Top 10: Must-See Non-Headline Performances at RBC Bluesfest 2016

With almost 200 performances over the span of 9 days, figuring out who to catch at Bluesfest can be a bit of a challenge. This year’s festival boasts some phenomenal headliners including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Future, Billy Idol, Brad Paisley, and The Lumineers, amongst many others, and with so much to offer from the top of the heap, blink and you just might miss some hidden indie gems.

So to help, I looked through the full line-up, crossed off some names, added a few back, lost sleep, grew a few grey hairs, and complied a handy list of artists you might not find at 9:30 on the main stage, but certainly won’t want to miss.

Before the festival kicks off on Thursday, check out my personal picks for the Top 10 Must-See Non-Headliners at this year’s Bluesfest below.

Let me know what you think and don’t forget to share – you just might save a friend’s (festival experience and make sure they have the best time of their) life.

For the full festival line-up, head to the Bluesfest website.

#10: Ginkgoa

When: Sunday July 10 (8:00-9:00)

Where: Black Sheep Stage

Want to know how to throw a good ol’ fashioned dance party? Just ask French electro-swing-pop group Ginkgoa. Formed in Paris, France back in 2010, Ginkgoa throw together the irresistible beginnings of French swing with the contemporary dance party influences of electro-pop for a unique and fun-loving sound. Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself in a frenzy of uncontrollable dance moves and having a wild time.

#9: Suits N’ Toques

When: Thursday July 7 (6:00-6:45)

Where: Black Sheep Stage

Throw a saxophone, trumpet, and a trombone into a mixture of groovy, reggae-infused punk and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a great time. Ottawa ska band Suits n’ Toques have been picking up traction in the local music scene with their eccentric live performances and irresistible, dynamic party sound. With a certain on-stage energy and adhesiveness that comes from growing up together as friends, Suits n’ Toques are a solid blend of The Planet Smashers, Mad Caddies, and Streetlight Manifesto that everyone can enjoy.

Note: don’t forget your dancing shoes.

#8: The Zolas

When: Sunday July 17 (7:00-8:00)

Where: City Stage

Vancouver indie pop group The Zolas have this certain sway and demeanour to their music. Light-hearted vocals, and colourful, yet never overbearing melodies give their sound a summery, lush feel. It’s the kind of music you wouldn’t mind listening to in a hammock with a cool glass of lemonade, but also the sounds of a dimly-lit dance party at an indie music bar. With a collection of hits under their belt, including “Ancient Mars”, “Knot in My Heart”, and “Fell in Love With New York”, The Zolas are the right mix of synth, guitar, and piano pop for a summer’s day.

#7: Son Little

When: Thursday July 7 (8:15-9:15)
Where: Black Sheep Stage

In an age of artificial musical colouring and flavouring, guys like Son Little are a welcomed dose of genuine and authentic soul and talent. The son of a preacher, Son Little (a.k.a Aaron Livingston) grew up listening to R&B, soul, and gospel, incorporating the influences of his youth into his contemporary style of R&B. Hints of minimalist electronica melt into his flexible interpretation of soul, giving it the diversity to appeal to many and be enjoyed by all. His voice is gritty, his music is slick, and his sound is mesmerizing. Read the review of his debut full-length here.

#6: DZ Deathrays

When: Saturday July 16 (7:30-8:30)

Where: Monster Energy Stage

If there’s one general thing people know about Australia, it’s that creepy, alien-like spiders, snakes, or other creatures can suddenly appear without warning in your kitchen, bathroom, and worse…your bed…Nightmares aside, people outside of the country Down Under are beginning to catch onto their phenomenal indie music scene, and included in that pack is the dance-punk duo DZ Deathrays. Between the crunchy, distorted riffs blaring from Shane Parsons’ guitar and the self-destructive rhythms from drummer Simon Ridley, their music has the power to ignite the wild side in your grandmother, and inject a rush of excitement and adrenaline similar to that of a self-inflicted punch to the face. Catchy like the riffs of Royal Blood, wild like the unpredictability of Lighting Bolt, and with the distortion of Death From Above, the Aussie pair will presumably aim to be the loudest show at this year’s festival.

#5: Wild Child

When: Sunday July 10 (7:30-8:30)

Where: Monster Energy Stage

When the moment is right, it can foster the perfect circumstances for a connection to grow; the right place and time make all the difference. While on tour as a supporting act back in 2010, Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins were killing time in the tour van, writing songs in the backseat. With only their voices, thoughts, and a ukulele, the right place had been established, and as both were going through breakups during the tour, the right time showed itself. They connected through song writing, realizing they proved to be a powerful duo. Upon returning to their hometown of Austin, Texas, Wilson and Beggins lassoed the help of their musical friends and Wild Child was formed. The septet have won over the hearts of indie music lovers around the world with their genuine storytelling, passing off their heartfelt secrets as songs and kitchen parties as concerts. The same way Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros create free-spirited energy, and Ingrid Michaelson composes an emotive experience, Wild Child builds an intoxicating connection between band and audience.

Read through the review of their latest album Fools here.

#4: The Head & The Heart

When: Thursday July 7 (9:00-10:15)

Where: Monster Energy Stage

Seattle music scene is undoubtedly a historical one. With its connection to the birth of grunge, success of post-hardcore, and a host of individual artists, the rainy west coast city is well-known for attracting talented musicians. Sub Pop, a Seattle-based record label, continues to protect the title with their impressive list of signed artists. Included in that pile is the indie folk collective The Head & the Heart, a six-piece band that formed from the open mic night scene of Seattle. Their sound was launched to the rest of the world, with their 2010 self-titled debut becoming one of the best-selling debut albums of Sub Pop. Bringing together influences and inspiration from all six members, their 2013 sophomore Let’s Be Still highlighted the band’s stunning and charismatic folk style, finding the perfect in-between of heartwarming and energizing. With six talent musicians coming together as one, The Head and the Heart are sure to enchant their audience as a band that couldn’t be happier to be where they are.

#3: Holy Fuck

When: Saturday July 16 (8:00-9:00)

Where: Black Sheep Stage

Holy Fuck aren’t your traditional idea of electronic. Sure, keyboards and synthesizers are used, but for a band described as electronic, they stay clear of laptops, and programming. But it works. Really, really well. Throwing psychedelic, undistinguishable vocals into the mix, the Toronto outfit put a twist on the idea of being a “rock” band, as the standard guitars, bass, drums, and vocals are taken for a wild ride. Cyclic rhythms, impressively precise percussion, and shoegaze-esque dynamics make Holy Fuck nothing short of mesmerizing in the studio, and absolutely sensational live.

#2: San Fermin

When: Sunday July 10 (9:30-10:45)

Where: Barney Danson Theatre

Brooklyn composer and Yale graduate Ellis Ludwig-Leone is the musical and creative genius behind indie baroque-pop ensemble San Fermin; lyricist, composer, arranger, songwriter, Ludwig-Leone is San Fermin. With the help of his friends in the studio, Ludwig-Leone has turned the one-man show into a fully-function, touring 8-piece troupe. A controlled frenzy of horns, strings, percussion, and complimenting vocals, San Fermin is an intense musical venture: unpredictable, melodramatic, and exhilarating with every note. Throw in the exceptional vocal contrast of co-lead vocalists Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate, and mini-orchestra’s playful use of time signatures as a backdrop, San Fermin are not to be missed.

Read through the review of their latest album Jackrabbit here.

#1: PUP

When: Thursday July 14 (6:00-7:00)

Where: Monster Energy Stage

Their debut album was one of my favourites of 2014, and to no surprise, their sophomore The Dream Is Over is in pursuit of becoming the favourite for 2016. After lead singer Stephan Babcock was diagnosed with a dangerous cyst in his throat, the band faced some existential crises and instead of turning back, PUP turned the other way and kept doing what they do best: full-band harmonies, catchy riffs, gritty, shout-singing vocals, fuzzy guitars and rampant percussion. Although their live shows are not for the faint of heart, the band’s energy and resilience is magnetic, perfect for some wired punk fun.


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