fine shape for Ottawa.
For your show with the Mellotones, are there specific songs you look forward to getting to do? In 2014, you had a fantastic version of “Ophelia,” so are there others that just lend themselves even better to the full band?
“Ophelia” is one we still do, it’s so much more fun with the full band than just playing solo, and not having that whole horn section going. Even the ones that I’ve done solo, it’s nice to have the horn arrangement on these songs, or if they don’t have horns, they’ll be singing backup, so I’ll have four people singing on some songs. It’s fun to have that in your arsenal to play in a show.
I guess with a bigger festival stage, having that many people with you also helps to let it all out.
It’s a lot of fun. I’ve done the solo thing a lot, even for festivals, and you have to carry it all yourself. There’s not a lot of chance to sit back and let things happen, but with the band, you can do that. You can sink in and be part of a unit. There’s nine of us on stage, so it’s a great feeling to be part of that on stage and cheer each other on and get a groove going. I miss that when I play the solo stuff. And with Bluesfest being a big stage, we don’t have to worry about being too loud or anything like that. The band is pumped up, they remember playing the festival before, so they’re pretty geared up.
On your most recent album Halfway Home, the recording sounds so organic. There don’t seem to be any overdubs or touch-ups. How was that process?
For the most part, the only overdubs we did were background vocals. The horns section, the guitars, the vocals, pretty much all of it was done live. There’s the odd thing we’d throw in just to add texture, but pretty much what you hear on the album is what we heard when we stopped pushing “record” in the studio, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Steve Dawson produced it, and he was ready for that. Not every producer can work with that kind of setup. Steve loves that–it’s his comfort zone. It was great to work in his studio, with great musicians, and just let them play, and not rely on anything else. Just musicianship, really.
I guess at this point in your career, you’re ready to work in that kind of setup as well. I’m thinking a couple of albums in, it would’ve been hard to nail that kind of recording without having to do a hundred takes.
You need to rely on musicians a lot. With Steve’s experience and the people he knows, he hand-picked people who would fit that kind of situation, because a lot of people aren’t used to recording like that anymore. For a lot of younger musicians, it’s all overdubs. You come in, you do your part and you leave, and someone else adds their part after. I can appreciate that process, I’ve done it before for sure, but going in and having all the musicians there at the same time–that’s the way I love to do it, and I’ll probably keep doing it that way.
So 10 albums in, you’re touring the most recent one, but are you also thinking about the next one?
You kind of always do, as soon as you get done. Especially after recording, you get pumped up about recording so you always have it in your head. There’s a lot of road yet before we get to the studio again. Tours across Canada and the U.S., and then Europe as well. But always starting to think of tunes and getting in that mode of writing again.
And as part of that touring, you’ll be coming back to Ottawa at the end of the year?
We’ll be doing the National Arts Centre again this year. I did a holiday show there last year around Christmas, and I’ll be coming back to do that again.
RBC Bluesfest is at LeBreton Flats (Canadian War Museum) from July 4–14, 2019. Visit ottawabluesfest.ca for tickets, the complete schedule and lineup. Check back for more on Bluesfest 2019, including our last daily preview this Sunday.