SHIFT magazine got a chance to attend RBC Bluesfest in the nation’s capital this past weekend. This year is one of the biggest with headliners like Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Nas, Iggy Azalea, and Ceelo Green all gracing the stage over the weekend. Chance had an energetic performance on Friday night as he opened for Kanye West. He performed tracks from his mixtape Acid Rap and then took us back with some of his earlier releases. Chance was all over the stage jumping, jiving, and dancing to his soul jazz/rap influenced beats as he rocked the crowd for about an hour. Along with his band Social Experiment, Chance let us into his Chicago roots with jazz-infused tracks and a lesson in juke music which originated in the Windy City.
Fellow South Chicagoan Kanye West hit the stage an hour and a half later, coming out in thick smoke with his custom light production. He started off heavy performing All Day with everyone in the crowd going crazy. He then took us through a set of his newer tracks working his way back to classics like Jesus Walks. At one point, Kanye brought a beat machine on stage and gave us a live session of him doing his magic. It was reported that 25,000 people came out to see Yeezy perform.
Saturday, July 11
While Friday was a day for the creatives, Saturday was a day for the MCs. G. Grand and Hyfidelik The Gypsy Sun, with DJ 2 Creamz on the turntables, brought some boom bap beats and lyrically heavy tracks that brought you back to the days of real hip-hop. If you’re a real hip-hop head and a student of the genre this was the show for you. As G. Grand said during his set, “If you’re at this show you have very distinct taste in hip-hop”.
Then came the main event. Nas. Nasty. Esco. Nastradamus. An icon and indisputably one of the Kings of New York. It’s blasphemous to have a legend of Nas’ stature billed as one of the opening acts for Iggy Azalea but such is the festival business. One thing is clear; Nas hasn’t missed a beat. He brought culture, sharing his love of classical music, fingers waving back and forth as if he was conducting an orchestra. He brought classics like Nas Is Like, One Love, Ain’t Hard to Tell and If I Ruled the World and “newer” tracks like Get Down and the ultra-positive, child friendly I Know I Can which surprisingly got the crowd rocking.He got nastalgic [misspelling intentional] talking about the MCs who inspired him and reminding the crowd about the days of cassette tapes. True to his rep, he even got inspirational shouting out aspiring rappers, artists and poets and reminding the crowd that we’re all leaders.
A friend who knows the EDM genre really well told us we had to check out Porter Robinson. We had no expectations but we were pleasantly surprised. He had pyro, cool video displays (including anime clips), trippy lighting and a big ending with more trippy lighting and a load of confetti. It was a highly creative and complete performance. Most of all the music was really good. People often knock EDM as being more entertainment than art, but Robinson walked that fine line very well. His music was well-produced and he did a good job of mixing uptempo and downtempo tracks. Porter Robinson’s set was one of the better performances over the whole weekend.
Then came the headliner Iggy Azalea on the big stage. Although some thought she flopped, there’s nothing really bad to say about her. She can rap and she’s a pretty good performer. Next.
Sunday, July 12
Sunday brought Ceelo Green to the capital. It’s amazing to see how far he’s come as an artist from his Goodie Mob days. Although he started in hip-hop, his musical tastes are vast as Gospel, R&B, rock and soul influences can be found in his music.
When Ceelo hits the stage you can tell that he has a profound respect for music; not every artist gives you that impression. He’s a fan and it’s impossible to not have his joy rub off on you when he hits the stage.
Sunday ended with the best of Canadian rock, past and present as The Arkells played the Canadian stage before Blue Rodeo took to the main stage. Although they’re different in age and sound, what these two groups have in common is their ability to seem so relatable and approachable despite their major success.
Come back to our Bluesfest Central page throughout the rest of the festival for more articles and photos. We’ve included a few of our photos from this weekend above. To see all of our photos visit our Bluesfest Central page.
By Kevin Bourne and Dan Ramdial
Photo credit: Kevin Bourne (SHIFT branded), Mark Horton