RBC Bluesfest Day 4 Served Maritime Folk to Emo Rock

Alan Doyle performing at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Photo by Laura Collins.

Despite being a Sunday evening with rain in the forecast, the crowds came back for another rock show on day 4 of RBC Bluesfest. With a two-day break after last night until the next show, Ottawa showed up to go all out. Next up—Foo Fighters on July 12! Be prepared and come early because it’s going to be a madhouse.

Taming Sari, a local band with members from Ontario and Quebec, kicked off the evening on the SiriusXM stage with a true rock spectacle. They lit up the tent with their high energy and beautiful locks, thrusting us into a thunderous experience. Reminiscent of rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream, they had the crowd head banging to tight riffs and swaying to blues melodies. Put these guys on stage with Greta Van Fleet and Crown Lands, and it’ll feel like we’re back in the late 60s and 70s.

Singer Warren Meredith’s hard rock vocals reminded me of a mix between Alice Cooper and Bon Jovi, with a dash of Robert Plant. A strange combination of singers, but when put in a blender creates a charming rasp that works for all kinds of rock, from love songs to mosh pits.

Taming Sari performing at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Photo by Laura Collins.

“Make some noise out there, let’s hear it!” Meredith shouted to the crowd to turn up the heat. As the crowd cheered, Kyle Humphrey was lifted in the air front and center, once again showing his passion for live music. With every minute of crowd surfing, Humphrey breaks down more accessibility barriers and proves that no one, no matter who you are, should feel like they don’t belong at a rock show (or any other show for that matter).

It won’t be long before Taming Sari is performing on the main stage with their talent and passion. For their first Bluesfest, their set was a huge hit. And after the show they mingled with fans and autographed shirts and CDs, and took photos and selfies with anyone who asked. They truly love what they do, and showing love to their fans will help spread the word even faster. Keep your eyes on this band—they’re a hard rock force that will be all over in no time!

Bran Van 3000 took to the main RBC stage at the same time to prime the audience for Tegan and Sara and Death Cab For Cutie. With some power issues delaying the show for a few minutes, a first for the festival this year, they scrambled to get going, creating a very awkward start for both the band and the audience. After the technical difficulties were fixed, their stage presence seemed a little too rough for a main stage act. Perhaps their groove was thrown off, and it was hard to get it back.

Bran Van 3000 performing at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Photo by Renee Doiron.

Tegan and Sara turned things around with a delightful mix of sisterly banter and alt/indie pop. The audience grew as they drew everyone in with their quick wit and charming audience interactions. The technical difficulties continued as Sara stopped the show because she couldn’t hear anything through her in-ear monitors and then had guitar issues, making it difficult to perform. But instead of awkward silence and fumbling with their equipment, they engaged the crowd. The best part about live performances is getting a unique experience, and the way musicians alter the experience from show to show is magical.

“You get to see our skillset here where we don’t panic,” Tegan said, her sarcastic and deadpan delivery making the crowd laugh. “I might be dead,” Sara said, with only a mild panic in her voice as she waited for the sound issues to be fixed. The existential dread in their voices was very relatable to the chuckling millennial and gen X audience. Next they had the audience play a game, where they told all the single people to raise their hands to create an “analog dating app”—honestly the best idea in an age where dating apps are soul-destroying. Someone from the crowd said “wait, let’s keep doing this.” What a way to find like-minded people!

Tegan and Sara performing at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Photo by Renee Doiron.

Once the issues were resolved they launched back into their set and covered both new and old material, with the audience singing and dancing along. The stage volume was cranked up for this show and everyone was into it, even the rain backed off to let them finish their set in peace.

With an hour break before the main act, the crowd flooded the War Museum to see Jack Barksdale on the River stage. I was shocked to see so many people packed in to see the 15-year-old folk/blues singer from Texas, but then not so shocked after hearing his voice. Just a boy and his guitar, with a drummer for backup, playing the second slot at a massive music festival. This kid is going places!

His sweet and gentle voice with a graceful twang and cool acoustic riffs mesmerized the audience. He was a little nervous talking in between songs and he didn’t move much, but everyone was rooting for him. He explained that because he’s young he doesn’t have much life experience, he borrows from other people’s lives. He then proceeded to sing about drinking liquor—a cute joke that made us all chuckle.

The crowds got so big as Barksdale’s show finished and people secured their spots for the maritime legend Alan Doyle, that security wouldn’t let people through the War Museum anymore. You had to walk around the museum to get to the River stage (with little chance to find a spot).

Alan Doyle performing at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Photo by Laura Collins.

Doyle, born and raised in Newfoundland, and best known as the lead singer of the folk rock band Great Big Sea, pulled the biggest crowd I’ve seen so far at the River stage. It was hard to maneuver into a good spot to watch the show, but the crowd was welcoming and having a grand old time. I felt like I was back home with my buddies in Halifax at The Lower Deck Bar on the ocean drinking, singing, and swearing like sailors. No one parties quite like a maritimer, whether we’re having a classic kitchen party or at a pub or at Bluesfest listening to classics like Old Black Rum. Everyone was a martimer that night!

Back on the main stage Death Cab For Cutie set a very different mood. As the rain started and created a darker and more emotional vibe, the audience was much more tame than at the maritime party. There was a smaller crowd for such a well known band, but size doesn’t mean much when it comes to a good or bad performance—and they served brooding melodies to perfection to a spellbound audience.

Death Cab For Cutie performing at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Photo by Laura Collins.

Singer Ben Gibbard was a delight to watch as he felt every lyric and every strum of his guitar through his entire body. His movements flowed like a gentle stream as the emotion poured through their songs.

Meanwhile at the Barney Danson Theatre, the multiple award-winning, Montreal-based singer-songwriter Dawn Tyler Watson threw on her second set of the night without her 7-piece band from earlier in the day. Watson’s performance as a trio with a pianist and the award-winning guitarist Ben Racine in a more intimate venue was still as powerful as ever, leaving the audience wanting more when the time came to say goodnight.

Dawn Tyler Watson performing at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Photo by Laura Collins.

We all left the Bluesfest grounds tired but happy, and thankful for two rest days before the festival returns.