BY MATT HARRISON
RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest kicks off today! Now in its 20th year, it runs until July 13 at LeBreton Flats, just a few minutes west of Parliament Hill. Bluesfest offers more flexibility than ever before by offering three- and five-day passes, giving you an opportunity to attend on the days you want, without having to purchase a full festival pass. It’s also close to downtown hotels, so you don’t have to be there all day and everything ends at 11 p.m. Combine the festival with a visit to the Canadian War Museum—since it’s in the same place! Here, we present our guide to the festival’s must-see acts.
Reggae enthusiasts will be excited to experience legends Sly & Robbie, one of the most prolific and longest running duos in their genre. The Jamaican pair bring 30-plus years of music-making to the River stage. Songwriter extraordinaire and Wilco frontman, Jeff Tweedy brings his punk-influenced, country-tinged, and now somewhat more experimental music to the fest. “Don’t stop believin’”—some Bluesfest goers likely never did, and now the legendary rock group, Journey, has arrived. Touring again with brand new material, they play the Bell stage for an unforgettable evening.
Also: Zedd, Bonobo, and Silkken Laumann
This performer is truly a lady who needs no introduction—model, artist, fashion-maven, and, most of all, pop star, Lady Gaga alights the main stage with what will likely be an explosive, over-the-top performance. Southern soul meets mid-Western blues and vagabond punk when Austin’s Black Joe Lewis—once called the Godfather of Soul—takes to the stage. He brings his punk side with new songs from Electric Slave.
Also: Andrew Bird, London Souls, and Vintage Trouble
Having begun her meteoric and well-deserved rise in the music industry with such respected bands as The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, aka Annie Erin Clark, tours her latest album, Strange Mercy, and her recent work with legendary auteur, David Byrne (Talking Heads), and Bon Iver. For this next band, make sure to include some SPF-45, otherwise you might “Blister in the Sun” when acoustic folk-punk darlings and festival mainstays, Violent Femmes, bring their raw sound and honest lyrics to the stage. The other “lady” at this year’s fest is massive in her own right—Lady A, or Lady Antebellum, appeals to audiences beyond their country-core, with their male, female-male harmonies, and willingness to experiment.
Also: Joe Louis Walker
Foreigner continues to entertain with some of the most enduring rock anthems, including “Juke Box Hero”, “Cold as Ice”, and “I Want to Know What Love Is.” After somewhat of a hiatus, Queens of the Stone Age are back—a super-band or collaboration (no one’s quite sure what QOTSA is), they hail from ’90s alternative rock, and pull in musicians such as David Grohl and Trent Reznor.
Also: Jenny Lewis, Tokyo Police Club, and (DJ) Gareth Emery
Holy Ghost! are a snapshot of NYC’s club scene. They bring their funk, disco, punk aesthetic to the River stage. The Nevada-based post-glam rockers, The Killers—aka “Mr. Brightside”—return to the touring circuit after somewhat of a rest—and with a new, well-received album. Cypress Hill—this group is credited with being the first Latino-American hop hop crew to gain critical, popular success.
Also: Phantogram, Bombino
“Heart of Glass”, “Rapture”, “Maria”—these songs are imprinted in the hearts and minds of many. Deborah Harry and the Blondie gang return with new material—along with their greatest hits—for an electric evening.
Also: Gogol Bordello, Young the Giant, Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam
In spite of the loss of a key member, Canadian darlings The Barenaked Ladies press on. They bring their humorous, heartfelt, honest songs to the Bell stage. Like a shot of whiskey, July Talk goes down with a sting, but lights a fire in the belly.
Also: Third Eye Blind and Slash
Despite the name change, Bluesfest regular Snoop Dogg continues to entertain with his unique, West Coast brand of hip hop. After a trip to Jamaica, he’s been reborn as Snoop Lion. Expect reggae. Tired of music? Try some stand-up from comedian and TV star (Full House) Bob Saget. This is an opportunity to see Saget’s dark side.
Also: Deltron 3030, Dr. Hook
Sam Roberts Band pushes the boundaries on their fifth album. Roberts worked with legendary producer Youth (Orb, Verve, Paul McCartney), who helped coalesce a variety of ideas into one cohesive album, Lo-Fantasy. So expect the unexpected. Nineties rock mainstays Collective Soul became overnight sensations with their single, “Shine.” Having receded somewhat since then, they’ve continued to produce music, and now, with their 9th album, they return to their roots.
Also: Moist, Elvin Bishop, and Pink Mountaintops
BLUESFEST BY THE NUMBERS
Full festival: $249
5-day pass: $179
3-day pass: $129
Day pass: $19 to $60
Onsite for those of age. Expect to pay between $6 and $7 per drink.
A variety of vendors provide tasty treats and innovative global-inspired festival cuisine, including a first this year—pizza! You can also bring in your own water (sealed bottle) and food in soft-sided coolers. But no glass allowed!
Porta-potties, including accessible units, galore!
•LeBreton Flats, 1 Vimy Place, 866-258-3748. ottawabluesfest.ca