By Keith Sharp
As organizer of the London Blues Fest, Ron Schroeyens has his finger on the pulse of what is happening at Ontario’s music festivals and the feedback he’s receiving is not particularly promising.
As Schroeyens sets up for the 2018 London Blues Festival Thursday August 23rd to Sunday August 26th at Harris Park and as the PA supplier to a number of other Ontario festivals, he reports that many event organizers are struggling to keep their events afloat.
“This year’s festival will be key for us, the response will define if we continue next year,” Schroeyens reports. “We lost a lot of money last year so if we don’t at least break even, this could be it for us.”
With a focus on more blues-based rock bands than pure blues artists, Schroeyens is aware that, for the most part, true blues festivals are in trouble. “You look at festivals like the Ottawa Blues Festival and they have acts like The Foo Fighters, Cyndi Lauper and Jethro Tull, they are a Blues Festival in name only but they have to mix up their lineup to draw people,” he notes. “For the past 25 years or so, four or five organizations tried to run a pure blues festival and they all tanked.”
Schroeyens stepped in three years ago to reposition the festival as a blues-rock event with this year’s lineup mixing iconic bands like Foghat, Savoy Brown, Blue Oyster Cult and Canada’s own Colin James with name blues bands like The Sheepdogs, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Earl & The Agitators (with Scott Holt), Delta Stone & The War Dogs and Ray Fuller & The Bluesrockers. There’s also a couple of name artists operating their own bands like Mark Farner’s American Band (former Grand Funk Railroad front man) and ex Guns N Roses keyboard player Dizzy Reed with his H&B Band.
Inevitably, when you book these bands you are not getting the original lineups,” Schroeyens allowed. “But Savoy Brown still has lead guitarist Kim Simmonds and Foghat still has Roger Earl. I remember booking The Beach Boys 30 years ago and they were terrible. But the latest lineup with just Mike Love and Brian Wilson are so much better. The newer guys add a lot to the band. People criticized me for booking Blood Sweat and Tears last year but they were amazing.”
Schroeyens is aware that a lot of fans who go to see these classic rock bands are not aware of the new lineups but the hard core does know there are changes but just want to hear the songs again.” I just supplied the PA for the Sarnia Border Fest and they had the Guess Who on the bill. Now some people might have expected to see Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman on stage but most people know that drummer Gary Petersen is the only original member left in the lineup.”
He allows that Brad Jones’ Rock The Park (also staged at London’s Harris Park) succeeded this year with a lineup of 80’s and 90’s pop bands which included Howard Jones, A Flock Of Seagulls, Mr Mister’s Richard Page and Cyndi Lauper, having given up on rock bands and even eliminated Country bands from their lineup.
“The truth is; a lot of festivals are feeling it. Timmins’ Stars and Thunder lost $1.89 million this year, Trackside has been losing money for the past four years, Richard Sharpe’s Owen Sound Festival and the Rock And Roar Festival in Spanish didn’t even operate this year and even Boots And Hearts is now down to two main stages yet they enjoyed a successful festival,” explained Schroeyens. “That’s why a lot of promoters are going for tribute bands or Canadian bands they can book for like $10,000.”
With a four-day pass going for $226 and a single day pass set at $46, Schroeyens is hopeful that this year’s lineup will fill a void in the local festival scene. “We’ve taken a different path with a harder rock/blues approach. I just hope people will dig it.”
For complete ticket and daily lineup information for this year’s London Blues Fest, please link to https://www.londonbluesfest.com.