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A Conversation With Claude Cloutier, Artistic Director Of The Kitchener Blues Festival



The TD Kitchener Blues Festival is one of the largest festivals in Canada. Celebrating its 20th performance, it’s going to be bigger and better than ever. It promises incredible talent, killer tunes, and great times. And this is one festival that delivers all of that and more.


Ken Wallis interviewed Claude Cloutier for the radio show BluesSource Canada. The following are edited excerpts from that interview.




Ken Wallis

We’re all gearing up for the return of live music festivals and one of the best and the biggest is just around the corner - The Kitchener Blues Festival, August 4th through 7th.


And joining us is Claude Cloutier, Artistic Director of the Kitchener Blues Festival. Claude, it's going to be a great festival.


Claude Cloutier

Thank you, and thanks for having me on.


Ken Wallis

So, tell us a little bit about how this all works; you've got multiple stages.


Claude Cloutier

Yes, I guess we've had this format since 2009 I believe. We have three stages, one in the park at Victoria Park under a big tent, and one downtown in front of City Hall and the Europro stage is a little further up the street on the corner of Frederick and King. All of these stages are within five minutes of each other, a five-minute walk and no sound bleed. It's working well for us and it's quite urban and the festival is all free except for the Thursday night.


Ken Wallis

So, what happens on the Thursday night, the kickoff night?


Claude Cloutier

We established Thursday night as a fundraiser for The Kitchener Blues Festival and that's our only ticketed night. We've had a multitude of bands over the years. This year we've got Sam Roberts and opening up will be a Whitehorse so we're pretty excited about that.


Ken Wallis

Wow that's a great kickoff. Walk us through some of the major acts on the weekend. I know you can't get to all of them because there's over 50.


Claude Cloutier

There's probably more than that if we're including all of our 12 bar blues programs and workshops. We've got a small stage this year that we're calling a street beat stage and it's downtown on King Street, playing in front of a multitude of patios so that that's pretty exciting. We’ll always be a blues festival but a little over 50 percent of our programming is blues. We do appeal to a broad range of people who like a variety of music like rock.


This year we've got JJ Wilde coming, she's from Kitchener. We’re very fortunate to have her at the festival. She won a Juno a couple years ago and she's making a lot of noise. She's been played a lot on rock stations and indie stations. We have the Canadian legacy band Sloan performing right after JJ Wilde. David Wilcox is playing. We have him up every three years, I think this might be his sixth or seventh appearance at the Kitchener Blues Festival. He's playing on Saturday afternoon at the YNC stage in front of city hall. He's the recipient of our Mel Brown Award this year. The Mel Brown Award is given to somebody who has contributed to the success of our blues festival as well as contributing to the blues in general. David definitely did contribute to the success of our festival and people in this region really like this guy. He's gonna be accepting The Mel Brown Award at 3:30 in the afternoon on August the 6th.


We've got the Headstones which is a punky rock band that'll be headlining on Saturday night. The Fabulous Thunderbirds are at that stage on Sunday, closing out. We've got Texas Hill which is quite exciting. They’re a band out of New Hampshire, not anywhere near Texas. They're named after a street in New Hampshire that they were living on. These three guys are runners-up in The Voice and American Idol. These three guys can really sing. The Drive By Truckers are gonna be performing, headlining that night. We had Samantha Fish who had to leave her engagement with us because of conflicting schedules with recording her next album and having studio time. So, she had to pull out but we did replace her with an interesting band. The New Pornographers will appeal to certainly a lot of people in their 30s and 40s. They've been around for 20 odd years and are quite unique. Rolling Stone deemed that one of their records in 2007 was one of the top 100 album rock albums of the decade.


And of course, we love the blues and Ronnie Baker Brooks and Coco Montoya will be performing at the Europro Stage on Saturday and those guys are getting together to do a tribute to Albert Collins right after.


Ken Wallis

And then from Australia one of my favourite artists Lachy Doley is coming.


Claude Cloutier

Yes, Lachy Doley will be performing on Friday at the Europro Stage at 9:15. He’s played our festival before. This will be his third time. We really like this guy. He's entertaining and he's made a lot of fans in Ontario and Quebec. I’m hoping that he'll be a regular every three or four years at our festival.


Ken Wallis

And Mike McDonald is coming.


Claude Cloutier

Not the Mike McDonald from the Doobie Brothers but our local Mike McDonald. He's been around forever, and he was the recipient of our Mel Brown Award two years ago. He's contributed so much to the music in our community over the years. He lives in Sault Ste Marie, but he spends quite a bit of time here in Kitchener still doing shows. The guy's one of our instructors at The Grand River Blues camp and he's nurtured and mentored a lot of kids and other musicians.


Ken Wallis

So, tell us a little bit about The Grand River Blues Camp. What's that all about?


Claude Cloutier

That's become really a gem in our festival. The Grand River Blues Society started doing a camp, maybe 10 years ago and we'd usually have about 50 youth participants during the week of the festival. They’re learning the blues and learning music and they're instructed by some very accomplished musicians in the region. Matt Weidinger, and we've had Sean Kellerman, Cheryl Lescom, and Jimmy Bowskill, John McKinley over the years. It's quite the thing and their graduation is having a two-hour performance to kick off The Kitchener Blues Festival on Friday. It's usually packed, and a lot of people are having a tear-jerking moment when they're watching. It's really something to behold and we're very proud to be hosting that show every year.


Ken Wallis

And the whole area is fantastic. There are hotels, plenty of restaurants all through the festival and there's all kinds of seating. It's just one of the top festivals in Canada.


Claude Cloutier

We really work hard at it. We're a hundred percent volunteer-driven board. This is truly a passion of mine and everybody else on the board.


Ken Wallis

Well, your passion has been recognized. You just won a Maple Blues Award for Blues Booster Of The Year. Congratulations.


Claude Cloutier

Thank you very much. It's quite humbling.


Ken Wallis

Where can folks go to find out the schedule and other information on the festival?


Claude Cloutier

To get the schedule on the festival you can go to kitchenerbluesfestival.com and if you would like to purchase tickets for Thursday, there's a link on the website to purchase tickets for Sam Roberts and Whitehorse. Or you could visit ticketscene to purchase tickets. Our Facebook is quite active and we're making announcements. We’ll have little handouts with the entire schedule of the festival. There'll be over 80 performances at the festival this year.


Ken Wallis

No wonder it's a year-round venture for you.


Claude Cloutier

I take a break after the festival, but I start booking bands in September.


Ken Wallis

Well, it's a fabulous festival and I encourage everybody to go. It's a great time. Claude thanks so much for coming on the show.


Claude Cloutier

Thank you very much Ken.



Photo Credit: Ken Wallis Harrison Kennedy - Lachy Doley - Jim Dan Dee



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