Friday may be a bit light on quantity with a few gaps in the schedule, but it more than makes up in quality, starting with one of the most anticipated headliners in Bluesfest history—Rage Against the Machine. The ’90s rap-rock powerhouse broke the mould when they burst onto the scene with their self-titled debut album, which was eventually certified triple platinum. That success continued throughout that decade, with each album reaching platinum status and producing hit singles, quite an accomplishment for such an anti-establishment, political, activist band.
Those key elements that made the group so powerful also led to tensions in the band, which became too much to contain and led singer Zack de la Rocha to leave the group, along with the other three members (Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford) joining up with Chris Cornell to form Audioslave. The band reunited on a few occasions between 2007 and 2011, but went back on hiatus, with the trio sans de la Rocha forming Prophets of Rage with Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real from Cypress Hill.
Then, in 2019, the band announced a reunion with a world tour, with a stop at Bluesfest in 2020 on the schedule. Fans were ecstatic… until the pandemic forced it and Bluesfest to be postponed to 2021, then 2022. But now, this Friday, at 9:30pm, Rage will be playing their very first show in Ottawa after over two full years of anticipation. It also happens to be their first show in Canada this millennium (their last Canadian show was in Toronto in 1999). Oh, and it’s only their fourth show in the world since 2011. So you could say it’s a pretty big deal.
Opening for them on their tour is Run The Jewels at 7:30pm, and it’s easy to trace some influences back to their headlining tourmates, even beyond the few tracks on which they collaborated with de la Rocha. The rap duo has released four full studio albums since 2013 (five if you include the RTJ2 rework with all instruments replaced by cats, appropriately titled Meow the Jewels), as well as many contributions to soundtracks for film, television and video games. They’ve also perfected their stage show for festivals, having been at all the biggest ones (Coachella, Bonnaroo, Pitchfork, ACL Music Festival, etc.).
Like the main stage, the SiriusXM stage is somewhat light, with only two artists performing Friday. The Commotions will start the proceedings at 6pm. If their name sounds like a throwback to ’60s Motown, you’re on the right track to their sound. The local 11-piece features a five-piece horn section and all the soul and grooves you’d expect from such an ensemble. Then, at 7:30pm, Saskatoon’s Suzie Vinnick will offer up a dose of rootsy blues, highlighting not only her voice, which can sway from strong to sultry, but also her award-winning songwriting. With ten Maple Awards already to her credit, six for her voice, two for her songwriting, and one for her bass playing and best acoustic act each, she is clearly a force.
A full slate will kick off at 6:30pm with Okies from Aylmer. Making their second appearance at Bluesfest, they now have their latest release, Once a Fisherman from Spain, to draw from for their set, which promises to offer plenty of indie folk hooks that will stay with listeners well past their show.
Next at 8pm is Vancouver’s Ludic. The trio’s self-described sound of “alien Motown” is surprisingly fitting, with the arrangements feeling otherworldly, while the songs still feel familiar with catchy pop throughout. If you think you know where the piece is going, prepare for a curveball that will throw a jazz breakdown or a tempo change to keep you on your toes.
Closing the evening out is Germany’s Milky Chance. Formed in 2012, the duo released their first single, “Stolen Dance,” a year later, and it quickly went viral. The YouTube video for the song has surpassed 800 million views, and it recently surpassed 1 billion streams on Spotify. And while they may not have caught the same viral sensation with their follow-up singles, their subsequent releases such as “Cocoon” and “Colorado” have ensured they are far from one-hit wonders.
Barney Danson Theatre
Friday’s indoor set starts with The Day Dreamers at 6:30pm. The Montreal group combines traditional indie folk elements with haunting violin, transforming their songs into fantastic soundscapes, perfectly complementing the group’s harmonies.
Then, at 8pm, Jessica Pearson & The East Wind will take indie folk into a more country direction, drawing on slide guitars to add a slight twang behind her pure voice. The local artist just released her debut album this past January, which has already earned award nominations.
Finally, Suzie Vinnick will take the stage at 9:30pm for a second set to close the evening.