Kitchener Blues Festival 2011


pam150Stepping out of my frosty, air-conditioned car, the hot humid summer air wrapped around me like a damp velvet blanket. Perfect weather for an outdoor music festival, I thought.  I slung my camera bag over my shoulder and began to explore the venue that would host Kitchener’s 11th annual Blues Festival.

Three big stages, arranged approximately 600 meters from each other, in picturesque downtown Kitchener ,would showcase over 58 bands over the weekend, with many more bands playing at the 13 nearby bars, restaurants and the smaller stages dotting the venue.

Some of Blues music’s biggest stars performed including John Mayall, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, Johnny Winter, Pat Travers, Edgar Winter, and Jimmie Vaughn.  Having all of these Blues icons together in the same place was magical, the electricity in the air was palpable …oh and did I mention that it was free?!!?

This is Canada’s biggest free Blues Festival, and it is possible only due to the support of the hundreds of volunteers who dedicate thousands of hours to make this festival happen.

Upon arriving on site I had noticed a very large number of people wearing lime-green VOLUNTEER t-shirts.  It was serendipity that I should find myself walking behind three ladies clad in lime-green.  I overheard their happy conversation, as they walked toward their next tasks.

The first volunteer was comparing numbers; recalling an early Blues Fest that had suffered poor weather and a less-than-stellar public turnout with the weekend’s expected crowd of 150 000.  The second volunteer told a story about how awed she had been the night before, upon learning of a group from Norway that plan their vacations and travel to Kitchener every year for the Blues Fest.  Their enthusiasm and pride for the event was unmistakable and inspiring.  In the sweltering heat, these ladies walked and chatted as though they were on vacation….not working without getting paid.

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Finally, I had to find out who these three superwomen were.  Sylvia was in her 10th year volunteering for the festival, Lisa had attended every year and volunteered the last 8 years, and Shelley was in her 5th year volunteering.  They were, quite possibly, the best ambassadors that the festival or even the city could ever ask for.  Their love for the music, community, and city drove them each to dedicate hundreds if not thousands of hours to the Blues Festival…year after year after year.

I’m pretty sure my heart swelled upon hearing their stories.  What great energy to be putting forward.  Now imagine that energy…and multiply it by the hundreds of volunteers.  Amazing.  Since we’re doing math now, how about adding the incredible vibe created by bringing so many extremely talented musicians into that same space?  Finally, add the thousands of happy concert-goers that are ultra-delighted because the event is free.  The result?  A tsunami of good vibes.  Absolutely awesome.

Everyone involved with this incredible event ought to be deeply proud of their contribution.  I think that next year, the volunteer’s shirts ought to have the word SUPERHERO written across the back, in my humble opinion, it would be more fitting.

The stages offered great views of the artists, with giant screens providing more intimate views for those standing far away.  The sound quality at all three main stages was crisp, clear and loud, but not deafening.

Security was watchful, attentive, friendly and efficient.

Merchants lined the street offering a diverse selection of books, clothing, music, food and drinks.

With so much to see, hear, do, drink and eat in a well appointed space, the festival offered something for everyone, and the crowd’s age demographic reflected that diversity.

On Saturday night, by the time Jimmie Vaughan hit the stage, the entire street was crammed full of people who came out to enjoy the festival’s offerings.  I laughed aloud when someone looked at me and surmised, “Everybody from Kitchener must be here tonight.”  It certainly felt that way.

I wasn’t surprised to read in the newspaper in the days after the event, that at least

200 000 people were estimated to have attended the Festival.  It made me think back to the volunteer-superheroes that I’d met earlier…..they must be absolutely beaming!!!!

Pam Ashton


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