Kitchener Blues Festival: Searching For Insurgence of New Blood

Claude Cloutier

Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman will be sharing the same stage during the 15th annual Kitchener Blues Festival to be held August 6-9 at three prime locations in downtown Kitchener Ontario. But don’t get too excited as the two former Guess Who band mates will be performing on separate nights, Cummings on Thursday August 6th and Bachman on Friday August 7th.

“I could not resist the bookings, there’s a unique optic here,” announced the festival’s artist director, Claude Cloutier, saying neither artists knew of each others bookings back-to-back,  yet neither performer has pulled a plug on the gig.

Noted for being a free festival over the previous years, Cloutier has made the Bachman and Cummings’ dates a ticketed concert at the OLG Clocktower venue this year but notes the other two stages;  The Main Stage and the BIA downtown stage will schedule free concerts on Friday and all three stages will feature free shows on Saturday and Sunday. Single tickets for either Cummings or Bachman are $50 each, a VIP gold ticket for Cummings is $150,a VIP gold ticket for Bachman is $125 each and a special combo ticket for both performances is $80 each.

Burton Cummings

Saying that he likes to stay within the Blues/Roots box in booking his talent, Cloutier notes that Bachman comes by his blues reputation honestly, having just released a new record titled `Heavy Blues’ and earning a reputation as a high profile blues guitarist, but yes, Cummings might be a stretch in qualifying as a blues performer.

“Most classic pop/rock performers were influenced by the Blues so I think on that merit, Burton qualifies and again, it was a tremendous opportunity to have these two performers appear back to back at the festival,” notes Cloutier. “I look at the Ottawa Blues Festival and I see how they have expanded to include superstars in rap and country and that’s fine for them. I like to mix the pot, I am not adverse to stretching the boundaries a little, it doesn’t all have to be Chicago Blues but I maintain most of the business in the blues category.”

From an event which drew just 3,000 people in its inaugural 2000 debut, the Kitchener Blues Festival now pulls over 60,000 dedicated blues fans to this four-night extravaganza. Cloutier, who learned his artistic chops working at Cambridge Ontario’s Mill Race folk festival until he switched to his current position in 2007 admits that running a blues festival is not without its trials and tribulations.

“It’s tough sledding making this a free festival and maintaining the uniqueness of a blues festival,” admits Cloutier whose bread and butter financing is still derived from corporate sponsors like TD Bank. “Trying to book talent is also a challenge. You want a balance between established  stars and up and coming talent but many of these guys aren’t getting any younger. You kinda wonder how things are going to be 15 years from now but I am encouraged by the development of new talent. I heard Victoria B.C’s Current Swell on the radio for the first time and they blew me away, I knew I just had to have them on the festival.

Kitchener Blues Festival 15 still manages to have a solid mix of marquee names with up and coming artists, the standouts being gospel legend Mavis Staples, 80-year-old James Cotton and 71-year-old Charlie Musselwhite   up along with such Canadian standouts as Donnie Walsh’s Downchild Blues Band and David Wilcox.

These and a strong supporting cast featuring, Gregg Allman’s son, Devon Allman, The Edgar Winter Group, Matt `Guitar’ Murphy, Robert Randolph And the Family Band, David Gogo, newcomers Nikki Hill, Nick Moss and the Connor Cairns Band will be appearing free of charge at one of the three key venues around the city.

Also on Friday August 8th, 11 city bars and taverns will play host to the 12 Bar Blues event after the evening’s stage shows have concluded, each venue featuring at least one major artist including David GoGo, Ginger St James and Soulstack.

“What I like about Blues is that, while classic rock players still have the chops, there is an expectation that blues players retain their skills no matter how old they are,” noted Cloutier. “The music is always interesting to me.”

Randy Bachman
Randy Bachman

“People like blues music because there is an integrity about these performer,” he continued. “There’s a consistency in the quality of entertainment which attracts a wide audience demographic. There’s nothing more satisfying than see some one in the audience watching a blues performer and going “Wow. I like this.”

Cloutier is encourage by the new crop of blues performers, he acknowledged that, like with the recent passing of BB King, the old guard is dwindling, but he feels blues music as an art form is timeless.

“I’m rejuvenated by this year’s lineup,” explained Cloutier who has spent 23 years as a none-profit event organizer.  “Blues music is my passion and when I see blues/roots artists like the Arkells and the Barr Brothers succeeding,it’s extremely encouraging for the future of blues and of Canadian music in general.”

For further information on tickets and talent scheduling please link to

Photos by: Ted Van Boort, Dee Lippingwell.

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