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Another check-in on the 2022 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest

[Ross MacDonald and Karen Coughtrey (text) are covering the return of Ottawa Bluesfest. Photos for this edition are by Ming Wu. -AC]

Day 6 was Punk & Rock night on the RBC Mainstage at Bluesfest in Ottawa. Opening the night to a much larger-than-average crowd for the first act of the night was the Swedish punk group Millencolin. They opened with their songs ‘Kemp’ and ‘Bullion’ and the crowd showed extra appreciation for the third song ‘Happiness for Dogs’.

Millencolin

Millencolin didn’t say much to the audience but did declare they were glad to be back on this continent after “too much pandemic crap”, and made several jokes about their appreciation for beer. They also introduced the band in a most thorough and humorous way, listing all the band members’ hobbies.

Millencolin

Throughout the set the crowd moved their bodies to the energetic punk music and it appeared a small mosh pit formed near the front of the crowd. Millencolin played ‘SOS’ the first song off their latest album, a perfect song to headbang to, although not many crowd members, if any, chose to do so early in the evening.

Millencolin

Millencolin moved back and forth across the stage as they performed ‘Ray’ ‘Olympic’ and ‘Brand New Game’. They closed out the set with a “Merci Beaucoup” and songs ‘Mr. Clean’ and ‘No Cigar.

The crowd would slowly double or triple in size, possibly becoming the largest crowd of the night in anticipation of the next act to take the Bluesfest main stage. A giant skeleton torso would appear on stage, giving the crowd the 41 salute (4 fingers lifted on the right hand, the middle finger lifted on the left hand). An eerie red stormy skied skyline of Toronto appeared and a creepy crypt-keeper voice (like at the beginning of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or in the video board game Nightmare) would tell the crowd we would be saved by the group appearing next on stage.

Sum 41

Sum 41 had the crowd loving them immediately, hands held high clapping along to the opening hit ‘Motivation’ and would help the group sing “The Hell Song’. Although the band would ask several times for the crowd to get crazy, and a circle pit did reappear, they also made sure to encourage the crowd to take care of one another and make sure no one got hurt before playing ‘Over My Head (Better Off Dead)’.

Sum 41

Taking a short break from their own music, frontman Deryck Whibley would entertain the crowd with some of the famous riffs he knows how to play on guitar, Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’ and ‘Seven Nation Army’ from the White Stripes. Guitarist Tom Thacker (aka Brown Tom) later delighted the crowd taking the lead on the band’s performance of a punkified version of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’.

Sum 41

The band mentioned it had been 19 years since they last played Bluesfest, that lots had changed but what never changed was the Sum 41 family continued to grow and be wonderful and supportive. “It’s awesome to hear you sing all the lyrics to songs we wrote 20 years ago” Whibley said, so of course the crowd really came alive singing loudly along to ‘In Too Deep’. “It’s fun playing the old songs” Whibley said after. “Let’s go all the way back to the beginning” he added before playing ‘Makes No Difference’.

Sum 41

The crowd was loud and excited again at the end of the set when they played favourite ‘Fat Lip’ and Whibley asked for all the house lights to be on so he could enjoy watching his adoring crowd for the  last song of the set ‘Still Waiting’.

Headlining the night was Alexisonfire. Pulsing deep blue or purple lights created anticipation on the stage and then the band would appear opening with ‘Committed To The Con’.

 Alexisonfire

The band demonstrated why they are one of Canada’s favourite rock (or post-hardcore, screamo) bands on songs ‘Drunks, Lovers, Sinners and Saints’, ‘Boiled Frogs’, and ‘Old Crows’ but sounded like a completely different group, showing a much softer side on ‘Sans Soleil’ a song from their new album.

For the majority of the performance the stage was lit appropriately with red, orange and yellow lights, and George Pettit and Dallas Green shared lead vocal duties in a performance some might say was fire. 

 Alexisonfire

The last decade saw Alexisonfire disband, the members take on a variety of side projects but also reunite a few times. They are touring North America this summer and fall and have a new album ‘Otherness’, released in June. “We’re celebrating 20 years of this band. 20 years, two decades!” They exclaimed and played one of their first songs ‘Pulmonary Archery’ and the crowd was equally into it when they played the first single off the new album ‘Sweet Dreams of Otherness’.

 Alexisonfire

The performance in Ottawa almost didn’t happen as in a very relatable story in these times the band shared their flight had been cancelled and they had been stuck in Calgary (they profusely thanked their crew for getting them here). It would have been sad if they’d had to miss this date though as they had a special message for the people in Ottawa about current events:

 Alexisonfire

“There are a lot of people coming into your city talking about freedom. They don’t know what that word means. Freedom means everyone is free, not just a couple of people are free. I am not buying the freedom they are selling ok. F*ck freedom if that’s what they’re selling. This is about community and taking care of one another. Do it tonight if someone falls down, pick them up. You take care of one another.”

 The message received loud shouts and cheers of agreement. A second message to fans came in their shout out to the opening acts. They encouraged fans to find a local band and make them their favourite band because that’s where all bands start and they need fan support.

 Alexisonfire

It started to rain midway through the set but that didn’t deter the crowd. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and you could see things flying through the air near the front of the stage in what was a mosh pit of sorts.

The band would play right to 11 pm (even if some of that was just guitar feedback) and finished the night with songs ‘This Could Be Anywhere In The World’ and ‘Happiness By The Kilowatt’ and a wonderful cover of Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. Before they left the stage they had one more message for fans “Rock and Roll is not dead! Don’t let anyone tell you that!” After such a great night, I’m sure it was hard to find someone in the place who would disagree.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38542 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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