I drafted, well started and never finished really, a response to the G20 protest shortly after it happened. Basically, I put some thoughts down and scratched the whole effort. I had strong feelings about the whole affair but I couldn’t articulate or contextualize them in a way that I was happy with. If you’re going to oppose or support something, it helps to be well-informed and present a cohesive point of view. And I while I was more than willing to admit the ambiguity of what played out, I couldn’t nail down my thoughts; I gave up.
I’ve been reading A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving for a while now, and a passage jumped out at me. Since I was assigned the book in my twelfth grade English class, I’ve read this book three times; this is my fourth time through. It is one of my absolute favorites and I doubt it ever gets knocked out of my top five where it currently resides alongside some Dumas, Dostoevsky, and Uris. Every time I read it, I get more from it and love it more than I did the last time and certainly more than the first time I read it. It is so nuanced and rich, the characters are so dynamic, and chapter by chapter it forces an inescapable empathy for the world at large. In short, it is touching and charming and will have you questioning beliefs you had thought cemented and permanent. For what it’s worth, that is that this is being posted on a blog about an internship in Ottawa doing anti-corruption work, from one casual reader to another, the book is a classic. Irving truly is a fantastic novelist.
Veined throughout the book is an incredibly layered and complex commentary on the American war in Vietnam. The passage that caught me, a brief commentary on a protest in Washington in ’67, highlights only a fraction of my sentiment towards the G20 protests but it is, I think, rather poignant. It is as follows:
“What I saw in Washington that October were a lot of Americans who were genuinely dismayed by what their country was doing in Vietnam; I also saw a lot of Americans who were self-righteously attracted to the most childish notion of heroism–namely, their own. They thought that to force a confrontation with soldiers and policemen would not only elevate themselves to the status of heroes; this confrontation, they deluded themselves, would expose the corruption of the political and social system they loftily thought they opposed.”
The image behind that link is of a friend of mine named Zach Beers. I think it showcases another set of emotions that went hand-in-hand with the protests. Coincidentally it was also Zach Beers (via facebook) who put me onto one of the more honest snap-shots of the whole experience. I say snap-shot because again, the events were, at least in my view, ambiguous on so many fronts that it was hard to take any one image or account at face value because at that very moment, somewhere else in the city, something completely contradictory was likely taking place.
Immediately following the JBT show, I had to leave the grounds of the festival and get down to the ByWard Market for the free show at the Pop Life stage for the Halifax natives Wintersleep.
“Wait, you went to a free show? Why would you go to the free show when you had a pass to stay on the grounds…”
Yes, I went to the free show. And I went to a number of free shows over the course of the festival instead of staying on the grounds. The first reason is that the free shows offered performances by artists that I was more familiar with. There were artists performing in the grounds that I was anxious to see, but the number was usually limited, and the Pop Life stage provided an easy alternative to heading into the unknown with artists I was unfamiliar with. I also wanted a perspective that was not limited to just Lebreton Flats; I wanted the whole experience.
At first though, I must admit, I was pretty sceptical that a stage could be set up effectively in the market. I knew they’d have the space to erect one, whether it would be able to accommodate the kind of large crowd necessary to make it enjoyable was another question entirely. Any concerns I had were erased as soon I got there. There were already a couple hundred people milling about on York street when I got there and the crowd was 10-12 rows deep up by the stage with things getting looser but staying busy as you moved back. When I arrived at 8:25, with the show starting at 8:30, there were hundreds more people pouring into what empty space was left in the cordoned off area.
Often with free shows you can run into a situation where people are more interested in being a part of the crowd than they are in the music being played on stage. People simply show up, because it’s free, looking for a good time. They can be rowdy or inappropriate or charming and fun. But either way, in my experience anyways, their disinterest in what is happening on stage usually makes for a shitty show (more on this later in the festival). Luckily, Wintersleep were greeted by a crowd that was there for the right reason; they knew who was playing, and they were excited about seeing them.
Admittedly, I’m a fan of Wintersleep; and not just that overplayed and overhyped song you heard on the radio for months and months, but which is, admittedly, also amazing. Most people though don’t realize that the sound or impression you get from that one song is wrong. Not wrong in that it is bad, but wrong in that it has little to do with their actual sound on record; that song is an aberration in the larger context of their repertoire and material. Wintersleep’s broader sound is reflected more accurately on their sophomore album Welcome to the Night Sky which I enjoyed immensely; all the dark turns paired with honesty is rather compelling. Songs like Drunk on Aluminium and Oblivion are among my favorites.
It’s no secret though that lead singer Paul Murphy has what some might consider a rather whiny and nasal singing voice. On the album this is part of the charm but live there was the potential for disaster. To his credit, after struggling with pitch through the first couple of songs, once Murphy found his vocal footing and settled, his voice gave you that same feeling of comfort you get from the album.
The first song that really got the crowd going was “Black Camera”, the latest single from their new album New Inheritors. Noticeably absent was the title track from that release. By far though, “Oblivion” stood out to me as the most compelling song among the many they played. But despite my initial excitement at the attitude of the crowd and the surprise of Murphy’s vocal control, the show never really developed. The band found their groove on stage, but they never really enticed the audience to get excited. Maybe it was because they weren’t terribly excited themselves, but the performance itself came off as rather mundane. They came on stage and did their thing, but they didn’t offer much more than that. This was all the more disappointing considering that Wintersleep are a Bluesfest reguar.
The audience, for their part were respectful, and listened, and enjoyed, and then left. I had the feeling I wasn’t the only one who had hoped for a little more lustre but I can’t be sure; the audience, beyond their good behavior, were hard to read.
Photo Credit: Ming Wu from mingwuphotos.wordpress.com
During my first week at GOPAC, I was involved in a discussion regarding one of my earliest and still ongoing tasks: updating and managing the database. The discussion revolved around how useful the database was to GOPAC and how it might be utilized. At the time, I thought the whole conversation was hilarious, I couldn’t stop laughing. Having invested a considerable amount of time on it since then, I found it less amusing this time around.
On July 21st I emailed the media guy for inquiring about a media pass as a representative of Radio Glendon. I’d been vaguely aware of Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest since arriving in Ottawa, and I waited nearly too long before asking. After corresponding, I was granted a choice of two or three days at the festival, which began on the Tuesday July the 6th and runs right through until Sunday July 18th.
I was tempted to see Lights on the 6th and Andrew Bird would have been phenomenal on the 8th. But it was an Australian by the name of John Butler who finally made me stop and say to myself, “I cannot pass up this opportunity…”
John Butler is the main brain behind the John Butler Trio, who performed on the mbna stage at Ottawa Bluesfest on Friday July 9th at 7:00. His trio, which has put out 5 albums to date, includes himself, and a revolving door of bassists and drummers. His most recent album April Uprising, which was released on the 11th of March 2010, featured bassist Byron Luiters and Mr. Butler’s brother-in-law Nicky Bomba on drums, both of whom still fill out the trio on tour.
Now it bears mentioning and sharing that the only reason John Butler was put on my musical map was because of this video; this is what made me not want miss my opportunity to see the man perform live. .
So on Friday I stayed a bit late at work, and after picking up my tickets, was one of the first people in line for entrance to the Lebreton Flats, where the festival was being held. Following the JBT on the mbna stage, the festival main stage, was to be Joan Jett and so her fans were anxious, to say the least, to get a good spot up front. So we, the JBT fans, commiserated with them, the Jett fans, about the rain, promised to relinquish our front row seats after JBT opened, found that comfy spot on the heels of our feet and waited.
A small note about Bluesfest before I proceed with the JBT performance. As the name would suggest, Bluesfest is a blues festival; or a least it was. The festival, I think understandably, has undergone some changes to accommodate the changing geography and demographics of the music industry. Despite being labelled the 7th largest blues festival in the world, Bluesfest is really a shmorgasboard of different flavours often with little or no connection to the blues tradition. With headliners like Iron Maiden and Weezer, it’s hard not to get the picture. Don’t get me wrong the festival makes it work by grouping similar acts together on the various sponsored stages. The artists themselves certainly don’t mind; the sentiment of, “We’re not a blues band, but we’re happy to be here,” was a consistent stage banter quip.
These changes, though, have had a weird effect on the atmosphere of the festival. And the afore-mentioned JBT vs. Jett fans dynamic attests to the reality of the situation. There is a clear divide between the old and the young, the purists and the, well, not-so-purists. Who is there to see who is clearly visible at all times. There are those of course who attend, broadly speaking, for ‘the music’ but for the most part the divide is a tangible thing.
For example, the older Joan Jett fans came equiped with umbrellas and lawn chairs while the younger fans came without either and were lucky if they thought to get a free plastic poncho to ward off the rain. And while this might seem like a simple function of proper planning on the part of the adult crowd, I think the implications are a little more subtle. The lawn chairs, were not only meant for comfort, but also as a tool for marking territory. As you might expect, the generations huddled together, but without much equality. The older folks expected a certain amount of permanency to their position in the field with the use of their lawn chairs while the younger generation came acknowledging that there would be a certain amount of movement to the crowd and that this was to be desired. Clearly two different sets of expectations.
But I digress; now back to your regular scheduled programming.
The John Butler Trio opened with “Used To Get High”, which given its positions as a fan favorite; the hippies loooove JBT, and the dynamics of the crowd; the first scent of cannabis came from our esteemed Jett aficionados, this was an especially shrewd decision. It didn’t take much to get his own fans involved with the performance, but the wink and nod to the older crowd went a long way. Knowing the crowd is half the battle anyway, and the JBT swept all the unknowns away with the opening cord and lyrics (“I used to get high for a living / Believing everything that I saw on my TV”).
After ploughing through a couple of new songs, and an impromptu yee-haw banjo number dedicated to a lucky seagull, the JBT played a rousing version of the opening track off Sunrise Over Sea, “Treat Yo Mama.” That track, no matter how many times I listen through that album, always presents itself at odds with the rest of the tracks but remains a standout in the JBT repertoire. The live version only cemented it as a favorite of mine.
In truth, our presence at the JBT show was validated by a single performance. Immediately following “Treat Yo Mama,” the bassist and drummer exited the stage and JB made a quick guitar change, the crowd began to buzz. “Will he play it?” And he did, he played “Ocean.” It’s not on any of his albums, he never plays it the same way twice, I imagine it has changed over the years, adapted while on the road and numerous live performances. But there is really no effective way of explaining it. It’s played on a 12 string guitar (the top G string is removed), with no pick (JB has grown out the fingernails on his right hand), and lasts anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on his mood. It’s musicianship at its absolute finest. And that does not even begin to describe the emotions it evokes. Seriously, watch the video above for a faction of a taste. JBT fans kept looking at each other in watery eyed bliss with vaguely disguised “Is this happening?” looks on their faces. I also saw quite a few half-second glances at Joan Jett fans with expressions of, “Are you getting this?”
The rest of the JBT performance was excellent, but after the emotional high of “Treat Yo Mama” and “Ocean”, it really did pale in comparison. I don’t mean to make it sound like the rest of the performance was forgettable because that is simply not the case. Remember those stupid plot charts your 5th grade teacher tried to get you to buy into when you were reading Holes by Louis Sachar?
Introduction: Waiting patiently in with the Joan Jett fans
Rising Action: Everything leading up to and including “Treat Yo Mama.”
Conflict: “Will he play it?”
Falling Action: Everything that came after.
Resolution: Getting my ass over to the Pop Life stage in the ByWard Market for the Wintersleep show.
Stay tuned for the rest of the reviews.
So, its been 14 days since Canada Day, but while Larissa had a giggle about my muscles, I did promise her I’d post here about my experience in our nation’s capital on Canada Day.
The first thing you need to know about Canada Day in Ottawa is that it is unlike anywhere else I’ve been for Canada Day, and that sentiment is shared by my girlfriend Megh, whom I spent the day with, and anyone who has been in Ottawa for Canada Day and can compare it to experiences elsewhere.
Canada Day in Toronto is a non-event. Late night, you might you might find some people with a few roman candles and other assorted (and lame) fireworks, but the day is less about the birth of the country and more about having an excuse to set off fireworks. Some municipalities, like Richmond Hill where I went to high school, make a show of having the best firework show around but it’s still more about the fireworks. Even my cottage, where I usually find myself enjoying Canada Day, its more about sitting on the beach and having a good time than it is about the day itself or its significance. And yes, at night, we usually have fireworks.
In Ottawa, its not about the fireworks. The festivities start at noon, and the whole downtown core near the Hill shuts down, the streets get closed down. The market is also shut down as pedestrian haven. At noon, and then again in the evening, there are music shows at Major Hill and on the Hill for Canadian artists from all over Canada. The Barenaked Ladies and k-os were the headliners at each stage this year. And that’s just the tip of the Canadian culture iceberg. There is of course the requisite fireworks display at the end of the day, but that part of the day just seems like a big ‘thank you’ for all the celebrating that goes on in between.
People go the mile, and then another one. Everywhere you go, its a sea of red and white. People just take to the street for a good time. The afternoon starts with the families and young children, they go out for the early music show and then catch some street performers or buskers. As the afternoon progresses, the teenagers and young adults come out and do their rounds of the streets, parks and markets. Then they go to a bar or back to their place for a couple drinks (or way more than a few drinks) and then they hit the streets again for the fireworks which are launched from across the river in Gatineau. There are street performers everywhere the whole day, there are food stands everywhere, but it really is just a lot of people out with their friends having a good time and showing their colours.
Megh and I went down just after noon, and walked around, met up with Lyne, and walked around some more. In all honesty? We had no plan, and wandered aimlessly. The whole thing was overwhelming. We didn’t know where to go or what to see, or even what there was to see. We had fun, I mean the people were all festive and there were lots of different places to go, all with more people, but as Ottawa Canada Day virgins. Having done it once, I know now that we went downtown too early and wore ourselves out too quickly. We made it to until about 5:30 before were were too tired for more walking. The prospect of being downtown for another four and a half hours until fireworks at 10 was overwhelming and we called it a day, came back to my cousin’s house and promptly slept.
I feel like I’m not doing it justice. There was not as much to do as I thought there would be, but there was still lots happening. We definitely did not plan very well, but had no real way of knowing what to expect or how to plan. I had a good time, but I feel like we missed out on a lot because of the way the day played out. I’m not sure when I’ll have a chance to do it again, but at least then I will know what I’m doing. That’s right, Canada Day in Ottawa kicked my novice ass. Now where else in Canada on July 1st can you guarantee an ass kicking like that?
I’ve been granted a media pass for Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest here in Ottawa for Friday July 9th, Saturday July 10th, and Tuesday July 13th. If you want to know what is going on, what I’m up to, please keep an eye on my Twitter account, @sleightofsound, which you can also find on the right hand side of this blog’s main page, as I will be live tweeting about what I see and hear.
PS. Here is who I hope to be seeing:
That is what I hope to catch. No guarantees, and I’m probably going to catch snippets of other stuff as well. Stay tuned, I’ll post back with comments on each show.
So, um, I just experienced an earthquake. In Ottawa (Toronto and Montreal felt it as well). 5.7 on the Richter. Epicentre is apparently 40 miles north of Ottawa, just inside the border of Quebec. So take that all you worldly travelers.
Level of Danger in Ottawa > Level of Danger Elsewhere (for a brief 15 seconds).
PA dude just came on announcing that we have just experienced an earthquake (a good thirteen minutes late). Apparently I am to remain on my floor (the 8th) as I am at risk of falling debris outside.
I’m living on the edge. WIN.
PS. PA dude just came back on to confirm that, yes, all life verification equipment is functioning properly.