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30 Years of Rock Music at the Ottawa Blues Festival

30 Years of Rock Music at the Ottawa Blues Festival
30 Years of Rock Music at the Ottawa Blues Festival

An artist at the Ottawa Blues Festival. Photo courtesy.

The Ottawa Blues Festival, which runs through Sunday at Lebreton Flats Park in downtown Ottawa, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.e year. This year’s headliners are heavy metal rockers Motley Crue and New York City rapper Nas.

But the main stage is just one of four stages at the Ottawa Blues Festival. Those smaller stages are where you can discover your newest favorite artist.

Joe Reilly on some of the lesser-known musicians you can hear at the Ottawa Blues Fest

The festival’s Joe Reilly introduced David Sommerstein to some of the lesser-known musicians performing this week and throughout the weekend. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

JOE REILLY: The closing night on our River Stage there’s something really special going on. There’s a local artist called fanclubwallet. I love her pop sensibility. It’s such great pop music and I’ve never seen her. I’ve only spoken to her for my own radio show and played her music and I think it’s great. So I’m looking forward to it.

But right after she finishes, Ben Howard from the UK is on. He’s never played in Ottawa before. I’ve seen him twice in Montreal. Both shows blew my mind. He’s one of those harmonic guitar players. He’s a beautiful player. He writes incredible songs. I’m really looking forward to seeing him here in Ottawa because he’s really taking his music somewhere else.

Rage Against the Machine was one of dozens of major acts coming to the Ottawa Blues Fest in the summer of 2022. Photo: Scott Penner / Ottawa Blues Festival

There’s another artist I really want to mention. His name is Raphael Weinroth-Browne. He’s a local artist – there are some great local artists in Ottawa, fanclubwallet is local too. He’s a cellist and he does looping performances. He puts one type of thing on his cello and then works on putting something else on it, and he builds and builds and builds these absolutely fantastic pieces of music live. I saw him work with a dance company. It’s the only time I’ve seen him. I haven’t seen him do his own show yet. He just completely blew me away with the power of his work. So he’s going to be amazing.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on. And you know, I follow music pretty closely, and every time this lineup comes out, I have to dive in and find links to music from artists I’ve never heard of, because every year there are discoveries for me.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: You have multiple stages and you have a lot of names that people don’t know yet. It’s a chance to just wander around and see what appeals to you.

REILLY: You know, it’s also interesting because it’s one of those things that friends of mine talk about – do you have to commit to something to really experience it, right? When you’re running around doing the ‘buffet’… some people love that. I find it hard. I find that I have to bring some stuff and commit to an act so that I can see and hear the journey that they’re taking me on in their set. But there are things that I’ve stumbled over. I remember the first time Lord Huron came to Ottawa. I remember texting my daughter and saying, ‘Yeah, I just left the photo pit for Lord Huron.’ She said, ‘No, my friends said you should go back and see that!’ So I did and I was blown away.

Another artist… I really like global rhythms and stuff. Bombino is coming back to the festival on Friday July 12th. A really fantastic rhythm, touching on a lot of different kinds of things and pulling on the Bombino sound. That will be fantastic too.

This is our 30th anniversary. It’s funny, because before I started talking, I went back to some of our history. We started in 2004 in a little park with Clarence Clemons, Buckwheat Zydeco, Randy Bachman as headliners. You look at the evolution of an event that grows in a holistic way like this, out of the community, right? In 1998, Ray Charles came. That was a stepping stone. And the next year, Mark (Monahan, the festival founder) brought Sting in. And I know people throughout the industry were like, hey, what do these guys think they’re doing, bringing Sting to their festival? We made it work, and it’s just a very holistic growth of this event over the years, growth within the community, the volunteer base of support. That’s what makes it possible. But also throughout the industry, establishing ourselves and recognizing that we know how to put on a show for our audience and the artists.