Bluesfest is coming to Ottawa again in a few weeks’ time. Let the bells ring soundly and the flags fly high and I’ll lead the round of applause. This world-class outdoor festival of music —an annual cultural extravaganza in Canada’s capital city that goes back twenty-three years to 1994—takes place this year from July 6th to 16th in the spaciously inviting and crowd-friendly venue of the LeBreton Flats. More than one-hundred and fifty musical acts are slated to perform in 2017 over the ten day period. How about that for a WOW! factor?
The Bluesfest website states that the average annual attendance in past years has been more than 300,000 people. But one of the statistics I saw there on the site got me to thinking. The stats show that 55% of the Ottawa population has attended the festival in the last 5 years. That’s great, I thought. But what about the other 45% of Ottawans? Why didn’t those people attend? And what did they miss out on? Based on the history of the festival, they missed a lot. A pity, for them.
When it came to music, I was once in that camp.
But people like what they like. Or they like what they think they like. Regardless of age, many people get settled comfortably in a particular mindset and close themselves off to a new experience. When it came to music, I was once in that camp. I remember when I crossed over, so to speak, and became the richer for it, in terms of musical experience.
I grew up in a household where the kind of music we listened to was a blend of the traditional and the eclectic. We had my parents’ and grandparents’ 78 rpm shellac records; a combination of classical discs, big band sounds, British novelty records (has anyone these days ever heard of George Formby or Stanley Holloway?–I thought not.) and hymns and spiritual songs, (my Grandmother was quite devout).
Rock and roll and pop were the music of my sphere and I, consciously or subconsciously, tuned out most everything else. In hindsight, this was my loss.
We also had AM radio (AM radio was the only radio available in Canada’s Prairies, where I lived then), which, regardless of the station, pretty much played the hits and novelty (anyone ever heard of The Purple People Eater?) records of the day. Not a lot of choices available then. And you like what you like, right?
So, as a teenager, I settled on rock and roll and what followed on from it as my music of choice. Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, the British Invasion (huge in my sphere), California beach and surf music, then Dylan and all the artists that followed him. But Blues? Not a bit of it. Rock and roll and pop were the music of my sphere and I, consciously or subconsciously, tuned out most everything else. In hindsight, this was my loss.
Right on into adulthood, blues and jazz were then only painting on my musical radar as small unidentified blips way out in the distance. I was aware of blues artists like B.B. King, Cab Calloway, Bo Diddley and Etta James but only peripherally because they were well known enough to be mentioned in the mainstream press. By then my tastes in music were firmly lodged up against a mental curb, and not easily dislodged..
…in the 1980s I suddenly had a musical epiphany. I discovered blues.
But, stuck as I was in this melodic mindset for more than twenty years, in the 1980s I suddenly had a musical epiphany. I discovered blues. And it was a movie that acted as both a guiding light and a gateway to this revelation.
There is a mental line of demarcation that has to be crossed over in order to get to any new experience. And, to cross over, one needs to overcome inertia; to nudge the mind out of its long comfortable stasis. Getting up the impulse to begin the journey is the challenge. It helps to have a stimulus.
The Blues Brothers, starring John Belushi and one of Ottawa’s own favourite sons, Dan Aykroyd, provided the impetus to send me across the musical rubicon into the camp of the blues. The movie, directed by John Landis, is a full-blown musical comedy romp that has, over the years, become a cult classic. I’ve probably watched it now, thirty times.
… what The Blues Brothers delivered in abundance was: music, music, music…
The story is completely nonsensical—two reprobate musician brothers blunder through the city of Chicago upsetting everyone and everything in their path in their quest to raise five thousand dollars to save the orphanage where they grew up—but it is a tour de force in terms of cast (legendary), music (incomparable) and action (epic–featuring what is arguably one of the greatest car-chase scenes in all of moviedom).
Above all else, throughout the midst of the non-stop on-screen chaos, fractiousness, pandemonium and just pure nonsense, what The Blues Brothers delivered in abundance was: music, music, music; rhythm and blues marvellously performed by some of the greatest artists of the genre (stellar musical appearances by James Brown, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin and John Lee Hooker among others, with cameos by people like Steven Spielberg, Pee-wee Herman, Twiggy and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh). Released in 1980, the film still stands up well today.
For me, the movie opened up an entirely new musical vista, a scene that is as splendid with performing character as it is with musicality. If I hadn’t seen it, I may well have remained on the narrow musical path that I had first become comfortable with. I still groove on rock and roll and pop music. But such was my good fortune to also be introduced to the newness and richness of blues and its many influences.
Step outside your comfort zone. Bluesfest 2017. Just do it!
If you are one of the 45% of Ottawans who have never attended a Bluesfest in the past, you may want to consider sticking your toe in that musical water this year. The venue offers a plethora of choices. With five stages and more than one-hundred and fifty performers, the music crosses over a number of genres and there is something for everyone. So, go on. Step outside your comfort zone. Bluesfest 2017. Just do it! REG
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