Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hillside gets Bourbonized!

The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir

Today was the day that The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir would rejoin for a one night concert after a 13 year hiatus. We were pumped.

Saturday morning Glenn and I waited around for some more friends to show up. Rich drove in from Peterborough, Al from Bobcaygeon, Steve from Bowmanville, and Kevin even made a lunch time appearance after a long haul from Cambridge. A total of 16 hours of driving (map) PLUS 8 hours of flying Glenn from London, England and yet another 2 on the train. Gas prices and carbon footprint be damned! This was a one time Bourb reunion, you just can't put a price on that.

We arrived back at Hillside around 5:30 but unfortunately missed Plants and Animals who I had hoped to see after catching the end of their Ottawa Bluesfest set a few weeks earlier. Oh well.

Next immediate item on the agenda. Beer. After all it was a hot day even though they had called for rain. So over to the Lake Stage for some refreshments while we waited for Po' Girl to hit the stage.

Po' Girl is truly a multi-talented band. Tonight's line-up consisted of Allison Russell (clarinet, banjo, guitar, vocals), Awna Teixeira (bass, banjo, accordion, washbucket bass, glockenspiel, bicycle bell, vocals), Benny Sidelinger (guitar, keyboards, banjo) and Austin Cooper (drums). Missing from today's show was Diona Davies (violin, vocals) and Trish Klein (guitar, vocals) who I originally caught back in October 2003 when they opened for Chris Brown and Kate Fenner at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa. They were amazing then and they were just as amazing tonight.

Po' Girl's Allison Russell on banjo
Po' Girl's Allison Russell Po' Girl at Hillside 25
Po' Girl Po' Girl's Allison Russell on guitar

I even managed to have my photo taken with Allison before the show. Don't we look like two long lost friends? So relaxed.

Po' Girl's Allison Russell and me

After a thunderous applause we headed off for some food. Steve, Al, Glenn and I all opted for some tasty Caribbean dish while Rich settled for something less daring. This turned out be a poor choice for Rich as he was later unarmed for the warfare that ensued.

As soon as The Sadies finished their set, Rich, Steve, and I all headed for the very front of the stage (aka stalker's row). Sweet. Glenn and Al choose to have an extra beer or two and watch it from a little further back.

A quick intro from the Hillside Art Director explained that he was the reason behind this one night reunion of the Bourb as he dreamed of bringing them back to help celebrate Hillside's 25th anniversary. Thank you Sammy.

The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir Chris Brown of The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir
The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir
The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir Dave Wall of The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir

The show was every bit as amazing as I remembered. Dave Wall was in top form with his high energy performance and wide ranging vocals. Kate and Chris were great too but I've been keeping up to speed with their post-BTC careers so I expected nothing less. Andrew Wakeman was in fine form on guitar and although Gene Hardy didn't pull out the musical saw he did do an amazing job on the dual saxophones.

The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir
The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir

Thanks a million to the Bourb for pulling this together, it couldn't have been easy. I just hope it's not another 13 years before the next show... BUT if it is, I'll be there!

PS: The show was videotaped by the Independent Film Channel to be aired sometime in this fall. DVDs to follow, or so we were told by the camera dude.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hillside 25 - Guelph, ON

This weekend was a gathering of a few friends at the Hillside Music Festival in Guelph Ontario. Hillside was celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and 6,000 people flooded onto an island in the Guelph Lake Conservation Area to join in the festivities. This really is an amazing event that has done quite well at avoiding the corporate glam. Here you drink local beer from reusable mugs, eat freshly cooked grub from plates washed by volunteers and watch both big name bands and local talent from a stage with a grass-covered roof. They even have a station for refilling your water bottles for free. As you can well imagine the crowd was filled with folks from all walks of life and all ages too.

The plan...

The idea of a small reunion of friends originally started on a whim when I discovered that one of our favorite live bands from our university days were to get back together for a one off gig. After a 13 year hiatus, The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir had decided to answer the call of Hillside's Artistic Director, Sam Baijal to celebrate the festival's 25th anniversary. The original members, Chris Brown, Kate Fenner, Chris Miller, Jason Mercer, Dave Wall, Gene Hardy, Andrew Whiteman and Tom Bona (plus guests) all agreed to hit the stage for a set on Saturday night. (read the news article here)

Glenn (hailing all the way from London England) and I had originally hoped to get the weekend camping pass but they sold out in the first week. In fact the all-day Saturday pass had sold out too so quickly pulled out our credit cards and bought separate passes for both Friday night and Saturday night. All said and done, this scenario worked out best for us as we ended up having to meet up with a few friends through out the day as they drove in from various towns across southern Ontario.

Chris Brown and Kate Fenner
Chris Brown Chris Brown and Kate Fenner

Friday night we rode the free shuttle to the island, set up our chairs at the Main Stage for the 9pm Cowboy Junkies show and headed over to the Island Stage where we could relax, eat a meal and have a pint or two (no alcohol allowed at the Main Stage - don't get me started on that one). The Island Stage was christened by an eclectic bag of musicians, Chris Brown (from BTC) was hosting and joining him was Kelly Jo Phelps, The Abrams Brothers, Kate Fenner, Tony Scherr and a few others.

Kelly Jo Phelps

The show was very entertaining. Essentially a member would be called upon to play a tune or two while the others backed them up. It worked well, mixing folk with blues, some bluegrass, and a sliver of country. Of the four stages at Hillside, this was definitely the one to be at for the festival kick off.

Next was Meaghan Smith who easily entertained the crowd. Old Man Luedecke followed her with a short set filling the tent with some East coast banjo and foot stomping. The crowd really loved this and were none to happy to have him waved off the stage by the time keeper.

Cowboy Junkies at Hillside 25

It was nearly 3 hours now since we arrived and it was high time to wander back to the Main Stage and settle ourselves in for the Cowboy Junkies. After navigating our way through the crowd we were somewhat surprised to see our two "high back" chairs sitting in a sea of people sitting on blankets and these funky little low sitting chairs. I casually suggested to Glenn that we might want to fold our chairs up and sit on the ground but having recently hurt his back he wasn't interested in that scenario. So we quietly hunkered down and caught the end of the show by Danny Michel.

Cowboy Junkies at Hillside 25
Cowboy Junkies at Hillside 25

Junkies hit the stage right on time at 9, and wow were they amazing. Margo's voice was flawless and they delivered a solid hour of old and new CJ with her brother Michael wailing on slide guitar and brother Peter on drums. Well worth the price of admission.

Tomorrow the Bourb...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Peter-patch road trip

Raspberry picking

This weekend was an impromptu road trip to Peterborough. Family, friends, good food and good times.

Friday night we hit the town with my cousin Rob and his lovely wife Connie for dinner at Gerties on Hunter St. Food was awesome. We all ordered something different and we all enjoyed our meals immensely. I for one can't wait to try something else off the menu.

Splash park

Saturday afternoon was a hot one so we all hit the new splash park at the Peterborough Zoo - myself included. It was refreshing and fun although somewhat stressful as I had to dodge the little water rats at every step. The worst was the kid that decided to go off his Ritalin and take over the water gun for the day. He wouldn't give it up until his Grandpa came over and told him (more than once) to let the other kids have a turn. Thanks Gramps.

After the cool down we decided to go raspberry picking and then over to Reid's Dairy for some Loonie Shakes. Yummy.

Raspberry picking

All weekend long there was a busy mother Robin feeding three hungry mouths. The nest was just above the light to the front door so we got to see all the action. Occasionally we were were squawked at for coming too close to the little ones but hey, I was willing to take the risk for this great pic.

Robin feeding babies
Baby robins
Check out the spiked hairdo on this one.

Makin' memories.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Robert Randolph delivers at Bluesfest

Robert Randolph at Bluefest

The show I was itching to see all week finally arrived. Robert Randolph was in town.

Anders Osborne at Bluesfest 2008

But first I had some time to kill so I headed over to the Black Sheep Stage to see Anders Osborne who I've caught at Bluesfest the last 2-3 years. He hails from New Orleans and can wail like a hurricane on his old beat up strat (likely pulled from the floods).

Canned Heat at the Ottawa Bluesfest

After Anders I jumped over to the main stage to check out Canned Heat. They played the classics "On The Road Again" and "Goin' Up The Country" and then mixed in some jumpin' blues boogie. Crowd was massive and many were up and dancing.

Robert Randolph at Bluefest

Leaving Canned Heat early I waded through the crowd watching the show and then what must have been another flood of fans waiting for Sam Roberts on the Rogers Stage. I arrived with about 15 minutes to spare and headed right up to the rail in front of Robert Randolph's pedal steel guitar. Sweet. I killed time by shootin' it with some young guy beside me who was noticeably pumped about seeing Robert after first being introduced to him on Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Fest DVDs.

A minute into the show some guy taps me and those around me on the shoulder and asks us to move so he can see the show from his chair. WTF? First any tit-wank should know that the front area of the stage is standing room only. Sit if you like but don't assume that if you plunk your chair down between sets in front of the rail center stage that you then can expect to actually sit and see the performance. Second, this is Robert Randolph and the Family Band. If you know anything about his live show you'd know that his sole goal is to get the crowd involved. You want him thinking Canada is full of half dead white folk in folding lawn chairs? (which is about right for many of these shows)

Needless to say I told him to stand like the rest of us.

Robert Randolph at Bluefest

Robert's live performance is simply something one has to experience in order to fully appreciate. The "Family Band" consists of his brother on drums and his cousin on bass who takes lead on vocals from time to time. Oh, and there's some white dude on piano - technically not part of the immediate family.

Robert Randolph at Bluefest

The show is high energy and in some ways spiritual. Once in a while Robert would break away from his pedal steel to either dance or sing from atop his rickety old wooden chair.

Robert Randolph at Bluefest

At one point in the show he broke out a square shaped guitar and jammed out a tribute to Bo Diddley. The crowd loved it.

After a couple of warnings by organizers to wrap it up, Robert winked as his bandmates and kept right on rockin'. Crowd loved that even more. When he finally thanked everyone and left the stage I turned around to see a sea of smiling faces and not a single person sitting. True dat.

After the show I wandered over to the Roots Stage to see the end of David Maxwell's show and then The Power Hour with Tony D. Tony brought two or three Bluesfest artists up on stage but no Robert Randolph as I had secretly hoped. Around 10:30 I headed back to the River Stage to catch the end of Don McLean. Turns out I timed it perfectly as I caught the infamous "American Pie" encore. The nostalgic crowd was singing right along at the top of their lungs.

Another great year for Bluesfest come and gone. Looking forward to hearing next year's line-up.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bike ride along the Rideau

Biking along the Rideau Canal

Yesterday was a slow day as we continued to unpack from our recent camping trip. It was quite late in the day when we finally picked a bike ride along the Rideau canal over a paddle on the Rideau canal.

Biking along the Rideau Canal

We were going to start at Hog's Back Falls but as luck would have it today was the day of the world renown Hope Volleyball Tournament. So we headed down a little further and lucked out with a spot along the Arboretum. From there we biked down and around Dow's Lake and back up the canal to Mooney's Bay.

Biking along the Rideau Canal

Snacks were lacking but fluids were plenty as I had the kids testing out their new bladders from MEC. They were a definite hit.

Afterwards we headed home for fresh honey garlic sausages on the BBQ with a side order of Quebec maple syrup and brown beans. Mmm mmm good.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Black Crowes with Luther Dickinson

The Black Crowes at Bluesfest

The Black Crowes rocked the Ottawa Bluesfest last night. It was also a chance to see and hear Luther Dickinson wail on the guitar as he has joined the Crowes on this tour. For those of you not in the loop, Luther is the lead guitarist and vocalist for the North Mississippi All Stars - yet another awesome blues/rock band that has yet to hit a Bluesfest stage. (hint hint)

The Black Crowes at Bluesfest
The Black Crowes at Bluesfest

Anyhow, Mike and I managed to worm our way through the crowd about half an hour before the show and ended up about 10 people back from the rail. We enjoyed a clear view of the stage as we found ourselves behind a couple of vertically challenged girls that kept their heads bent over their cell phones typing away for nearly the entire show. Yet another example of how technology can control the minds of the weak.

The Black Crowes at Bluesfest

The show started off incredibly loud with the bass providing what I can only describe as a defibrillator like effect. After about the third song Mike and I managed to shuffle closer to the center of the stage where the sound seemed to balance out. Or more likely, we were semi-deaf by that point and didn't care anymore.

The show was filled with a great selection of tunes and plenty of opportunities for Rich and Luther to jam it out. Again my only complaint is that it wasn't an hour longer.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Camping at Achray in Algonquin Park

Our view at Achray

This year we somehow managed to get the last two sites in early July for a 5 night stretch at Achray Campground in Algonquin Park. Not only were they the last two sites available at the time but they were side by side and on the beach. Perfect.

Our site at Achray

We were a little nervous about what the weather would bring in light of the fact that June was so wet but in the end we managed to only have one sprinkling of a rain shower. Finally.

Mini High Falls Camping at Achray
Achray sand sign Message to parents

The kids spent their free time between swimming at the beach and catching frogs, tadpoles, leeches, and (many) snakes. And except for one good-sized bullfrog that ended up being snake bait, all creatures great and small were left unharmed and released back into the wild.

Snake charmers
Big bullfrog Northern Water Snake
Garter snake takes on a bullfrog

The only drawback of the trip would have to be the bugs. The cool, wet months preceding our week provided prime breeding grounds for all kinds of biting critters. We found ourselves swarmed by black flies and mosquitoes in the early morning and late evening and during the heat of the day we swatted and cursed the horseflies, deer flies, sand flies, and even the Chinese houseflies. What are "Chinese houseflies" you ask? Well they are the speedy little houseflies (apparently called stable fly or dog fly) that have evolved into blood sucking flies that bite rather than lick. Man are they annoying. At least with horseflies and deer flies you get to let out a satisfying victory scream with every second smack (my personal technique is to follow the smack with a rather gross but very efficient roll in order to ensure that the little bastards don't fly away only to bite you again).

Fishing time

In an attempt to avoid the bugs most of our outings involved a paddle to some remote campsite or jumping rock. And of course we made the prerequisite (short) hikes to the Tom Thompson plaque and the spectacular Barron Canyon.
Living on the edge

One small highlight of the week was when we finally took the time to test out our new Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker. Although it did take a fair bit of effort (true dat!) it was by far one of the most tasty vanilla ice creams I've ever had. Thumbs up all around.

Ice Cream was a success
Making memories...

It's hard to believe that another year at Achray has come and gone. Although camping season is far from over it's always a sad moment pulling the canoe out of the water and turning my back on such a beautiful place. I can certainly understand what urged Tom Thompson to put brush to canvas when he painted this landscape in his infamous "Jack Pine".

Until next year...

The Old Town Tripper