For the past 18 years, Claude Cloutier has culminated a year-long search to present the best-established performers and new artists to the Kitchener Blues Festival, in Kitchener, Ontario, which hits year 19 this year from August 8-11 at four major downtown locations.
It doesn’t get any easier as old guard blues performers pass away but Cloutier is diligent enough in his on-going talent search to continually present fresh talent.
“The landscape has changed with social media, it’s a bit easier now to track what is going on,” Cloutier allows. “I also pay attention to who is up for awards at the annual Memphis Blues Awards, I attend the Memphis Blues challenge every couple of years, I get feedback from other blues festival organizers and being in the blues business I get all the latest magazines so I try to stay on top of things all the time.”
This research allows Cloutier to introduce the likes of J.D McPherson, Cedric Burnside, Michelle Malone and Vanessa Collier along with more established artists like Duke Robillard and Chris Whiteley. He even searches abroad to this year feature Finnish blues artist Erja Lyytinen.
“So many people have told me ‘Hey, I showed up, didn’t know who they were but they blew my mind’ ” Cloutier noted. “These artists gain a lot of new fans because of this exposure.”
As this is a free festival through Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the festival stages a paid concert on the Thursday with Tom Cochrane & Red Rider doing the honours with local band Misty Blues serving as the opener.
Cloutier is also spicing up the lineup with a selection of Canadian classic bands and artists, this year featuring Kim Mitchell, Darby Mills Project (former Headpins lead vocalist), Nick Gilder & Sweeney Todd and Northern Pikes and he makes no apologies for inserting these heritage acts into the festival.
“Blues is the cornerstone of all popular music whether it’s pop or rock,” Cloutier allowed. “So I have no trouble in legitimizing my choices and rationalizing these selections. I don’t get caught up in what is legit blues or not. I just add some different flavours to the mix.”
A highlight of this years’ festival is a special tribute to 50th anniversary of Woodstock which will be staged on Friday, August 9th at the downtown OLG Clock Tower stage. “We always try to do something different so this year we have 12 or 13 artists paying tribute to Woodstock artists.” Cloutier enthused. “We have Wild T & The Spirit covering Santana and Jimi Hendrix, Cheryl Lescom covering Janis Joplin, Matt Whitinger doing an amazing Joe Cocker and a band covering Crosby Stills & Nash.”
For Kitchener Blues Festival scheduling information and ticket enquiries for the Thursday show, please link to https://kitchenerbluesfest.com.