By Norma Bailey –
Orangeville Blues and Jazz was fortunate to attend Blues Summit 7 as a delegate, at the Delta Eaton Chelsea Hotel, in downtown Toronto. Every 2 years, Toronto Blues Society holds this gathering as a way to showcase upcoming talent, and promote Canada’s best known artists, to festival directors from across Canada, the Border States of the U.S., and Europe.
As “talent buyers” for festivals, artistic directors have an amazing opportunity to see acts that they otherwise, would not get to see, without a great deal of travel, time, and expense. There were 37 performances in all, over 3 days. The event provided an opportunity for festival directors to meet and discuss ideas, as well as a forum, for networking regarding future bookings. Each afternoon, festival directors were matched up to artists and or agents, for face time in a “speed dating” type of format. We got a chance to meet with 60 artists that way. It was a wonderful event and a bit of a blues love fest, let’s face it!
What a supportive blues community we have! We heard so many stories of artists receiving mentoring from each other as well as the TBS and the festivals themselves, that it seems the future of blues music is in good hands. Derek Andrews, the staff and volunteers at the Toronto Blues Society deserve a lot of credit for providing such a longstanding structure for the Blues Community. And HEY!… no more ” keeping the blues alive” please! It is here to stay, but as the keynote speaker Bruce Iglauer, of Alligator Records out of Chicago pointed out, it must evolve, always remembering where it came from, but not reliving it. The days of Jim Crow and crosses burning on the front yard, are not a way of life, as they had been in the past. Blues music today, must still speak from one soul to another, telling the stories, pain, frustration, personal truths, and longing, but in present time musicality. Bruce made us laugh with suggestions of how a modern day blues song might go… “It’s 2 am and my hard drive just crashed again, someone just stole my identity and I can’t remember my pin… I got the blues… (as Brian Blain has pointed out, most of us these days are over-qualified for the blues compared to the circumstances in Robert Johnson’s days). Yet… the life of a blues musician is not an easy one, as Bruce went on to say. The way the industry works today, anyone who really wants to succeed, must travel relentlessly. Most of the record sales these days come from the selling of CD’s at live gigs, or electronically.
This was brought home to us, when we met musician Drew Nelson from Ottawa, during the “Speed dating” session. A veteran of the road, it finally got to him. He took an 8 year hiatus from the blues lifestyle, so he could re-connect to family life. Recently, he was encouraged by the relative youngster, Steve Mariner, from Monkey Junk, (who also plays on Drew’s new CD,) to start recording again. We witnessed his amazing showcase performance, for we had never seen him live before. As musician Brandon Isaak pointed out, who was sitting behind us watching, “Drew has the goods for sure.” His song entitled “7 Days” is still ringing in everyone’s head!
Quebec swept The Maple Blues Awards this year, thanks in part to the tireless work of Brian Slack. Canada’s First Nations were well represented, with the piano player Murray Porter, and guitarist Robbie Antone. Digging Roots took the new song writing prize, (The Cobalt Prize initiated by Paul Reddick), mentioning that the inspiration for their song Hi way 17, was derived from the 1200 missing Aboriginal females that have disappeared over the years here in Canada. That song was actually banned by some radio stations. Murray Porter made an interesting point that, for First Nations, the Blues is the genre of choice. “For our people”, he went on to say,” Blues is like a vein that runs through our mountain, it is a way to express our stories”.
Part of the joy of attending something like this, is the surprise when discovering new talent. That is important for Orangeville Blues and Jazz as one of the smaller, but high quality festivals, for we must be especially vigilant about recruiting new talent, before they get out of our price range. But on the other hand, we have been lucky to book acts such as Steve Hill, Monkey Junk, and Steve Strongman, before they went on to greater recognition and bigger festivals.
Some of the performance highlights from this years Blues Summit include… Conor Gains, Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar, Angelique Francis, Ross Neilsen, Andria Simon, Kat Danser, Drew Nelson, and Jordan Officer, to name a few. Alliston’s own Erin McCallum gave a heartfelt performance, and brought a copy of her new CD, produced by Jack deKeyzer. ( It is outstanding, we listened to it all the way home.)
Also in attendance was Orangeville’s Heather Katz, who was doing some networking and a guest performance during this event. She was enjoying her time listening to the performances, with friend and songstress, SabrinaWeeks.
Looking over the roster of talent and performers from this year’s Maple Blues Awards which was held on Monday January 19 in Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, we can all be proud that Orangeville B&J has a great track record. Steve Hill, from Montreal who rocked our festival in June 2014 won in 4 Maple Blues Awards. Steve concluded his acceptance speech by thanking the fans, saying, without which, he is pretty sure that by now, he would be either working at McDonalds or in jail. Steve recorded and produced his award winning CD in his basement in Montreal. Here is a video of Steve’s performance at the Maple Blues Awards . Also, recent participants of the Orangeville B&J; Brandon Isaak, Harpdog Brown, Greg Morency (Paul DesLauriers Band), Tom Bona ( Soulstack), were all winners in this years Maple Blues Awards. Go Orangeville!
There are not many free festivals out there… we are very lucky here in Orangeville to have such a good one! Our community digs deep to keep this event going. As was mentioned at one of our meetings, our festival feels like a big party for the town, everyone comes home for it, and everyone is invited! What a feeling! See you at our next event!