Reporting from Bluesfest: Journey, Zedd and Beth Hart

Bluesfest is a major music festival in Ottawa which, surprisingly, has very little connection to blues. Some of the more famous performers this year included Lady Gaga, Journey, Barenaked Ladies, Blondie, Childish Gambino, Queens of the Stone Age, Snoop Dogg, Tegan and Sara, The Killers, and Third Eye Blind.DSCF0768eAnd I had the most awesome luck of nabbing a press pass for the first Friday of the festival. My friend Griffith is an editor at The Scene Magazine, a Canadian based music review website, and he needed a couple of extra writers to attend the festival and review whatever bands we pleased. I wholeheartedly agreed and set on my way.
The festival was pretty chilled-out and some of the stages had a beautiful view of the Ottawa River. I decided first to see Beth Hart then Journey followed by Zedd.DSCF0787eAn excerpt from my Beth Hart review: “Beth Hart has commandeered a great deal of respect in the rock world over the past couple of decades and has successfully fought to remain relevant. In 2013 she was nominated for the “contemporary blues female artist of the year” award and for someone who has been around for a while, she surprisingly shows no signs of slowing down or changing course. Her show even leaves you wondering if the Hart train actually has a brake lever. But one thing is for sure, if someone or something was to end the train’s journey then her fans would either refuse to leave their seats or burn their own clothes in the furnace for one last ride around with their beloved Beth Hart.”
DSCF0790 An excerpt from my Journey review: “As a tall frat boy succinctly exclaimed, “what a big-ass crowd”. Journey’s audience stretched back in its thousands, which is to be expected for one of the world’s best selling bands. But the crowd lacked attention and people were constantly flowing in and out of the show without much concern for what songs they would miss. Whenever a group would recognize a lyric they would animatedly join in for a few moments, much like at a karaoke night where everyone is half drunk and half disinterested. But this pub night was more like an under 18’s social event where the dress code required irritating attitudes andperfect tans. You could almost imagine them saying to each other “Do you wanna see that old band who’s song was on Glee?” which is a strange reality for Journey now since their music appeared on the popular TV show in 2009. If only they knew that there is so much more to Journey than Don’t Stop Believin’; the band has an exceptional history and impressive persistence for staying relevant in today’s music world. But at least they’re bringing in a younger audience now, which is good… right?”
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Photograph credit to Mark Horton/RBC Bluesfest Press Images

An excerpt from my Zedd review: “Zedd manages to succeed where most electro and house DJ’s fail. His music does not fall into the trap of repetition, shitty lyrics or “the louder, the better” mantra. Instead Zedd cooks a feast of music for his audience. He skillfully manipulates the music into something interesting and every 10 seconds a new sound is introduced into the mix. Zedd is a teasing DJ but his work is also very generous; the music is captivating and constantly provides new, new, new, and more, more, more. The night was a startling passionate three-way love affair between music, art and technology. And the audience loved every thrilling moment of it.”
Zedd performs at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Friday, July 4th, 2013. The RBC Bluesfest is ranked as one of the most successful music events in North America.

Photograph credit to Mark Horton/RBC Bluesfest Press Images

Here is a snapshot of The Scene Magazine’s homepage the following day with my three articles:bluesfest my three articlesI have included links to the full versions of each review. I hope you enjoy them as much as I loved writing them!
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Love Jill

 

 

My First Published Poem!

As a few of you know, I have spent my summer writing as much as I can. Admittedly the joys and adventures of being abroad have taken over every so often and I haven’t written as much as I would have liked. However, as French writer Françoise Sagan said “I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.” It’s all about balance.

This summer I have achieved one minor victory: I got my first poem published! My poem is called A Tree That Grows and it is for my beautiful nephew Sebastian. A website for poets called The Rainbow Journals emailed me a few weeks ago and said that they would love to publish my poem in their next issue. And a fortnight ago, my writing appeared on their online issue with the theme of childhood.

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My poem was followed by a brief biography: “Jill Stevens is a Scottish student living in Ottawa for the year. She is spending this summer writing every possible story and poem which has lay dormant inside her for years. Jill’s “day job” involves exploring Canadian culture and documenting these adventures in a travel blog called Scottawa. Despite the many joys of travelling and living in a country where milk is sold in bags, she misses her beautiful nephew and dedicates these poems to him.”

Thank you Rainbow Journals for publishing my poem. This may be a small success but it feels wonderful to see my words in print!

Love Jill

The Cottage in Summertime

In July, we returned to the cottage for summer adventures.
10547555_441085266032424_5487576009174066889_nNot only do Jonny’s parents own the land surrounding the cottage, they also own ‘Harris Mountain’ and the nearby lake.10351893_441085192699098_8898043372308968041_nThe first time I visited the lake it was frozen over and coated in icing-sugar snow. This time, I dove in head first and swam with the fishes. We played on the wooden dock; tipping it over, knocking each other off and doing faux-yoga until the dock sunk underneath us.

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We canoed to a forested island in the centre of the lake and explored dark chilly caves with icy puddles at the bottom. We found woodpeckers and snakes and frogs and chipmunks. Twigs scratched our legs, dirt covered our feet and sweat dripped down our backs. I felt like a kid again, exploring the wilderness; being Tarzan, Pocahontas, The Swiss Family Robinson, Rambo.
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984156_441086129365671_5261790709755614026_nWe hiked up the mountain; dodging poisonous plants, eating wild berries, and admiring the incredible view. At the top we took a few moments to appreciate the green landscape, the sapphire water, the burning sun. And then we became kids again and began rolling boulders off the cliff edge and listening to them crack and tumble into the world below.

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In the evenings we swapped bathing suits for pajamas and huddled around the campfire. Ian played guitar and sang Barenaked Ladies songs, Kevin admired the stars through a telescope, and the rest of us roasted potatoes and marshmallows on the fire. We played a game, the same one at least twenty or so times. It was called Loup-Garou which is French-Canadian for werewolf.


Loup-Garou is a detective game where people are given secret roles to play; three werewolves, a witch, a detective, a little girl, a fat boy, the lovers, the hunter and the villagers. Occasionally someone was Jesus which meant they could rise from the dead. Basically everyone has specific things they can do and the goal of the game is to figure out who the werewolves are before the whole village has been eaten.

In the night (when everyone’s eyes are closed) the werewolves decide who they are going to eat and they tell the leader of the game ‘God’. Then they go to sleep and the witch wakes up. God points to who is going to be eaten and the witch can decide whether to save them or kill someone else. She goes to sleep and the detective wakes up and asks God for the identity of a certain person. Then he sleeps and the whole village wakes up. The little girl is the only person allowed to peek throughout the night but she can be killed if she is caught by a werewolf. If the fat boy is eaten then the werewolves cannot eat on the second night. If one lover is killed then the other must profess their love and die as well. If the hunter is killed, he can chose someone to kill at the same time. In the morning, zero, one or two people can be dead and the villagers are angry and have to decide who to lynch. Arguments and tactical votes are made then someone is lynched by the town. After every death, the dead person must reveal their role. The game ends when either the entire village or all the werewolves are dead.

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The game was awesome and resulted in many fictional deaths, betrayals and twists. We spent the rest of our time eating hot dogs and snacks and drinking until the mosquitoes became too persistent. We played board games and listened to music and swam in the lake for hours.

The cottage in the summer is completely different from the winter. I adored exploring the wilderness and experiencing a real Canadian summer. A few years ago, when I was still in high school, I had a section of my bedroom wall designated for Canadian travel pieces and photographs. I remember this one picture specifically of a couple in a canoe on the most stunning lake I have ever seen. And as I sat on the dock admiring the beauty around me, I couldn’t help but feel like I was finally experiencing that photograph and how lucky I was to realise one of my travel dreams.10353040_441085562699061_1854150886947462560_n

Thank you, friends, for the wonderful cottage times. I’ll never forget them.

Love Jill.

Credit for the wonderful photographs goes to Colleen Jones (the awesome girl with the dreads).

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Turning 21 in Canada

On July 7th 2014, I turned 21 in Canada.

At 12:00am I took a birthday shot of vodka with my new friend Brigit and her boyfriend Erik whilst listening to their friends sing Sweet Caroline on karaoke. We had known each other for roughly eight hours so I can officially say that I began my twenty-first year with a group of strangers in a foreign country. And it was a blast. It felt like we had been friends for years and everyone was super enthusiastic about my birthday; buying shots and giving me birthday kisses.

Once the partying ended, I slept at mine until the sun rose again and the birthday celebrations resumed. My Mum skyped and we planned my ‘home birthday’ and talked for a while. Then I dolled up in a pretty pink dress and met Caroline for birthday fro-yo at Menchies followed by deep discussions at Major Hill’s Park. We met Ellen for delicious pizza dinner and I officially introduced Caroline and Ellen (despite them being in the same journalism course for the past two years). We had a lovely time and once they both left to get an early night, I text Jack to see if he was free.

aDSCF0814aDSCF0810aDSCF0820Jack and I drank cocktails at The Fox and the Feather Pub until Michelle arrived. Jack and Michelle had also never met before and it was strange watching another two of my friendship-worlds colliding. They bonded over cooking tips and teasing me, endlessly. Somehow we began talking to our table neighbours; one guy who had just returned from shooting a documentary in Sri Lanka and another guy who was working on a short feminist film. Both of whom were entirely fascinating until they began name-dropping then we decided to skedaddle.aDSCF0855adsg

Michelle bought me a rose and invited Jack back to her place for Caesars on the porch. I hopped on the back of Michelle’s bike – with the fresh cut rose between my teeth – and we laughed as the bike wobbled all the way to my bike in the Market. Then, like three awesome musketeers, we all cycled to Hull and sat under the stars with Lacey’s cat, Caesar, and Michelle’s dog, Julius, and drank cocktails until the early hours.

My 21st birthday was pretty magical and I loved spending it with my favourite Canadians. Of course, I miss celebrating my birthday at home but my Mum and I are simply postponing celebrations for a month (because we can totally do that). Thank you, everyone, for an awesome birthday!

Love Jill.

Canada Day

Canada Day is a blast of red and drink and fireworks.

July 1st is the busiest day of the year in Ottawa. Some Canadians avoid the streets altogether and others embrace the fanatic celebrations with red clothes, beer and boundless pride.

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For the past year, people have told me stories of Canada Day; of drunken mishaps and crazy crowds and memorable evenings. So when the day arrived, I woke up excited, threw on some red and ventured out to meet Ellen. I was at least ten minutes late because the streets were filled with revelers. We explored pop-up stalls and ate street food and enjoyed the live bands and performers.

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Later on, Ellen went to her friend’s house and I met up with Michelle. We went on a boat tour guided by her roommate Lacey and avoided the momentary rain as it dispersed the crowds. All three of us walked over the bridge to their house and began our drinks and festivities. We returned to Parliament Hill for the incredible fireworks which I think were the most awe-inducing fireworks I have seen in my life. I even felt a little patriotic…

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We found some France-French friends and invited them back to Michelle’s. The evening was spent consuming tequila shot, discussing cultural differences, and salsa dancing. Our evening was pretty cool and eventful, with drama and romance aplenty.

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Overall, definitely one of my favourite days in Canada and one I hope to experience again. Go Canada!

Love Jill.

Jack’s Housewarming Party

After two or three months of living in his new place, Jack finally decided to have a housewarming party. So he cooked a feast, bought weird beer and invited his Ottawa friends around to party.

On arrival we were welcomed into the fairy-lit garage which looked like a magical castle for students. A table was loaded with food and alcohol, and a box of coloured chalk lay awaiting tipsy drawing on the stone wall.

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A dozen or so people arrived and, not surprisingly, every single one of us were journalists. But we managed to quiet the journalism chat long enough to begin playing games. First, Pictionary on the wall; hence the Pikachus and Charmanders. Second, Heads Up with phones.

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By 11:10, we were so enthusiastic about our games that the police rolled up to the garage door. They looked confused at us; a group of fairly sober twenty-somethings sitting around a table playing family games. This was the crazy party keeping the neighbours awake?! So instead of giving us in trouble, the police complimented Jack’s decor “It’s a nice setup you got here” and rolled on.

By the end of the night we had guacamole inside jokes, funny photographs and full bellies. Thank you, Jack, for an awesome evening! 
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Love Jill

P.S. Lumpy Space Princess!

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So Many Stories To Tell…

You’re probably wondering, what is Jill doing back in Canada?!

Well, after nine months of thrills and some of the best weeks of my life, I woke up one morning in April and thought to myself why the hell am I leaving Canada? I have so much left to do here!

I longingly wanted to experience the Canadian summer. Actual heat during June and July is a concept very much lost on my Scottish self. It is a beautiful thing. Most days are in the high twenties (degrees Celsius). Any time I’m talking to someone from home and I tell them about the weather, I always get the same shock and awe responses;  are you kidding me?! I am so jealous. It’s how hot?!

I brag about my almost-kinda-sorta tan. And by tan I mean that my freckles have come out in full force and from a distance you could maybe trick yourself into thinking my skin was slightly less milk-bottle than usual. Every day I spend time outside; cycling, playing frisbee, messing about in the river, walking my friend’s dog, BBQ’s, reading in the park, and even stargazing.

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I haven’t even mentioned how alive the city is in the summer. Last weekend there were EIGHT, I repeat, EIGHT festivals happening in the town. We had Jazz Fest, Glow Fair, Fringe Fest, Ribfest, Dragon Boat Festival, Hintonburg Happenings, and the Summer Solstice Aborignal Arts Festival. And that’s not to mention all the many and bizarre events going on outside of the festivals; Electric Pow Wow‘s, Spoken Word Slam Nights, and Zine Off‘s.

This place is crazy and awesome and my days are flooded with things to do and experience.

Last week, among other things, I went to a board game cafe called Monopolatte with Caroline and her friend. The coffee shop had over eight hundred games to choose from and the employees could teach almost all of them, at your request. The cafe had every board game you could think of; Firefly, Sex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc. We ended up playing Urban Myth and Ticket To Ride, both of which I had never heard of before.

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On a different day, my friend Ellen and I went to the Franco-Ontarian Festival and sunbathed at the Pique-Nique Africain, listening to French African music and watching families from many cultures having fun together. Then we got our picture taken with a bunch of rescued parrots who were the sweetest and calmest birds I have ever met.

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A few days later, I experienced my first ever improv show (which is apparently a big thing in Canada) with my friend Michelle as part of the Fringe Festival. And I loved every moment. The show was performed as the storyline of Aladdin, except an audience member picked a card from a hat and each card held a different genre. And the performers had to act out the show in which ever genre was chosen. On that particular evening the actors performed Aladdin as… an office drama. Yes, it was as awesome and pun-filled and hilarious as it sounds. There was a magic brief case, Genie was a consultant, Jasmine was the bosses secretary, Aladdin was a minimum wage intern who wished to be a CEO. The puns flew from the actors mouths faster than we could register. A whole new world floor…

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Image credit to GRIMprov

As part of Glow Fair, I wandered down Bank Street at 12am on Saturday night and took in all the strange and wonderful things along the way. This is the Glow Fair’s first year in Ottawa and it was a huge success. Volunteers spent days decorating the streets with thousands of lights and colours and setting up outside cinemas and silent discos. The free-admission event took place over three days and the public reveled in entertainment by drag queens, street artists and over thirty musical performances. And on Saturday, as part of the Fair, I partied at a Queer Mafia club night in Babylon. The atmosphere was upbeat and inviting and I was surrounded by so many beautiful queer men and women and everyone in between. Walking home at 3am I joined hundreds of people who were outside bathing in the afterglow (pun intended) of an awesome night.

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Photograph credit to Alexander Vlad, Glow Fair

Glow Fair Slideshow Photographs

The culture here is endless fun, but I also do normal non-touristy things with my time. Things that are only made possible for me by the generous offers from my Canadian friends (of which I am eternally grateful).  The week before last, I ate dinner with Jack’s lovely family after his graduation. And another day I listened to Michelle’s brother as he played tuba in a high school performance. On Friday I caught up with my cottage friends at Kevin’s birthday party in Hull, Quebec. In the past, I’ve been to friend’s highland dancing competitions, thanksgiving dinners, Easter family lunches, classmates’ nights out, birthday parties etc. And it’s only in retrospect I realise that all the exciting experiences are incredible and thrilling, but the normal stuff matters too and often it is those things which make you feel truly at home in a foreign country.

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Love Jill

My Idea of Heaven: Summer in Ottawa

Ottawa is stunning. God really out did himself when he made this place. Two days here and I am already blissed out. I hope Canadians know just how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful warm place. You can do anything here and the weather rarely disrupts.

On the way home from the airport, my friend Michelle and I drove passed people having barbecues, sunbathing, cycling, running, playing with their kids. Imagine Scotland on a really good where everyone is outside enjoying the shy sun. That’s Canada, every single day.

I adore life here. I am writing this in a luscious green park a minute from my apartment. I am watching the Ottawa river flow past, geese paddling, planes flying, squirrels hopping across the grass. Sometimes one stops to acknowledge me and then continues to hop, hop, hop and scamper up a tree.

The air smells sweet like fresh cut grass and a summer warmth. A cosy breeze kisses my body and I feel the sun nourish me with vitamins and good hormones and sporadic freckles.

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This is probably the first place I have ever lived where I need to apply sunscreen every single morning. Yesterday I walked past a homeless man begging on the street and he said “Beautiful day isn’t it?” And then noticing my pale complexion he exclaimed “why don’t you have a tan yet?!” I’ve been expecting this question but it makes me laugh that even strangers are taken aback by my milk bottle skin.

One thing I have noticed about the homeless in the summer time is that they sleep outside every day, tops off, lounging on the benches. And they seem content.

What is it about the warm weather that makes people smile?

In my opinion it’s the freedom and opportunity to share an experience with hundreds of other people. Everyone outside is appreciating the same thing as you, they are being made happy by the same thing that’s making you happy, you get to be with people and share life with them. No longer do you have to bussle indoors and hide from the cold, or stay in your home watching TV because it’s raining outside. You can experience life the way it was meant to be lived; with others, with strangers, with new friends and old ones.

I feel at home here, lying on the grass, under an old tree, writing about my world. This place is my idea of heaven.

Love Jill.

Home is not a Fairy Tale. It is a Reality you have avoided for too long.

When you are abroad, home becomes a fairy tale place. One you sink into when you fall asleep. Drifting in and out of consciousness. Remembering your best friends, family, favourite places. Drinking tea at the kitchen table with your mum. Driving around with your friends, singing your favourite songs. Watching crime show after crime show on your parents’ Sky box.

It is only on returning that you realise home is not how you remember it. Home is another version of reality. One you have so skilfully avoided for months.

You return and you are faced with problems, dramas, traumas, issues, everything you had erased from your conscience. They all come flooding back. You expect your best friends to be shiny Disney versions of themselves. Everything going well, everyone happy, everyone healthy, everything good. But it’s not. You return and you find that those you love are unhappy or sick or facing difficult life decisions.

I don’t know why I expected everything to be perfect. Everything to be magical and fantastical. This is a life I once lived and it wasn’t perfect then and it sure isn’t perfect now.

Those I love are facing problems with family, lovers, health, university, work, and even visas. A part of me feels sad that home is not how I remembered. But another part of me feels guilty for not being here for everyone.aSAM_2168

The future looks scary. And who am I to leave again when they need me the most? It doesn’t seem fair. That I can just disappear and return whenever I please.

But another part of me feels glad that I can escape. To avoid responsibility and deny that I have a role to play on this side of the world. Of course, I feel guilt for that as well.

When you are abroad, people say to you “Don’t you miss home?!” They say how they couldn’t do what you have done. They couldn’t leave. They would be too homesick, too lonely, too afraid.

But a part of me is beginning to believe that they are the brave ones. They remain while I leave. They persist while I escape. They stay where they are needed. They support and help and stand strong while everything around is falling.

Nothing is how you remember. Home is not a fairy tale place. Home is the reality, abroad is the fantasy world. Perhaps that is why I love it so much. While I am away, I feel how you do when you read a story and you are transported to another land. Once you close the book, your memories are fuzzy and warm and you lived in that world for a while. But now the story is done and you must return to your reality. This is how I feel today. Maybe this is a depressing take on travelling, but it is a frighteningly honest one.

One I can barely even admit to myself.

Love Jill

Then and Now: Canada circa 2000 and 2014

My first time in Canada I was seven-years-old.

Fourteen years ago my parents planned for us to visit relatives in Vancouver.

The story goes: my Mum’s father had two brothers. When they were young men, one brother emigrated to New Zealand, the other brother emigrated to Canada, and my Grandfather stayed in Scotland.

I have never met my Great-Uncle Malcolm who still lives down under. But I do know my Great-Uncle Al. He is a lovely and sweet man, much like my Grandfather was. I haven’t seen Al since our visit in 2000 but I remember the holiday vividly. Fourteen year ago was when I first fell in love with Canada.

In this blog post I have decided to share with you, my wonderful Scottawa readers, some photographs from our holiday. None of the photos were in digital form so I had to spend a little time coaxing them from their beds inside the photo album, peeling them out, introducing them to the scanner (technology they have never seen before) and bringing them to life on the screen. And now I will immortalise these photographs so they can forever live in the great world wide web.

A few of my memories from Canada and moments I have never forgotten…

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Picking raspberries with my Great-Auntie Marg. The fruit tasted delicious! And I had never seen fruit patches in someone’s garden before.

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Meeting my Canadian family with their tanned skin and lovely accents!

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Seeing my Mum drive on the other side of the car and on the other side of the street.

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Going to see the Pokemon movie and getting special Mew cards.

Visiting places around Vancouver.

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Being with my brothers.

I hope you have enjoyed these photographs as much I have. They are a wonderful reminder of when Canada first ventured into my heart, unpacked its bags and poured itself a cup of tea.

I love you Canada! From Jill.

Then and now: Myself in Canada circa 2000 and 2014.

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