Canadian rock icons Rik Emmett and Resolution 9, Lee Aaron, and Sass Jordan proved they all have the magic power of music in them and then some as they dazzled capacity crowds at the 18th annual Kitchener Blues Festival.
150,000 people from across the country attended over 80 free acts on six stages throughout three days of perfect weather including Canned Heat/ John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers alumni Walter Trout, globally groundbreaking Sahara Blues of Tinariwen to the vintage rock and roll cool guitar jamboree of Chris Spedding and Robert Gordon.
Rik Emmett and Resolution 9 got the Bluesfest mojo started with songs old and new from “The Human Race” and “End of the Line” to Triumph gold.
After a dynamic Resolution 9 drum solo, Emmett delighted the audience with soaring singalong “Fight The Good Fight.”
One of the closing anthems was an audience favourite as Emmett told them the story behind the song.
“When I was little kid, my mom had brought me a transistor radio that I could stick under my pillow at night. We all wear these fancy little earplugs now but in those days they were cheap shitty little plastic things,” said Emmett as the crowd laughed with him.
“When I was nine years old radio changed my life because that is when I discovered classical music, and rock music and baseball games from Cleveland. The thing that I loved about music was it seemed to have this freedom, it seemed like it was as close to God as you could get. Then later in my life I am on the road and I am going places and the radio has already played my songs. And so people hear the first few notes, and they go ‘I know that song. That’s why I brought the ticket.’ And I thought wow radio is doing that to me again, so I wanted to write a song about that and this is what I came up with.”
The crowd cheered as the “Magic Power” flowed across the tent, the audience singing out loud to Emmett’s rousing finale.
The next day, one downtown stage over Lady Metal Lee Aaron packed a powerful rock and blues punch, as thousands of loyal fans stood with albums and posters eager for Aaron to sign apre-show.
Clad in black and white Beatles tee, skin-tight turquoise pants, black boots, and mirror shades the auburn-tress diva performed songs from her latest album “Diamond Baby Blues.”
She stomped the stage from one end to the other jumping up on speakers and whipping her hair about still the mistress of hi-octane stage energy.
Aaron belted out newer material including songs from 2016’s “Fire and Gasoline” and 2018’s “Diamond Baby Blues” which features single “Diamond Baby.”
Deep Purple rawkin’ blues redux “Mistreated” featured a blaze of glory guitar riff courtesy of guitarist Sean Kelly.
“Whatcha Do To My Body” was another audience fave, and of course Aaron’s signature song.
Though her career, Lee Aaron has explored other music genres from jazz to opera with critical success. Seems Aaron has also learned to tame and embrace her Inner Metal Queen, who has now evolved into a savvy rock and roll maven.
It was truly the Year of the Woman at KBF18 featuring the American gospel blues of Ruthie Foster, and Toronto’s Quisha Wint, the Toronto/Texas blues of Sue Foley, her pal Emily Burgess, and Montreal’s blues music heroes Dawn Tyler Watson, Cecile Doo Kingue and Sass Jordan.
Jordan had the sellout tent crowd on their feet dancing and clapping most of the concert as she played from her venerable music repertoire including “Make Me a Believer,” and classic hits “So Hard” and “Tell Somebody” – where the audience sang along with her word for word.
Jordan also sang Stevie Nicks gem “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” in a cheeky duet with her lead guitarist plus a powerhouse version of Rod Stewart’s “Stay with Me.”
Rock and rollers Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding had not been to Kitchener since their blaze of glory gig at Maryhill Tavern decades ago.
They have always had a huge following in Kitchener and that still stands after their dynamic duo Bluesfest performance and amusing workshop about guitar legend/ pal Link Wray.
The legendary Spedding took the stage first playing a plethora of hits from cool surf guitar tunes to fan fave “Guitar Jamboree” – a shout out to axemen like George Harrison, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix – which shows why the soft-spoken English guitarist has played with everyone from the late Jack Bruce to Bryan Ferry.
Cheering his pal on from the wings, the equally legendary Robert Gordon took the stage joining Spedding as the two played everything from deep-throat Yardbirds cover “Heart Full of Soul” to Gordon hit “The Way I Walk,” a cover of Dion’s “The Wanderer” a little of Gordon’s personal fave Johnny Burnette, and Elvis Presley’s “Love Me” to crowdpleaser “Rockabilly Boogie” prompting one thrilled audience member now fan to utter “That voice has balls!”
Sublime harpman Magic Dick (ex of J. Geils) and Shun Ng were another festival highlight, from their electrifying stage performance to the after show for KBF 12 Bar Blues where virtuoso guitarman Ng did a kick-ass rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Guitar woman Sue Foley has a soft spot for Kitchener because blues music impresario Glenn Smith believed in her talent from Note One.
Smith helped Foley get to Austin Texas where she played the iconic Antone’s Nightclub leading her to longtime collaborations with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Jimmy Vaughan.
An emotional Smith presented Foley with one of Vaughan’s guitar that was owned by Vaughan’s good pal the late Mel Brown who made Kitchener his home and mentored many great local artists.
The 2018 Mel Brown Award was given to music pioneer/ visionary Holger Petersen
for his contribution to blues music through his Edmonton based Stony Plains Records label (Sue Foley, Paul Reddick, Kevin Breit) which is now 40 years old.
The award was presented to Petersen by Mel Brown’s widow Miss Angel Blues Brown.
Miss Angel still lives in Kitchener and is one of my many local artists who played the blues stages to great response.
Other acclaimed locally-based artists who also played the Bluesfest stages include Soulstack, and The Gary Cain Band, Lofi Mind, Mike Todd, Conor Gains, Shawn Kellerman, and veteran blues masters John McKinley and Mike McDonald.
McDonald host the bi-weekly blues jam Mike’s Monster Jam at The KW Boathouse which has included special guests like Paul Reddick and Carl Harvey of Toots and the Maytals.
McKinley also hosts the weekly blues jam McKinley Mixer at Lana’s Lounge.
Both also mentor the blues artists of tomorrow through The Grand River Blues Camp – an annual audience must see.
It’s a fact that Kitchener Waterloo is known for the blues across North America.
That’s why thousands of blues fans flock to KW year after year be it to see their lifelong faves or have the thrill of discovering new artists who are reinventing the blues keeping its mojo running for the audiences yet to come.