Concert Review: A Superb Saturday at Bluesfest, Featuring Robert Plant, Allison Krauss, Daniel Lanois, and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings

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Rock legend Robert Plant and bluegrass queen Alison Krauss wrapped up their Raise the Roof world tour in Ottawa on Saturday with a sublime concert on the RBC Bluesfest main stage in LeBreton Flats Park. Their Anglo-American roots collaboration capped off an evening program that also included a fantastic set from Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, joined by another rock legend, Daniel Lanois.

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Plant and Krauss, while they seem like an unlikely duo, have shown that they actually share many of the same influences, and both enjoy delving into the roots of traditional music. Their repertoire included material from their first album together, 2007’s Raising Sand, and the long-awaited follow-up, Raise the Roof, as well as a lead tune by Plant, acoustic reworkings of hits by their former band, Led Zeppelin, and even a nod to British folkies, Fairport Convention.

Backed by a hugely talented band featuring many stringed instruments, including mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and double bass, Plant was the undisputed leader of the show, directing the ebb and flow of proceedings with a masterful hand. The music moved from delicate folk chords to powerful rhythms, the sense of catharsis underscored by well-timed moments of tension. His distinctive voice was mesmerizing.

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Next to him was Krauss, in a gorgeous patterned dress, who elevated the show with her graceful performance and added a layer of ethereal vocals. I don’t want to say Plant hogs the mic, but my only minor quibble is that it would have been nice to see Krauss introduced in a bigger way.

One of the highlights of the show was a riveting rendition of Matty Groves, a traditional number considered one of the Fairport Convention’s biggest hits, which had Krauss singing lead vocals before switching to old Zep thumper, Gallows Pole, with Plant’s moan sending it off. on the moon.

Despite the plethora of entertainment that was drawing from the other three Bluesfest stages on Saturday, I decided to settle on the main stage that night, not wanting to miss a minute of Plant and Krauss, or before them, Blackie and the Kings of Rodeo. .

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Blackie, as you may know, is a Canadian roots-rock supergroup made up of Tom Wilson (recently appointed to the Order of Canada), Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing. They’ve already played Ottawa once this year, stopping at the National Center for the Arts last winter. As good as that show was, this one was even better, and not just because everything sounds better on a big stage under a summer sky.

Along with their usual crack rhythm section of bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig, the band was on fire, ripping through songs Stoned and Black Sheep, on which they were joined by can-roots maven Suzie Vinnick. The seasoned crew hit a gospel groove before introducing the other guitarist who had appeared on stage, unannounced, wearing a white hat.

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The guy in the white hat was none other than Lanois, the legendary musician and producer for acts like U2, Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris. An esteemed senior statesman of the global music scene, the 71-year-old was born in Hull and spent his early childhood exploring the banks of the Ottawa River.

Lanois wasted no time taking the reins, orchestrating the music with a simple nod or glance at the others. He alternated between guitar and pedal steel, and featured a handful of songs from his solo career, harkening back to Under the Stormy Sky and then pulling an entire rendition of The Maker out of his bag of tricks before leading the charge in a multi. . Lotta Love to Give with guitars.

Lanois stayed for the remainder of the show, which also included a rousing romp through The Band’s hit, written by Linden, Remedy, and an epic performance of Willie P. Bennett’s old classic, White Line, which began with the call of Wilson to make the world a better place for future generations. “I believe in love, Ottawa,” he declared to a multigenerational audience of thousands gathered in front of the stage. It was an uplifting moment.

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Bluesfest continues on Sunday with Death Cab for Cutie headlining the main stage, their first visit to Ottawa since 2011 when their set was canceled after the stage collapsed in a freak gust of wind.

The festival takes a break on Monday and Tuesday before coming back to life with Foo Fighters on Wednesday and Mumford and Sons on Thursday. Charlotte Cardin kicks off the weekend on Friday, followed by a hip-hop bill on Saturday night with Pitbull and Ludacris. Bluesfest ends on July 16 with an appearance by the post-Radiohead project, the Smile.

Beyond the main stage headliners, each day features additional acts at two other outdoor stages, the Sirius XM Marquee Stage and the River Stage, and indoors at the Barney Danson Theater.

For ticket and schedule information, go to ottawabluesfest.ca.

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