Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ten acts to see at Bluesfest.

Of course, everyone knows all about the big acts at this year's Bluesfest - Steely Dan, The Black Crowes, The Tragically Hip, and so forth. And the non-classic-rock-related big ones as well. Feist, Fergie, Akon, Wyclef. These are acts no one needs explained. I'm even going to go ahead and assume that everyone is already aware of, if not familiar with, Johnny Winter, Dr. John, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, and Boz Scaggs. But I have found ten, lesser-known acts that are essential to see for anyone who has a wristband to the full event. (Possibly thanks to a win in today's CHEZ nation blowout.)

10. Brian Wilson. OK, he's not exactly a lesser-known name. But since he has come back from his...exile due to insanity...he has been an awfully cool performer to see. There are a couple of great DVDs are out there with Wilson performing Smile, among other works. And Smile, now that it has been released after seventy-one years, really is almost everything it was cracked up to be - a work of tortured genius, amazingly catchy for something so...good. Look at it this way - Chinese Democracy is going to be released...eventually..but does anyone expect it to be good? Not really. No one expects it to be Axl Rose's magnum opus. Yet they DID expect that with Smile, and Brian Wilson delivered.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that will be Brian Wilson: Roll Plymouth Rock (from Smile)

9. Zappa Plays Zappa. Frank Zappa's son Dweezil plays his father's music, with Frank's old band. Frank himself appears at the show on the big screen, and it's as close to Zappa himself that you're gonna get now that he's, you know, dead. The band is incredibly skilled and tight. They played bluesfest in a different incarnation a few years ago as The Grandemothers, with Napoleon Murphy Brock and several other members of Zappa's former band. It was a brilliant show (although it was on at the same time as Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers band, and I had to run back and forth between the two). By all accounts, this is a great time for hardcore Zappa fans.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is Zappa Plays Zappa: Montana (from Over-Nite Sensation)

8. Dave Bidini Band. I just read Dave Bidini's book. It sucked and was pretentious. He is the kind of artist that can be pretentious and cool when he performs, but put that same approach to paper and it will drive people nuts. However, Bluesfest is not performed on paper. Therefore, this is a show worth checking out. Bidini was the driving force behind the Most Canadian Band Ever, the Rheostatics. The Rheostatics actually - just to tie things together - did the soundtrack to the movie Whale Music, a Canadian movie starring Maury Chaykin as...basically...Brian Wilson.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is Dave Bidini: Claire (from the Whale Music soundtrack)

My review of Whale Music:

7. Canned Heat. The most bluesy of psychedelic bands, or perhaps the most psychedelic of blues bands. Canned Heat have fallen off the radar since their heyday in the 60s, but they were a high-energy, all-encompassing musical entity in their time. They never seemed to really make it really big, although they had some amazing tunes. Founded in the 60s by blues historians, they might be the most bluesy act at all of Bluesfest, depending on which set they choose to play. They did much of their best work in the early 70s with John Lee Hooker.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is Canned Heat: Boogie Chillin' No. 2 (from Hooker 'N Heat, 1971)

6. Robert Randolph and the Family Band. This will just be a downright cool party show. Randolph plays high-energy, boogie, jam-band blues-rock. Not only is the band tight and excellent, but there is enough pop sense in the music that it can be instantly catchy even for people who have never heard his stuff before.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is Robert Randolph: Run For Your Life (from Unclassified)

5. Shelby Lynne. Yes, she is country. But country music doesn't like her. By some sort of circular logic, that means that the rest of us DO like her, thanks in part to our disdain for country music. She is almost impossible to categorize - country-rock, western swing revival...there aren't really music buzz-words that can be used to describe her style. Just take my word for it. She's awesome. Go see her.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is Shelby Lynne: Willie and Laura Mae Jones (from Just A Little Lovin', 2008)

4. Adrian Belew. For music obsessives especially. Adrian Belew has been everywhere, and seemingly done everything. He has played with Frank Zappa, Joe Cocker and David Bowie, he was a driving force with The Talking Heads, and he was a major influence on three of the best King Crimson albums of all time. (ConstruKtion of Light, Cirkus, and Discipline.) There are few people in the world who have been around as long as Belew and who have done as much as he has. A must-see for those of us who are obsessive about the history of rock and roll.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is Adrian Belew: Larks Tongue In Aspic, Part III (from Three of a Perfect Pair by King Crimson)

3. The Wailers. Of course, Bob Marley is dead of cancer. Peter Tosh is also dead, murdered. But the Wailers carry on, playing Marley tunes with a band that can be described only as "sensational". Anchored by Aston "Family Man" Barrett, one of the towering figures in the history of Jamaican music. Lead guitarist Al Anderson and lead singer Elan keep the Marley vibe alive, and put on, by all accounts, a hell of a show.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is The Wailers: Concrete Jungle (from Catch A Fire)

2. Ray Davies. One of the true musical geniuses in the world, the driving force behind the Kinks. Also, he is still putting out excellent work, like 2007's Workingman's Cafe. A must-see for anyone interested in the history of rock music. His time slot and date are not yet confirmed, as he was added to the bill late, but when it is announced, it is a must-see.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is Ray Davies: Vietnam Cowboys (from Workingman's Cafe) and also the entire Village Green Preservation Society album.

1. Lucinda Williams. I am putting her first, because this is the show I am most excited about. For those of you who are familiar with Ottawa singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, Lucinda Williams has a similar sound, only with more whiskey in the voice and a harder edge in the lyrics. No disrespect to Kathleen Edwards, who is amazing also, but Lucinda Williams is the ultimate expression of that style. The singer-songwriter, gritty, folk-rock-country-roots powerful female vocal sound. I know, poor description, but this is one amazing artist who will put on one amazing show.

Song to listen to in order to prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is Lucinda Williams: Learning How To Live (from West, 2007) and also - the whole Car Wheels On A Gravel Road album.

Also of note: Local acts like Roxanne Potvin, Kathleen Edwards, Tony D, Trevor Finlay, The Cooper Brothers, Becky Abbott, J-W Jones, Jeff Rogers, Steve Marriner (formerly known as Southside Steve), Eric Eggleston and the Blues In The Schools performance.


Cassandra Wilson
Jim Bryson
Harry Manx and Kevin Breit
Sonny Landreth
Bryan Lee
Joan Armatrading
Tom Wilson
Bernard Allison
Tokyo Police Club
Angelique Kidjo

Steer clear of these:

Dave Bidini book reading
Theory of a Deadman
Three Days Grace
Jakob Dylan

Best days to go:

Saturday July 5th - Adrian Belew, Zappa Plays Zappa (7:15 and 8:30 on the Roots stage) Angelique Kidjo and Steely Dan (7:00 and 9:30 on the Bank of America stage) and Lucinda Williams (8:00 on Rogers stage)

Tuesday July 8th - Becky Abbott and Boz Scaggs (6:00 and 8:00 on the Rogers stage) Dr. John (9:30 on the Roots stage) and Tokyo Police Club (9:30 on the Black Sheep stage)

Wednesday July 9th - JW Jones and Brian Wilson (7:00 and 9:30 on the Bank of America stage) Eric Eggleston and Kathleen Edwards (6:00 and 8:00 on the Rogers stage) Bernard Allison (9:15 on the River stage)

Sunday July 6th - The Wailers (9:00 on the Roots stage) Bryan Lee and Johnny Winter (7:15 and 9:00 on the River stage) Steve Marriner (7:30 at the Barney Danson theatre)


  1. Corb Lund is not listed!

  2. Hey man. I can only do so much. But...thanks to your Corb Lund IS listed!

  3. C.Wilson does a GREAT Version of Cyndi lauper's,,,Time After Time