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By Andrew Depedro, Ottawa Corespondent
Friday, August 5, 2022 @ 2:17 PM

Rollin’ Down LeBreton Flats At The Ottawa Bluefest, July 15, 2022

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Tour postponements, lockdowns, overreactive government health policies and the like have been a dominating concern for the music industry over the past two years or so, and none moreso than for the Ottawa Bluesfest which was forced to carry over its 2020 lineup across two years upon its return to LeBreton Flats. Sure, there was the condensed version of Bluesfest at TD Place last summer with APRIL WINE as one of the headliners who probably would’ve headlined as well at the original 2020 lineup, but it just didn’t quite yet feel the same to many of the Bluesfest faithful. Understandably so, the mask wearing in large public gatherings rule was then in full effect, running the risk of becoming a superspreader event if one were to take off the face garment to match with Myles Goodwyn’s vocals on “Roller”, but the other alternative would’ve been having no festival at all. So, really, we’ve come a long way since then in Bringing Back BluesFest Better to Lebreton Flats and noticing the latest changes at the beloved festival: Cashless transactions (admittedly a slight problem when the country’s largest cable/internet provider accidentally goes down for 22 hours while attempting a service upgrade and your downloaded QR code on your phone is rendered useless), pink safe space porta-potties (actually, we’ve had those since 2017; nature calls no matter what your pronoun is) and the largest gathering of alternate volunteers in eons helping to run the festival as smoothly as possible for everyone (hence why I joined as IRON MAIDEN and KISS tickets from the perspective of a regular Bluesfest attendee are expensive).

And what I’d noticed during my recent volunteering stint throughout this year’s lineup:

SARAH MCLACHLAN sure can swear like a sailor – or like when the Rack used to on the air 21 years ago – when she’s angry and has to discuss politics.

JA RULE is apparently immune to black flies despite having been previously barred from Canada for the past ten years as he shamlessly performed shirtless in 35 degree weather.

AIRBOURNE and RUNNING WILD would be as much in awe at the amount of beer the average ALANIS MORRISSETTE fan can consume as I was working at the beer tent during her performance.

And, sometimes, hip-hop manages to have someone saying something important every now and then that merits a decent review.

In this case, as one of the bands touring as part of the Public Service Announcement Tour that’s made enough of its own PSAs over the past 2 years in announcing its touring postponement due to the pandemic, openers RUN THE JEWELS follow up a deliberately atonal-sounding prerecording of “We Are The World” with their opening number, the hilariously-titled “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”. I’m already intrigued since “We Are The World”, despite its good-hearted intentions, has always been shit and this was an improvement on its total hokum; “Tears Are Not Enough” ‘til the wheels fall off! Anyway, the duo, comprised of Killer Mike and El-P who took their group name from one of the lyrics (and thankfully not the title) to LL COOL J’s “Cheesy Rat Blues”, both work up the crowd with their hard-rhyming numbers such as “Holy Calamafuck”, “Legend Has It”, “Nobody Speak” (their version of the DJ SHADOW song) and “Ooh La La” (clearly not their version of the FACES song). As hip-hop concerts go, of which I’ve worked quite a few of at Bluesfest, yes, the f-bomb drops in every third or fourth sentence are standard, yes, the hardass character can come off as cartoonish at times, and, yes, the fringe minority in the audience can often ruin the live experience for everyone else, as Killer Mike delivered the reminder that “if you are not here with a girl and you find yourself for some reason tempted to touch someone you don’t know, keep your fucking hands to yourself so that everyone can have a good time tonight”, which is just as prevalent at rock shows as well. Yet, at least from my perspective, RTJ appeared to come off as more musically earnest than most of their peers in the genre. Their backing DJ actually played original material rather than rely fully on samples and the duo had a solid chemistry onstage. No gimmicks, no overwrought attempts at hardassery and no preaching, but just a fiery hip-hop performance definitely worth one’s cash money if you’re looking for a shiny nugget of talent in a genre that’s otherwise producing too many counterfeit gods amongst its bankroll.


The gap between RTJ’s closing number and the opening chords to “Bombtrack” had admittedly created a bit of a tense aura from many in the crowd at one point. Will headliners RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE take the stage despite frontman Zach De La Rocha’s recent leg injury a few days earlier in Chicago and perform a show that will belong to the ages or should I have just gone to catch EXCITER’s hometown show booked on the same day over at Mavericks downtown instead? The latter may have been dismissed as useless fossils during RATM’s ascent in the 90’s by the media but at least all of their bones were intact, I’d pondered to myself. Yet the enigmatic rap-metal pioneers had always been one of these bands who were well-renowned for their ecletic and powerful performances by many across the hard rock spectrum and definitely missing not only their first Canadian appearance since the last millennium but also their first-ever Ottawa performance would’ve been difficult to envision. And, sure, I hadn’t thought out how I could’ve caught both concerts at once as soon as I’d put my name down to work a shift during RATM’s set, but this was also a band I was determined to strike off my live music bucket list some 16 years since I’d auditioned for EXCITER, whose Mavericks show had already sold out by then anyway.

Luckily, once the wailing intro from “Bombtrack” resonated throughout the festival grounds and riled up the crowd, all bets were off on whether the decision to stick around for LA’s quartet of major RAGErs was a good one. For anyone who’s seen the band in the past and know of how energetic their live shows are, notably for Zach leaping and gyrating about the stage, it was probably a bit of getting used to seeing the otherwise enigmatic frontman doing his best impression of Hector Salamanca while being helped onto the stage by two roadies with his leg elevated and set in a cast and placed on a chair. Luckily his powerful screaming vocals weren’t affected since his moshing accident in Chicago as his piercing-sounding “YYYYYYEEEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHH!” showed that his energetic demeanour and enthusiasm hadn’t been curtailed in the slightest. From there, both himself and Tom Morello (guitar), Tim Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (drums) delievered the proverbial goods on “People Of The Sun”, “Bulls On Parade”, “Bullet In The Head” and “Testify” all the way to the true crowd-pleasers such as “Guerrilla Radio” and closing number “Killing In The Name”. Even lesser-known tracks such as “Tire Me”, “Wake Up”, “Calm Like A Bomb” and “Born Of A Broken Man” were instant classics for the audience who knew the lyrics word for word. And for less than a quarter of the price that seems to be going for BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN tickets nowadays, RATM delivered a haunting rendition of “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”.

And if you questioned as to whether after 30 years since their self-titled debut album dropped that RATM’s songs still bristled with the same incendiary firepower, the giant screen flanking the stage and flashing many messages reflecting the societal struggles of our times served as a cautionary reminder of such. Indeed, the Black Lives Matter campaign stemming from 2020 certainly helped solidify the messages of oppression, war and racial inequality that RATM had always been rallying against, and the SCOTUS’ recent restriction of abortion rights, described by De La Rocha as the doing of fundamentalist Christians “trying to take control of this society” while powerfully reminding us that we as a people had the power to stop them. Canada wasn’t immune either from the criticism in their message as our own history in the form of Indigenous rights and the land-back movement was laid bare across the stage’s main screens in a series of subliminally flashing statements. It’s not a true RATM concert if you’re walking out after the last song without gaining any satisfaction from having learned something new, after all – and it’s a similar statement that rings true for any ambitious guitar shredder in the GA section observing how guitarist Tom Morello could make as many unique sounds as he did with the aid of his wah-wah pedal and manage to effortlessly resonate soloist diety status in the process even if he looked like he was doing calesthenics onstage on occasion. All the same, Bluesfest’s return had the perfect draw to herald its comeback after a 2-year absence. Hopefully this tour bears a serious reunion for a band with a lot more to say from beyond its three studio albums.

It has to start somewhere.
It has to start sometime.
What better place than here?
What better time than now?



  • “Bombtrack”
  • “People Of The Sun”
  • “Bulls On Parade”
  • “Bullet In The Head”
  • “Testify”
  • “Tire Me”
  • “Wake Up”
  • “Guerrilla Radio”
  • “Down Rodeo”
  • “Know Your Enemy”
  • “Calm Like A Bomb”
  • “Sleep Now In The Fire”
  • “War Within A Breath”
  • “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” (BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN cover)
  • “Freedom”/”Township Rebellion”
  • “Killing In The Name”

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