Ottawa Bluesfest 2011 rolled on and on with Erykah Badu …
165. On & On: Erykah Badu, The Tragically Hip, Shpongle, and more, Ottawa Bluesfest 2011 (Pt. 2), LeBreton Flats, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Saturday July 9, 2011, $19.17 (pre-sale avg., per night)
Saturday thankfully marked a return to hot dry weather following the previous night’s wash out (for us) of Wanda Jackson and The Black Keys. Returned in a non-moist state, we headed back down to the Flats for an early evening performance by hip-hop soul diva Erykah Badu. A literal sea of fans saturated the Claridge stage for Ms. Badu’s first ever performance in the Ottawa area, scheduled for 8 pm. We luckily got in early, staking out a close-quarters spot that would have been impossible to land even if we had gotten there 10 minutes later.
As the crowd continued to swell, time was a-tickin’ with no sign of Erykah anywhere. As part of the sound check, some keyboard players and a percussionist from her band riffed on a deliciously chilled, jazzy groove as everyone swayed in the early evening heat, making us even hungrier for things to start. At 8:16, the crowd started chanting her name but it was for nought.
At 8:30, the stage was still Badu-free. Was she going to show? ‘Twas a nailbiter.
Erykah Badu, “On & On” from Later, 1997.
Shortly thereafter, Ms. B finally emerged (straight from her vehicle as I later found out), striding imperiously on to the stage, rocking the rather odd sartorial choices of a poncho over a purple t-shirt’n’pants combo topped off with a fedora. She initially appeared proper ornery, sternly surveying the massed human landscape that lay at her tootsies before breaking into a big smile. “I don’t believe I’ve been around these parts before, but I already feel at home,” she later purred while noodling on her keyboard.
Erykah Badu at Ottawa Bluesfest 2011 (All Photos by VariousArtists and Cublet)
She proved worth the wait. Erykah and her band were in top form, with a set that delivered a laidback yet compulsive vibe to a rapt audience undeterred by the sun’s hissing rays and Gouda-thick humidity, both inescapable during the first half of her show. The set list spanned her career, including “On and On,” “The Healer (Hip Hop),””Didn’t Cha Know,” and an extended “Soldier” that delved into tale about personal and indigenous land rights.
Erykah Badu riffing on indigenous land rights during the latter part of “Soldier” during the 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest. I’ll eventually be posting some of my own footage via the forthcoming VATV on YouTube.
It must also be noted that her band has a bass sound so impossibly deep it was gut churning — in a great way. You literally felt the music.
Tri-Lit Erykah at Bluesfest.
Post-Badu, perennial Bluesfest favourites The Tragically Hip were already into their next door, main stage set. While most non-Canadian readers probably won’t recognize their name, up here The Hip have been bona-fide megastars for well over two decades. While I genuinely admire the band for how they’ve handled their career, with lots of hard work and wise choices along the way in addition to the obvious respect they have for their fans, they’ve never much done it for yours truly. For me, they’re sort of like The Guess Who for a later generation: a group that seemingly everyone in this country has a boundless love for, whereas I have no strong opinion one way or the other, musically speaking.
Having said that (and as is also the case with The Guess Who), I genuinely like a few of their tunes, one of which, “Ahead By A Century,” they played during the time we spent hanging out at the back of the crowd, taking in a few numbers from their set.
The Tragically Hip at Ottawa Bluesfest with “New Orleans Is Sinking”/”Nautical Disaster” via a fan-shot YouTube video. Anyone with even a casual acquaintance with Canadian rock radio over the past 23 years will unquestionably be familiar with the former tune in particular, it being a perennial staple up here.
Someone who is a big fan is one of my fellow writers over on Open Salon, Scarlett Sumac. She and Jack were in Ottawa for the gig, and Scarlett had tried to contact me via an OS PM a couple of days in advance, in hopes of arranging a meet up. As I was on my staycation and unplugging from a number of things, I was not readily checking my e’s and didn’t discover her message until a few hours before the gig. Damn.
Furthermore, owing to non-synching schedules and me misreading something on my cell during Badu’s set, we most unfortunately were not able to meet in person. Damn, damn, bugger, damn! Next time, next time …
As for myself, I’ll be talking more about The Hip later on down the line in this series, with a clustered entry chronicling a clutch of gigs from 1989, the year they exploded here.
A fan-made video using the second half of my favourite Tragically Hip tune, “50 Mission Cap,” from 1992’s Fully Completely. It’s about hockey legend Bill Barilko. Yes, the Tragically Hip are Canadian.
Meanwhile, Cublet and I meandered around the other stages, seeing what else was on offer. Cruising by the Hard Rock Café stage, we stumbled onto Kirk Franklin — good lord! Not being a fan of contemporary gospel, we didn’t hang around long. However, as we navigated through the crowd, we heard Franklin beseech everyone in the audience to hug at least three people close by who were of a different race, saying “white people, that means seeking out someone who looks like they wouldn’t live on your street, and people of colour, don’t be hugging no one named Tryone or Jerome — find a Brad or a Connor or a Timothy …”
Kirk Franklin has a sense of humour! Who knew? Chuckle props for that one.
We ended up laying down among a group of other Taking Five-rs on for an extended pause underneath a beaming moon, on top of the hill at the back of the National Bank stage’s area. Staring up at the stars in the night sky, we relaxed to some great indie/rootsish music that turned out to be a Portland-based singer/songwriter named M. Ward. We had no idea who it was at the time, but loved what we heard. Add another one to my “Check Out Further” list.
That’s always one of the bonuses of festivals: the discoveries you make along the way.
“Hold Time” by M. Ward (2009).
Good finds continued on to our final destination when we wandered into the Subway stage area to find a trippy, electro performance going down by someone from the UK who we later found operates under the stage/project name Shpongle. After that chilled hilltop break, I was in a body moovin’ mood: long, pounding techno pieces with odd world music flourishes was just what the doctor ordered. I spent the final hour of the night dancing my ass of with the rest of the revellers.
Shpongle at Bluesfest. Note glowing cube.
The visuals were pretty fly, too. DJ Simon Posford ensconced himself up in a booth at the top of a large Asian-flavoured structure sporting a variety of panels displaying pulsing light and image projections in time with the psychedelic trance, topped off with a large eye beaming a laser over the audience. Meanwhile, someone had brought a large dayglow cube that kept changing colour, bopping it above the heads in the crowd, while another had an umbrella’s skeleton kitted out to look like a throbbing electric jellyfish. Since there had been much enhancing going down throughout evening, the audio/visual dance treat turned out to be one of the festival’s highlights for me and Cublet this year: an exhilarating conclusion to the first Bluesfest week.
A video from YouTube shot during Shpongle’s audio-visual treat at this year’s Bluesfest. I have some video of the set coming as well, etc … you know the drill by now.
Next On Stage –> I have already written about the following Tuesday …
Bluesfest wraps up with a triumphant Saturday night … and then a tragic Sunday ….
NOTE: I simultaneously cross-post over on my Open Salon blog, where I also have a deeper backlog of entries.
© 2011 VariousArtists