By Keith Sharp
If you want any proof that Blues music is still thriving in Canada, all you have to do is glance at the 2017 festival schedule printed in the Toronto Blues Society’s monthly Maple Blues magazine. From April till October, a total of 41 festivals are set to be staged nationally – and this total doesn’t even include major winter events.
Both Claude Cloutier’s TD Kitchener Blues Festival and Chuck Jackson’s Port Credit Ontario based Tim Horton’s Southside Blues Shuffle have been mainstays of the Canadian Blues Festival Scene and both report that interest in blues music is stronger than ever as they prepare to execute their events which both have a strong Canadian theme considering this country is currently celebrating its 150th birthday.
Cloutier, about to celebrate Kitchener’s 17th year and his 11th year in charge is aware that it is a yearly challenge to inject his lineup with fresh talent but claims new artists are appearing annually as some of the established blues artists pass on.
“Our festival is always going to be a blues festival, there will always be a foothold in that musical style,” he noted, acknowledging that other existing blues festivals are blues in name only as they attempt to boost interest by adding Country, Pop and R&B artists. “There’s a definite pushback from our audience when we have tried to spice things up. But there is such a wide interpretation of what is blues. I mean every classic rock band contains some elements of blues in their material and many established rock artists are releasing blues records as a spin-off.”
Cloutier’s four-night festival which runs Thursday August 10th to Sunday August 13th at three separate locations is principally a free festival with the exception of the Thursday ticketed performance by Saskatoon’s Sheepdogs at the YNC Stage, supported by The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer and the duo of Mike Todd and Mike Weidinger.
The three stages throughout the rest of the schedule features a mixed bag of established artists like Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, Booker T Jones (Saturday OLG Clock Tower), Bobby Rush (Sunday YNC Stage) along with Canadian talent such as Montreal’s The Box (Saturday YNC Stage) and Michel Pagliaro (Sunday OLG Clock Tower), The Skydiggers (Saturday OLG Clock Tower) and perennial favourite David Wilcox (Saturday YNC Stage).”
“It’s a standing rule that we don’t permit cover bands or tribute bands, it has to be original material but we do make allowances for special blues tributes,” allowed Cloutier. “We have our Band Tribute to The Last Waltz (Friday OLG Clock Tower) which is very popular and we have a special tribute to Etta James (Sunday BIA Stage).
Montreal’s Plants and Animals, Juno winner Paul Reddick and Lucky Peterson (who recorded his first album when he was five years old) are other bands Cloutier is excited about but the one band he is eager to see is Montreal’s The Box.
“The first record I ever bought was The Box’s `Closer Together’ release in 1987, I just love that record, they were all over the radio at that time and it’s great that they are appearing at our festival this year,” Cloutier noted.
Chuck Jackson, lead vocalist of Downchild Blues Band, announces that he is going with a mainly all Canadian lineup for his three day Southside Shuffle Blues Festival September 8-9-10 at Port Credit’s Memorial Park and that, despite these restrictions, has had no trouble finding suitable talent for his four stages during the event.
“I travel all over the world with Downchild and I have to say that Canadian Talent Is just as good as anything else I have seen,” Jackson enthuses”. “It’s always great to be able to showcase new talent like Paul Reddick (Juno award winner) these are the people that going to allow Blues music to continue to grow.”
The festival’s main focus is on Sab Stage 4 where The Stampeders will launch the festival on Friday September 8thth, Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, Kenny (Blues Boss) Wayne and a special tribute to Mad Dogs and Englishmen goes Saturday before Downchild Blues Band, do what they’ve always done for the past 19 year, and close off the festival on Sunday with Jack de Keyser supporting.
The remaining three stages will introduce a large selection of new talent as well as special theme performances like a Canadian Blues All-Star Band featuring Jackson, de Keyser, B.A.R.K and Harp Dog Brown (Friday Sept 8 Stage), “Lady Sings The Blues” on Stage 3 Saturday Sept 9 with Dawn Taylor Watson, Suzie McNeill, Suzie Vimmick, Jenie Thai and Ginger St James all singing blues classics. And then there’s a Piano Rama featuring Kenny (Blues Boss) Wayne, Tyler Yarema and Jennie Tai (Friday Sept 8th Stage 2).
Jackson notes that with so many blues clubs closing down, festivals and concert theatres is the route to go now in keeping active. “In the day, Downchild could play 100’s of club dates from coast to coast and into the states but now we don’t even bother playing clubs. It has to be either a festival or a theatre venue.
Speaking of Downchild, Jackson reports that in celebration of their 48th year together, the band is set to release a new album, “Something I’ve Done” and plan to continue touring. “The response to Downchild is still unbelievable. The youngest member of our band has been with us 22 years, we are still going strong. Our hard core fans come to the shows and bring their kids and their grand kids, it’s great to see all these people in the audience”
For more information on Kitchener Blues Festival link to www.kitchenerbluesfestival.com and for Tim Horton’s Southside Shuffle link to www.southsideshuffle.ca.