Monday, July 14, 2008

Never Forget This Song

WMVY has been broadcasting this week from the Ottawa Blues Festival. It drew my attention because, although I haven't been anywhere lately, I've been to Ottawa several times. Despite being Canada's capital, Ottawa never gets the publicity that Toronto, Quebec City, and Montreal get. I kept waiting for Barbara Dacy to mention the cats of Parliament Hill but she never did. The cats of Parliament Hill are something like the pigeons of Trafalgar Square, or the denizens of the duck pond in Boston's Public Gardens. Animals that weren't meant to become tourist attractions but somehow ended up that way.
But I digress. When WMVY was airing music from the festival I noticed that a lot of if didn't sound particularly bluesy. I'm no expert on the blues, alas, I'm no expert on anything, but I've become blues educated since inertia usually prevents my changing the radio station weeknights between 8 and 9 when WMVY broadcasts The Blues at 8. Therefore I think I know the blues when I hear it. Donna Summer? Snoop Dogg? The Black Crows? Okay, they didn't actually play Snoop Dogg on WMVY, but he was in the festival line up. I thought that maybe the definition of blues music is different in Canada so I logged on to their website. There I found out that one of the objects of the festival is not to promote the blues but instead: "to support and sustain the growth of emerging and diverse musical genres, including the Blues, World Music, Alternative, Rock, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Rap, Folk, Urban, and other forms of music that develop from time to time."
Phew. That's pretty inclusive. The Ottawa Blues Festival very well may harbor a sincere desire to expand our collective musical horizons but if that's the case, shouldn't they drop the misleading name? To me the objective says, "we'll take any performer we can get."
That objective seems to be gaining popularity among the "festival" circuit. Here are some of the performers at next month's Newport Folk Festival: Brian Wilson, Jimmy Buffett, The Black Crows (again!), Cowboy Junkies. All good performers to be sure, but they're not folk. I know because I looked them all up on iTunes and not one was listed in the folk category. I know there is a folk category on iTunes because when I typed in Pete Seeger - voila - he's categorized as folk. The Newport Folk Festival doesn't seem to list any objectives so there's no way to find out what their justifications are for headlining acts that aren't considered folk music. Again, I am left to assume, "we'll take any performer we can get."
Interestingly, jazz festivals haven't yet fallen victim to this homogenization. I base this fact on having looked at the line up of the Miami Beach Jazz Festival and not recognizing a single artist.
The Black Crows must have been busy that weekend.

song: Never Forget This Song • artist: The Black Crows

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