Welcome to Bluesfest – No Blues Required

Ottawa’s biggest annual music festival, the RBC Ottawa Bluesfest started last night. Each year I waffle: is buying a festival pass worth the expense? There are 11 day of music, but a lot of artists I don’t care for. Would I be better off just buying a day pass for the shows I really want to see?IMG_1567

The problems with that is, given my legendary frugality, I would probably convince myself that no single artist on the bill is worth the $60 admission. The ones I really want to see I have probably seen before already, so if I miss them it is no big deal.

Every year though I do the math and decide I might as well get the pass. The early-bird rate is $200, so if I go to only four of the eleven days I am ahead of the game, from a financial perspective. Twenty years ago a day pass cost four dollars – but the budget for musical talent was about $40,000. This year it is around $6 million. Since I have a pass, most days I go to check out the music, perhaps learn to appreciate some artists I haven’t heard before. For the next couple of weeks I might (or might not) post some impressions of the music I see and hear.IMG_1571

The festival name is misleading. Twenty years ago, when 2,000 people showed up each night, the festival was a delight for blues aficionados. Now, with up to 30,000 each night, you would be hard pressed to find musicians who have even heard of the blues let alone play it. Opening night, for example, the headliners were Skrillex and Diplo performing together as Jack U. Electronic dance music (EDM) if you have’ heard their names before. The impression I got was that these guys don’t make the music coming out of the speakers, not live anyway; they are disc jockeys, spinning the records while others dance. On some songs the vocals appeared to be live, but not on most. The audience, mostly in their late teens from what I could see (and predominantly female) didn’t seem to care.

For the record, I don’t mind dance music, even in an outdoor setting like Bluesfest. After all. I have been a disc jockey myself, mostly radio but I did have a weekly club gig in the early nineties. I appreciate what disc jockeys do – but I wouldn’t pay to see one. Apparently a lot of people will. I can’t figure out why.

I first saw Skrillex a few years ago. A small man at the apex of a giant spaceship-like stage setup. I listened critically, an occupational hazard when you are a disc jockey. I didn’t buy it. Maybe I am wrong, maybe the man is superhuman, but the sound I heard from the speakers didn’t match what I could see happening on the stage. It was just too complex – parts had to be pre-recorded. It was the same thing last night.

Nothing wrong with that I suppose, but why would you want to watch a recording pretending to be live? That isn’t a put-down of the creativity that goes into what the EDM disc jockeys do. They do add a personal flair to the original music. But I like my live shows to be live.

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One comment

  1. […] for the first time in more than a decade, I didn’t purchase a full festival pass for the RBC Ottawa Bluesfest that started last week and runs until the 17th. I looked at the artist lineup and almost none of […]

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