This is the last report from Ottawa Bluesfest 2023. Honest.

[Ottawa correspondent Ross MacDonald swears this the last dispatch. – AC]

A strange anomaly happened at Ottawa’s Bluesfest on Friday 14 July. Festival organizers had booked pop artists on the main stage, and alt-rock bands on the side stage; it seemed like a reasonable idea at the time…

Local alt-rockers Pony Girl opened the night on the “River Stage”. A small bowl on the back side of the War Museum along the Ottawa River. Even at the early hour, the bowl started to fill quite nicely.

Pony Girl delivered a performance that has a depth of music and lyrics beyond their age. Rather than glamourising pop’s simplistic formula, Pony Girl is much more of a post-grunge or punk band that addresses themes of racism and corporate greed.

They wowed the building crowd with their full sound, multiple guitars, keyboards, driven by a strong drums and bass rhythm section, and even a clarinet thrown in for good measure on some songs. The mood was set for the evening, Bluesfest was going to rock.

By the time Seattle band Fleet Foxes hit the stage, the bowl was filled to capacity. It was definitely the biggest crowd at the River Stage during this year’s festival. And with the meagre crowd at the main stage, many were saying that the stages should have been reversed.

Fleet Foxes opened with their acapella song ‘Sun Giant’. It was a very powerful and moving start to the concert, almost like a polyphonic chant.

Fleet Foxes were originally signed to Sub Pop, but don’t expect a hard grunge sound like Alice In Chains or Soundgarden. Fleet Foxes layer harmonies that is part folk, with a healthy dash of rock.

The band played 20 songs throughout their set. Their popular single was played in the middle of their set so that the fans packed in the bowl didn’t have to wait until the end to sing along at the top of their lungs.

Fleet Foxes closed out the night with the mellow ‘Helplessness Blues’. Again, the vocal harmonies and music filled the bowl with aural indulgence. Lead singer Robin thanked the crowd over and over again for their reception. And the concensus was that the next time Fleet Foxes comes back to Bluesfest, they will be on the main stage.

Fleet Foxes:
Robin Pecknold – lead vocals, guitar
Skyler Skjelset – guitar, backing vocals
Casey Wescott – keyboards, backing vocals
Christian Wargo – bass, backing vocals
Morgan Henderson – saxophone, guitar, percussion

Pony Girl:
Pascal Huot – lead vocals, guitar
Julien Dussault – lead guitar, backing vocals
Greggory Clark – bass, keyboards
Yolande Laroche – keyboards, clarinet, vocals
Mili Hong – drums, percussion

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 37974 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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