Ottawa’s Dragonboat Festival Day One – Paper Lions and Spirit of the West

by Erin Red

Ah summer, the season of outdoor festivals, warm breezy nights, and sweaty pits. Mosh pits I mean (though to be fair I suppose there are many types of sweaty summer pits… but I digress). Summer festivals have a way of turning the most unlikely of band-audiences into sweaty jumping masses – sometimes with crowd surfing and skanking, sometimes with linked-arm-twirling, but always with ample singing and excess enthusiasm. Tonight’s offering? Paper Lions and Spirit of the West at night one of Ottawa’s Dragon Boat Festival.

I had the chance to see Paper Lions at Hillside Festival last summer as was really impressed with their energy on stage and (let’s face it, my absolute band-love-weakness) their adorableness- but I only got to watch about five minutes of their set because I had to leave to go to a wedding. It was an awesome wedding, but I was still a little bit sad that I couldn’t have finished the set then gone to the wedding… Tonight I finally got to see a full Paper Lions show and they held up really well! Bursting with energy (why stand at a keyboard when you can run on the spot while playing?) and full of man-love (apparently my quote of the night was, “two grown men singing into the same mic gets me every time…”), they were clearly enjoying playing on such a beautiful day.

Paper Lions – Photo credit – Ming Wu

Mixing up a few old favourites, “Travelling” and “Lost the War“, with a bunch of stuff off of their newer EP, Paper Lions kept a quick pace and sounded great (if a little loud- and I swear I’m not just saying that! Children were covering their ears. For serious). With a bit of coaxing they even got the mostly seated-and-drinking-beer audience to sing along with not one or two, but three separate songs. Pretty good for an early-evening opening act! It was especially great seeing them again since this time I was familiar with a bunch of the songs- and as we all know, singing along makes every show better

Which brings me to Spirit of the West. Maybe you have to be of a “Certain Age” (maybe not?) but it definitely seemed like all my age-contemporaries in the audience were repeatedly having the same, “Wow, I know every one of these songs” reaction as we were. Now I’ve listened to Spirit of the West for a long time. Actually over fifteen years (ok, so not that long, but considering they date back to a time before I really listened to music that wasn’t my parents’, it’s a pretty long time)… but I strangely didn’t really realize how much of their music I knew- and how well I knew it!

From the opening “The Joneses” to “Venice is Sinking“- our cue to say “chuck it” to the relaxing seats and head into the developing (and aforementioned) pit- lead singer John Mann and the rest of the crew gave an unerring and unceasingly energetic performance that saw everyone (ages three to seventy something) dancing their feet off for over an hour and a half. One of the fantastic things about outdoor festival shows is the breadth of people you get to see loving the same show. From the wee redheaded boy jumping in a circle, to the two we-look-like-we-listen-to-hip-hop-but-are-inexplicably-completely-in-love-with-spirit-of-the-west gentlemen front row centre, there were representatives from every possible group, and each one was having just as much fun as the next.

Spirit of the West – Photo credit – Ming Wu

This whole all-ages thing was carried right up onto the stage as the three year old son of the sound tech snuck up to the drum kit and started playing along with the band. Instead of whisking him off, they made sure he wasn’t gonna fall off the stool and let him play through the whole song. Then gave him a drum solo. Well, it was more like a cymbal solo, but for a three year old he kinda rocked it (and of course who is immune to that insane level of adorableness? yes, clearly I am not, but everyone else loved it too, I swear!)

Of course they closed out their set with the always popular “Home for a Rest,” which resulted in some of the loudest singing along I have heard ever (EVER- like not just loud for the size of the crowd, loud for any size of crowd…), the guys on stage started laughing they were so startled by the volume. It was fan-freakin-tastic. And the enthusiasm didn’t end there, the dancing and jumping about were insane, again with a full-out mix of teenagers, little kids, adults and seniors, each person having more fun than the next.

On CD (or “on ipod” I guess I should say?) Spirit of the West have always sounded like they would be good live, but I gotta say they surpassed all of my expectations. Fantastic show, and a fantastic start to the summer festival season.

One day down, two more to go – what’s a weekend without three days of concerts?!

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