1. Crazy; insane.
2. Extremely enthusiastic. ex: We’re nuts about music.
If we’re talking about an experience that falls under the above definition – crazy/insane and something to be very enthusiastic about – then the past 6 days of mine have been, without a doubt, nuts. I’ve been tirelessly covering Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest every night for Ottawa Life Magazine, making my days seem like wild races around town that are starting to conglomerate into one big blur; a big and beautiful blur that I would never pass up, where I’m able to hear world-renowned music every night. Lately my life has consisted of mornings spent hurrying to finish an account of the night before, speed-walking to work down the empty streets of Ottawa, working a full day, doing some sort of physical activity, snacking on my walk down to the festival grounds – and lastly, wandering around the concert site in the fading sun and taking in the most beautiful sounds until about midnight when I saunter home. Greasy, tired, a little delusional and absolutely the perfect kind of nuts.
The past week has been filled with every kind of music I could ask for – the DJ’ing wonders of party animals like Skrillex and Girl Talk, the blues-rock genius of Steve Miller Band, The Sheepdogs and The Black Keys, and the mainstream indie appeal of Tegan and Sara, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and The Flaming Lips. Looping through maze-like crowds, sipping chilled beer with the summer sounds and sharing in the National Capital’s undying appreciation of these international acts are the reasons that these two weeks are probably the best of the year for me and so many others.
Last night wasn’t any different from the others – manning the lumps of bystanders and rowdy concert-goers, fighting for a spot in the drink line and relishing in the beating sun while the sound checks of popular bands vibrate from every direction. It was one of those nights where there was no mold to the crowd and everyone fit a different category: toddler and aloof, young and absorbent, middle-aged and reminiscent, older and wildly devoted. Why? Because The Tragically Hip were playing, and everyone has a different reason to love The Hip.
Despite my early trek to the concert grounds, I didn’t have a chance at getting as close to the front as I wanted. Truthfully, I hoped to be pressed up against the stage at the feet of my fellow Kingston, Ontario hometown heroes – right there to catch the breeze from lead singer Gord Downie’s spastic leg kicks and figure-eighting hips. But, such is life that I was wedged in the middle like so many others; I had a feeling I wouldn’t be the only person vying for that coveted spot. Regardless, as soon as the shaky howls of Downie began with, “They shot a movie once, in my hometown,” they were moving full force ahead with the opener “Blow at High Dough” and it didn’t matter where I was standing – we were on our way. The show continued as everyone figured it would, with Downie’s dramatic physical interaction with his own lyrics – often mimicking the words, eyes rolled back in head, conversing erratically with his microphone stage and wilted handkerchief. The one-of-a-kind frontman is the epitome of a real performer – a fantastically unorthodox bouncing (nut)ball who threads in and around his more subdued and focused (and probably quite accustomed to it) band members. They play and he shoots around stage, those are the roles – and they each rock equal amounts. Hammering out the classics one after another, it was inspiring and momentous to hear the thousands chanting alongside “Grace, Too”, “Bobcaygeon” and “In View”. Watching these people tilt their heads to the night sky with one hand in the air, imitating Downie’s catchy yodels, makes you want to turn to your left, and then to your right, and ask your neighbours what memory they have attached to the tune.
The Tragically Hip, all hometown biases aside, know how to command an audience and they contribute, oh so perfectly, to the togetherness we all want to feel at a music festival like Bluesfest. They ended the first week of the festival on the nuttiest and most memorable of notes, and until next time – it was lovely to see the boys in back in town. Now, onto week number two, so wish me luck, in a nutshell.