Friday, July 19, 2024

Jelly Roll sweetens the day with show at the Royal Ottawa

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“The windshield is bigger than the rearview for a reason because what’s in front of us is so much more important than what’s behind.”

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Nashville star Jelly Roll sang four life-affirming songs and shared the story of how his life turned around during a pop-up mini concert at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre on Tuesday.

About 400 patients, staff and visitors were part of the “secret” session with the larger-than-life singer with the face tattoos in the centre’s sun-filled, air-conditioned Winter Garden room. Some of the younger fans in the room carried handmade signs reading “Thank you, Jelly”, “We Love Jelly” and “Welcome to Ottawa.”

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Jelly’s visit to the hospital was his first stop between the airport and Bluesfest, where he was set to headline the main stage on Tuesday evening.

Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

Canada represents the first international tour dates of his career, and he said he was thrilled to be introduced as an “international” recording and touring artist.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been allowed to perform internationally,” the convicted felon, born Jason Bradley DeFord, said in his Southern drawl. “There’s a little bit of a story to that.”  

He went on to talk about his upbringing in a “white-trash household” and how he got involved with drugs and alcohol as a youth. He was in and out of jail for a decade, he said, before something happened that made him stop in his tracks and question his choices.

A jail guard delivered the news that he was the father of a baby girl. At first, it enraged him, he revealed, because the guard didn’t know the baby’s name.

When he got a handle on his anger and realized he had helped to bring another life into the world, he vowed to find a different path.

“It changed my life,” he said. “I wanted to provide the life I never had. You don’t realize how f—-d up you are until you have a kid.”

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Jelly Roll The Royal
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs for patients and staff at the Royal Ottawa on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

He told the crowd he threw himself into self-improvement while in jail, finishing his high-school equivalency, taking a barber course and writing songs when hair-cutting didn’t work out.

Not dwelling on the past was one of his biggest lessons, he said.

“The windshield is bigger than the rearview for a reason because what’s in front of us is so much more important than what’s behind,” he declared.  

The audience was rapt, listening intently, laughing at his jokes and bursting into applause when he was joined by an acoustic guitarist for a handful of songs.

The pair played four tunes, starting with his breakthrough single, Son of a Sinner, with its chorus, “I’m just a long-haired son of a sinner, searching for new ways I can get gone.”

Next came Jelly’s newest single, I Am Not Okay, written as a way to describe the depression he was going through and to offer hope that things would get better. In a voice ranging from a low baritone to a Gospel-like high, he also sang the track that’s his biggest hit in Canada, Need a Favor, about only talking to God when he needs a favor.

Rounding out the mini-set was Save Me, a heart-tugging cry for help that had some onlookers singing along while others wiped away tears.

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Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

Staff at The Royal said Jelly’s visit would be remembered for years.

“When someone like this shines a light on substance abuse and mental health, it takes away some of the stigma and lets our patients feel like people care outside of their world and connects them to (the feeling that) ‘Maybe I’ll get treatment’ because they see their lives are somewhat parallel,” said Mike Souilliere, director of patient care services for the substance use and concurrent disorders program (SUCD). 

Chris Ide, director of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, added a plea for increased funding for research and care and a reminder that music could do wonders for mental health. 

The Royal pop-up was made possible by Bluesfest organizers, who announced the Jelly Roll show less than three weeks ago, a last-minute lineup addition. As soon as it was confirmed, Bluesfest director Mark Monahan said organizers received an inquiry from Jelly Roll’s team about making an appearance to support mental health.

Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

“It’s very rare that an artist actually approaches us to come into the community and do something,” Monahan said.

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The Royal was an obvious choice because there’s already a partnership between that facility and the festival’s Be In The Band program bringing music education to patients.

During the session, the centre also presented Jelly with a 2024 award for mental-health advocacy.

It was the Nashville native’s second appearance for causes related to addiction and mental health in his first two days in Canada.

On Monday, his first international concert took place in St. Catharines, raising funds and awareness for the Heather Winterstein Foundation, a charity set up to support Indigenous youths with mental health and addiction issues.

lsaxberg@postmedia.com

Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Jelly Roll takes a photo with some fans Tuesday while at the Royal Ottawa Hospital to perform a mini concert.
Jelly Roll takes a photo with some fans Tuesday while at the Royal Ottawa to perform a mini concert. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll visits and performs for patients and staff at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll visits and performs for patients and staff at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs a mini concert at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll visits and performs for patients and staff at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll visits and performs for patients and staff at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs at the Royal Ottawa Hospital before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night.
Bluesfest headliner Jelly Roll performs at the Royal Ottawa before performing at Bluesfest Tuesday night. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

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