Bluesfest 2016 – I

Music can strike to the heart of my being, stirring up an emotional reaction unlike anything else. Especially live music.

This summer, 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 the names touched my soul.

I find that music festivals, with dozens of artists on multiple stages, are a time of discovery, to learn about new music and the people who make it. But to get me to pay my way onto the grounds you first have to offer me something familiar. Not only familiar, but something that triggers an emotional response.

Classic rock music should do that. I’m at the right age that music from the late sixties to early eighties is the soundtrack to my childhood and young adulthood. But just because the music is the right vintage doesn’t mean I relate to it. That was the problem this year.

This year, for example, Bluesfest offered me, among others, Billy Idol, Bryan Ferry and Duran Duran. I’m the right demographic to go see them (and I have seen Bryan Ferry before). I should have rushed to get tickets. I didn’t.

In my radio career I played a lot of Billy Idol and Duran Duran. Most of the time it wasn’t by choice. They were on the playlist, and I followed the playlist. I had opportunities to see them live, and never bothered. Given that, why would I want to go see sixty-year-old musicians that I didn’t want to see when they were 30?

There are lots of other good bands in the lineup this year, country, folk, rock, and possibly even some blues (they call it Bluesfest after all), but not enough for me to justify the expense of a full festival pass. So I compromised, I bought a mini-pass, three evenings worth.

The first of those evenings was this past Saturday. It was drizzling when I left the house, raining steadily by the time I arrived at the site. The evening was my opportunity to check out a newer band, one that has had immense popularity in recent years: The Lumineers.

Before The Lumineers took the stage, I listened to an hour from The Cult. I remember them from the eighties, though I never liked them enough to buy any of their records. I knew a few songs in the set, which was a strong rock performance. But I didn’t really care.

Maybe it was that the rain was making me uncomfortable, but I had an umbrella, so it wasn’t the elements. About half way through the set I came to the conclusion that it was because I had no emotional connection with what I was hearing. I knew the songs, but they weren’t anchored in any particular memory from my past. So they were just songs. Judging from the amount of talking from those around me, people obviously not really listening to the music, I was not alone in that assessment.

I still think it is rude to talk non-stop while someone is performing. It is disrespectful to the band, and to those around you who may want to concentrate on what is happening on stage. But standing there in the rain I had a glimmer of why such boorish behaviour is so prevalent at festivals. The people at the front of the crowd, close to the stage, we’re most likely huge fans of the band. I doubt there was much talking going on there. People at the back are at the festival for the communal experience, not because they have a great need to hear the music.

I wonder if you could have the same atmosphere if they just played old videos on the stage, but everything else was the same in terms of food and beverage options. Would people still come?

Perhaps that is the long-range plan for the festival – move away from the music and just become a communal experience. Once they had ten stages each year, now there are only five. Maybe the plan is to cut back further, hoping the music fans won’t notice.

I’ve noticed.


One comment

  1. Not sure what to think of a fan of the Monkees…really, a band called ‘The Monkees’ touches one’s soul?!?! lol

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