Kitchener, Ontario played host to Canada’s largest free Blues Festival from August 9th through 12th. Hundreds of thousands flocked to the picturesque downtown Kitchener to see over 60 free shows on 7 stages, all within walking distance of each other.
In its 12th year, this annual festival never fails to astound and amaze me. The entire venue is so beautiful, well laid out with plenty of shelter from the elements, clean and plentiful washrooms, areas to sit, eat, shop, and dance. It’s almost as though downtown Kitchener was designed to host this event!
Young and old, in strollers, on bicycles, in wheelchairs the people poured into downtown to enjoy the sounds, sights, tastes and smells of another extremely successful Blues Festival.
Although at times there were hundreds of thousands gathered to watch a single band, it never felt congested or crowded.
The vibe was unhurried, happy, easy going, and again, this year I have to give credit to the incredible team of volunteers that make this event the colossal success that it is. Smiling, knowledgeable and always ready to help, the team of highly visible volunteers truly welcomed concertgoers into their city. Because most of the volunteers seemed so happy to be doing whatever they were doing, it created a good energy to which the masses responded. For the most part, people behaved, not as though they were out partying on the street, but as though they were in someone’s home. People seemed to make an effort to use trash and recycle bins, to be courteous with each other, to mingle and chat with strangers. People were respectful. People danced, cheered and appreciated.
It’s no wonder I have such a special place in my heart for this particular festival….it attracts goodness.
And I haven’t even started talking about what happens on the stages or in the clubs….Truly an amazing event!!!
This year, there were over 60 free shows including the likes of Robben Ford and the Ford Blues Band, Harry Manx, Paul Oscher, Ray Bonneville, Joe Louis Walker, Lumberjunk and too many more to name here.
My personal highlights from the festival included:
The Dave Rotundo Band live at McCabes Irish Pub & Grill: This spectacular 6-piece band had such tremendous presence. Three absolutely smokin’ guitarists, possibly the best harmonica player I’ve ever heard and songs that were simply impossible NOT to move to. They played maybe 16 bars of their first song and the dance floor was packed! As they continued to play, more and more people started dancing. Old people, young people, people with moves and dancing talents, people with absolutely no dancing talents, people with no sense of rhythm, everyone it seemed, everywhere in the club was dancing. It was easy to see that a large number of the dancing people NEVER dance in public, these reserved perhaps bashful people suddenly had been set free….and they danced. It was like watching a small miracle unfold, this band had managed to unlock a bunch of folks & set them free. The joy in the room was palpable. I was so grateful to have witnessed this. During the last set, two of the guitarists stepped down off the stage and shuffled their way through the dancing people; they shimmied until they were both lying on their backs on the floor – playing all the while. This playfulness was well received by the crowd who were laughing right along with the band. Amazing. These guys are, without a doubt the happiest blues band EVER!!! Don’t miss a chance to see these guys live. You simply CANNOT have a bad night at a Rotundo show!!!
Harry Manx. Harry has one of those voices that really resonates with me. I think he could sing a song about a peanut butter sandwich and I’d be moved by it….but he doesn’t sing about peanut butter sandwiches. When he broke into the song “Only Then Will Your House Be Blessed” it was like he was singing those words just for me. It was a deeply moving experience that reminded me that life moves in mysterious ways and when we strive to be better, life sends us encouragement along the way. That day, Harry Manx carried that message for me. (And probably for the hundreds of other people that crammed into that huge tent to watch him…..but in that moment, as I remember it – it was just for me). Absolutely Beautiful. We talk to Harry Manx HERE.
Robben Ford and the Robben Ford Blues Band – at home on the stage and a mesmerizing guitarist to behold, Robben offered up a highly varied set that showcased his incredible skills and prowess. The crowd was captivated. He seemed truly at home on the big stage singing and playing and leading the massive crowd through an enchanting set. Check out our Robben Ford Feature HERE
Lumberjunk, a hometown favorite, played a brilliant set. They packed the tent with hundred of fans across a very wide demographic. I was surprised when three quarters of the way through the set, they played a couple of cover songs, including LA Woman, and Rolling in the Deep. They totally “Lumberjunked” each of the covers, reworking the songs with their own special sound. What surprised me about the covers was their placement in the set. Often, a band will opt to prequalify itself musically by playing highly recognizable cover songs FIRST, proving their musical merits to the audience. Lumberjunk’s set kicked off with 8 wickedly entertaining originals before ever venturing into any cover. The magic that unfolded on stage among these guys required NO prequalification. The chemistry, groove and synergy were evident. Keep your eye on these guys – and if you get a chance to see them – JUMP on it! Lumberjunk –odd name – GREAT BAND! Check out our interview HERE.
The Kitchener Blues Festival is truly a one-of-a-kind festival. The amazing talent that graces its stages every year, the wonderful volunteers and the city itself offer a concert experience that is so rich, it really should be on everyone’s summer TO DO list.
If you haven’t been before – I highly recommend it. If you have, well, we’ll see you again next year!
To read more about Ashton click HERE