When is a Blues Festival not a Blues Festival? This is the continuous challenge facing Claude Cloutier, artistic director of the annual four-day Kitchener (Ontario) Blues Festival which launches Thursday with a special (paid admission) lineup that features Eric Burdon, Foghat and Earl And The Agitators.
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The festival’s following three days (August 5/6/7) are free admission events, performed on three stage locations and BIA Downtown) featuring the likes of Matt Minglewood, The Pat Travers Band, Big Sugar, Chilliwack, Cowboy Junkies, Paul James and Valdy mixed in with a lineup of eclectic blues artists from the States.
So what are Chilliwack, Cowboy Junkies and Valdy doing, performing at a blues festival you may ask? Well to organizer, Cloutier, who has been shaping up the festival for the past 10 years, it’s a case of balancing talent that satisfies traditional blues fans while exposing all forms of blues music to a younger audience.
“Our programming is definitely blues oriented and the hard core fan may complain that certain bands are not blues enough but we also recognize that there are a lot of different blues stylings,” noted Cloutier. “You could justifiably say that Valdy isn’t a blues act but we need someone to go on at noon on a Saturday and Valdy is rootsy enough to fill the spot.”
With the passing of key performers like Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, Bobby Blue Bland and B.B King, an aging population of other established artists and the fact that Cloutier can’t repeat artists from the previous year’s lineup, he is faced with a constant challenge to keep his festival fresh.
He could go the Ottawa Blues Festival route which is a blues festival in name only (charges an admission) and has broadened its scope to feature mainstream pop, rock, country and rap artists to expand their agenda. But Cloutier realizes that the minute he does that, his Kitchener Blues Festival loses its authenticity. “It is a constant battle and we do add classic rock bands like Chillwack and blues rock bands like Pat Travers to widen the festival’s appeal,” Cloutier explains. “But there is a great deal of new talent out there and its a great challenge for me to find that talent and to present it at the festival.
Cloutier remarks that there is a “Southern Blues” flavour to the Saturday showcase at the Downtown BIA location which features the likes of Kenny Neal, Cedric Burnside Project and Jarekus Singleton Band. “This is for the blues purists, this lineup is the heart and soul of what this festival is all about,” enthused Cloutier.
With stages set at three venues (OLG Tower, YNC and downtown BIA locations), the festival does rely on corporate sponsors to fund the event (which costs over One million dollars to stage) “And it helps when the weather co-operates,” cracked Cloutier who notes that on a good day, the event can attract over 50,000 spectators to the festival.
As a fund raiser and a vehicle to attract major talent, the festival has been staging a paid event on the opening Thursday and this year it’s the legendary Eric Burdon along with famed R&B rockers, Foghat and Earl And The Agitators (featuring former Buddy Guy guitarist Scott Holt). The concert is to be staged at the venue’s OLG Tower location with tickets available at the gate for $50.
A veteran supporter of blues music in and around the Kitchener/Cambridge region, Cloutier judges the success of each festival by floating around the events and evesdropping on conversations by the spectators.
“Nobody know who I am so when I hear people conversing and they say, “Wow, did you hear those guys”, and they are raving about some performance, that makes me happy, Cloutier enthuses. “When I hear comments like that, I know I’ve ran a successful festival.”
For more information link to kitchenerbluesfestival.com
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