My second outing to Bluesfest, on the third day of the festival, was a hot and sticky night filled with country chicks and happy hipsters.
The first act I caught was Neko Case, who didn’t disappoint. The redheaded phoenix opened her set with one of my personal favourites, “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” and several more songs off her last offering, Middle Cyclone, including the title track, which could easily be sung as a lullaby. Case also previewed several tracks from her upcoming album, and judging by this new material it may just be her best collection yet. She shared her dismay that the band had to be in Toronto the next morning and they would miss the night’s headliners, the Dixie Chicks. Case ended with “Hold On, Hold On” from 2006’s alt-country masterpiece Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.
A small group of dedicated, mostly hipster, Belle and Sebastian fans staked their claim in front of the Claridge Stage long before the Scottish septet went on. Fifteen minutes into their set, the band attracted several hundred more curious onlookers, no doubt drawn in by their uplifting, sparkling pop. I admit my knowledge of Belle and Sebastian is limited to watching them win multiple Brit Awards and the single “I Didn’t See It Coming” from their last album, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, but they are one of those unique bands who you don’t need to be extremely familiar with to enjoy their show. Stuart Murdoch’s stage presence is undeniable.
Over at the Black Sheep Stage, Toronto drum-and-bass duo Zed’s Dead pumped up an eager crowd with their glitch-fuelled electronica. The duo have remixed everyone from Foo Fighters to Massive Attack to Dragonette, and while one festival-goer remarked, “It’s just two guys with laptops,” judging by the crowd, there is certainly a market for these computer-toting Canadians.
Next up was New York singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten. I was startled by the sparse crowd at the River Stage, as I’ve heard the critics on NPR Music sing her praises for years. Van Etten’s thoughtful rock deserved more recognition from Bluesfest attendees, but there was at least one, most likely lesbian, fan who shouted compliments at the singer throughout the night.
The Dixie Chicks capped off day three, and it was apparent these Texan women were who the majority of Bluesfesters came to see. Leather boots and self-styled cowboy hats dotted the audience. Natalie Maines would fit in at any dyke bar with her current hairdo, and the crowd literally exploded when they opened with their popular song about viricide, “Goodbye Earl.” The Chicks played many fan favourites, including the touching “Travelin’ Solider.” Whether the Dixie Chicks line up with your tastes or not, these occasionally political women are extremely talented, exemplified by their ability to effortlessly switch between instruments, some of which puzzled a few spectators, and rock a massive crowd with soft love songs.