Bluesfest draws a crowd of around 20,000 on an idyllic opening night

Vancouver pop singer Jessia opened on the main stage, before headliner Sarah McLachlan delivered a hit-packed set with her terrific band.

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The return edition of RBC Ottawa Bluesfest got off to a great start on Thursday, with an estimated 20,000 people descending on LeBreton Flats Park to see stellar performances by artists from Canada and around the world.

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Canada’s own queen of angst songs, Sarah McLachlan, was the main attraction on an opening night blessed with idyllic summer weather, and she rose to the occasion, delivering a hit-packed set with her excellent band. , punctuating it with a few words of wisdom between songs. .

McLachlan described the endless sea of ​​happy faces listening to music as “good medicine,” saying it was just what she needed to counter the anger she felt over the recent curtailment of women’s rights in the United States. The healthy fifty-something mother of two daughters even dropped an F-bomb to underscore her sentiments, earning a round of cheers for the outburst.

“It’s getting harder and harder to watch the news and see what’s going on in the South,” he told the crowd. “It is breaking my heart and I am very angry and frustrated.”

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The best thing he can do is sing, he declared, “and spread love and good energy and remind me that we all need to listen to each other and take care of each other, and if we can do that, I’m still hopeful.” He then led the band to a scorching version of World On Fire, a song from 1998 that has a new meaning in today’s turbulent times.

Singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan.
Singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan. Photo by David “Doc” Abbott /Distribute

Backed by a truly impressive band that included Whitehorse guitarist Luke Doucet, who has played with McLachlan for over two decades, and his musical partner (and romantic partner) Melissa McClelland on backing vocals and bass, plus Vincent Jones of Grapes of Wrath on keyboards and drummer Matt. Star, McLachlan alternated between grand piano, electric and acoustic guitar, though it was his soaring, multi-octave voice that sent tingles up her spine.

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The setlist spanned a vast emotional landscape, with selections including the confessional Adia, the bittersweet Song for My Father, a searing version of Monsters, and at least one upbeat tune, Ice Cream, that had the crowd singing along. Another highlight was the new song, Rise Up, co-written by McLachlan and Doucet, a melodic number that could serve as an anthem to bring the world together.

Earlier in the evening, there was a heartfelt opening by Jessia from Vancouver and a spirited show from Canadian R&B singer Alessia Cara, who was equally excited to perform in front of “real” people after the “crazy break.” of COVID-19. 19 blocks. Cara was also candid about her emotional struggle, and at one point she talked about the mental anguish she experienced on New Year’s Eve when she felt she had nothing to celebrate.

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That low point led to her writing her hit song, Best Days, and the assurance that things will get better. Her message and her energy provided a welcome boost for the young fans in the crowd.

Meanwhile, there were some top international acts to discover on the other stages. Australia’s psychedelic rockers Ocean Alley were a highlight of the River Stage (formerly Black Sheep) night on Thursday drawing a crowd of fans from all over the site as word spread about their dynamic style. Featuring a deftly arranged medley of Pink Floyd’s Breathe, Comfortably Numb and Money, few could resist its laid-back pace and crowd-pleasing charm. It was a delightful warm-up for fellow Australian Dean Lewis, whose tousled looks and soulful songs captivated the younger group.

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Another highlight was the high-energy blues stretch on the Sirius XM stage (under the marquee), which featured Ottawa’s up-and-coming Angelique Francis, saxophone dynamo Vanessa Collier, and a desert blues set by Bombino and his band. The Tuareg guitarist who was born in Niger played a mesmerizing style of electric blues that left the audience asking for more.

The summer vibe continued on Friday with surfer Jack Johnson on the main stage, joined by Ottawa’s Tash Sultana and Nambi and the Rhythm. The festival’s resident horn section, the Texas Horns, and alt-country diva Tami Neilson brought blues and country to the Sirius XM stage, while indie-rock took center stage on the River Stage, with Mack & Ben, New Pornographers and indigenous opera. by Jeremy Dutcher.

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As for the weekend, attendees will notice a reduced Bluesfest schedule, with music starting at 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, instead of noon or 1 p.m. in previous years.

Saturday’s lineup continues to explore the roots of popular music with performances by Nashville star (and new dad) Luke Combs, soulful alt-rockers The Revivalists and Ottawa expat Anders Drerup on the main stage. The world beat sounds of Femi Kuti and Positive Force anchor the SiriusXM stage, while Colin James will rock out on the River stage.

On Sunday, Alanis Morissette won’t be the only Ottawa-born star to make an appearance in her hometown; Blues guitarist Sue Foley is also on the bill, twice, with shows on the SiriusXM stage and at the Barney Danson Indoor Theater. Another festival favorite not to be missed is soulman Nathaniel Rateliff and his band, the Night Sweats, who play the River Stage at 8pm on Sunday.

The festival is a dark Monday before coming to life on Tuesday for a Can-rock workout with Alexisonfire and Sum-41.

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