Despite periodic rain and high humidity, thousands gathered in LeBreton Flats for the first night of Ottawa’s biggest and best known music festival, RBC Bluesfest.

Headliners at this year’s festival include Mother Mother, Maroon 5, Nickelback, 50 Cent, Jelly Roll, Gas and Motley Crüe.

But sometimes special moments take place away from the headliners on the side stages. And opening night 2024 presented concert-goers with a variety of talent from near and far, including OK Naledi, Orville Peck, and Leith Ross. Capital Current took in these three shows opening night.

OK Naledi brought an uplifting performance to the Barney Danson Theatre at the Ottawa Bluesfest on July 4. [Photo @ Serena Yang]

OK Naledi 

The night began with Afro-Fusion beats from OK Naledi that filled the Barney Danson Theatre.

OK Naledi is a project created by queer, Motswana Canadian artist Naledi Sunstrum. Their show created a chill, intimate ambience defined by deeper meaning and connection with others. 

Naledi’s confident, positive persona marks them as an experienced performer and musician. Their tunes are inspired by everything from childhood experiences to serial killer stories and romantic love.

Patterns of light changed colour and shape to reflect each song, adding to the ambience of the theatre.  

The set began with “YOU”, a song that showcases vocal harmonies, set over crisp, fresh beats. 

Enchanting and captivating lyrics were a hallmark of the performance, as heard in “CONFESSIONS”, a love song that tells the story of Naledi’s parents when they met in Botswana. 

Another crowd favourite was the group’s cover of MGMT’s “Electric Feel”, which offered a refreshing and uplifting take on the indie classic. 

Naledi made every word feel meaningful. They could be heard ending a song with a faint giggle just faintly picked up by the mic. 

Naledi’s authenticity was contagious as they invited the audience to get up and dance and sing along as they concluded the performance. 

Overall, OK Naledi offered a well-paced set that reminds one that life is about the journey, not the destination. 

Orville Peck 

Sensual guitar twang flooded LeBreton flats as country singer Orville Peck stepped onto the RBC main stage at 8 p.m. as part of his Stampede Tour, which speaks to his upcoming duet album that features Elton John, Willie Nelson, Noah Cyrus and more. 

“In case you haven’t been paying attention, I’m a gay cowboy!” Peck said with a chuckle, much to the crowd’s delight.  

The show began after a brief bout of rain, and the muddy ground ironically added to the authentic country ambience of the concert. 

Peck offered a cohesive performance with a perfect blend of modernity and classic old-school country. 

The band’s outfits reflected the same blend, with ’70s-inspired brown and burnt orange country outfits, cowboy hats and boots included. 

Peck was undeniably the star of the show, however, with his signature mask, charming smile, and guitar strap bearing his alias. 

His deep baritone carried over LeBreton Flats, carrying a smooth, rich sound that blended with guitar riffs to create foot stompin’, hip swingin’ rhythms. 

Powerful music contrasted with deep, layered lyrics in songs “Lafayette” and “The Hurtin’ Kind”.

“Big Sky” exemplified Peck’s ability to capture the audience with haunting vocals.

Peck truly shone in the quiet moments when the music faded away to reveal his isolated vocals, defined by clear vibrato. He never missed a note as he sang into the gold mic. 

His performance stood out as a deeply passionate personal tribute to country music and queer culture, connecting him with each and every member of the audience. 

Leith Ross serenades the crowd on July 4 at the River Stage of Ottawa Bluesfest. [Photo @ Serena Yang]

Leith Ross 

Over on the River Stage, Ottawa native and indie-folk artist Leith Ross captivated the crowd gathered at 9:30 p.m.

Spotlights cast ethereal beams across the twilight sky as Ross took the stage, guitar in hand. 

“Very full circle to be playing Ottawa Bluesfest of all places,” Ross said as they addressed the crowd. 

Ross’ music can be described as soft love songs that capture the queer experience. Couples swayed to the music as they were serenaded under a cloudy sky.

Delicate vocals blended into the music like water running over rocks. Ross’ voice was even more beautiful in person, demonstrating their talent as a performer. 

A crowd favourite was “(You) On My Arm” a catchy tune with a sing-along melody. 

Showers of rain periodically fell throughout the show, but the moody weather only enhanced the romanticism of the performance, especially during “I’d Have to Think About It,” a bittersweet ode to the one that got away.

Ross’s relatable anecdotes and Gen Z humour allowed them to easily connect with the crowd, making it feel more like a conversation between old friends rather than a celebrity concert.

Perhaps the highlight of Ross’ performance was the final song, viral TikTok sensation “We’ll Never Have Sex.” The band exited the stage, leaving Ross alone with the audience for the intimate fan favourite. 

The setlist provided the perfect intersection of love songs and lullabies, a relaxing finish to a busy night of music. 

Bluesfest continues until July 14.