A Conversation with Rick Clarke, President, and Music Director of The Lighthouse Blues Festival
By Ken Wallis.
A Conversation with Rick Clarke, President, and Music Director of The Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival.
The first Lighthouse Blues Festival was held in 2010 in Kincardine. Since then, The Lighthouse Blues Festival has become one of the top blues festivals in Ontario. For the last 5 years the Festival has been awarded a Top 100 Festival and Event designation by Festival and Events Ontario. For three days, this Festival presents a who’s who of the blues world.
We wanted to get a closer look at what’s going on.
Ken Wallis interviewed Rick Clarke for the radio show BluesSource Canada. The following are edited excerpts from that interview.
The Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival in Kincardine runs July 8th and 9th and 10th and to tell us all about is Rick Clarke, president, and music director. Rick thanks for coming on the show.
Well thank you Ken for giving me the opportunity to talk to all of your listeners, particularly that crew down in Hamilton. We have quite a fan base down in Hamilton that come up to our festival every year so I’m happy to share some of the highlights for this year's festival.
You've got a main stage and five supporting street stages, so there's a lot of musicians and a lot of acts to see.
Yeah we have three days and each day is structured a little differently, but of course our Bruce Telecom Main Stage is Friday night and Saturday night is a ticketed event. We’ve got five acts on the Friday, six on the Saturday. And on Saturday we have a five street stages that's all part of the free festival and it has another 30 acts there that you're going to have an opportunity to see. Then on Sunday morning is our traditional gospel revival in Victoria Park which is always a well-received feature of the festival. So, three days, three good reasons to come up to Kincardine and enjoy the live music.
So, walk us through some of the main acts that are going to be performing.
It's too long a list to mention everybody. We're always very proud of what we're able to program for our main stage. We're not a big festival. We brag that we're probably the best little festival in Ontario. Our main stage has seating for about six to eight hundred tops, so it's a pretty intimate setting. It's outdoors of course overlooking Kincardine Harbour. On the Friday night, Spencer MacKenzie, The Ben Rancine Band, Bywater Call, who we're really big on, Crystal Shawanda, who returns after a very successful appearance last year. I think this is actually her third appearance in our 13 years and Vanessa Collier, who just won best female contemporary blues artist down in the States. We're really proud to bring Vanessa to the blues fans here in Ontario who may not have seen her yet.
On Saturday night, Shakey Trill is a local group, but they have been finalists at the I.B.C. in Memphis and they were nominated for a Maple Blues Award as best new artist. We're very proud of our Bruce County boys Shakey Trill. Then we have Joshua Miller and Pappy John's Band. Dawn Tyler Watson is going to bring down the house as she always does. She's had a number of appearances here. Cheryl Lescom And The Tucson Choir Boys. We always try to find a way to bring Cheryl back to Kincardine. Then Angelique Francis. We had Angelique last year and she was probably a fan favorite. Just did a great job for us. And The Ghost Town Blues Band from Memphis are back. We've had Matt and the boys up here a number of times, probably three or four festivals. They've got a lot of fans in this region so we're always happy when we can arrange to bring Ghost Town back.
I talked about the Saturday Street Festival. There are a lot of acts there and a lot of names that your listeners will recognize. People like Morgan Davis, Suzie Vinnick, Chris Murphy, Erin McCallum, who I know is a good friend of yours. We have a number of local, regional and some provincially known blues artists performing on those five stages on the Saturday.
Where can folks find out the information on all the acts that are going to be there?
Well, the best thing is to go to our website lighthouse.com. We try to do a pretty good job of keeping our website up. We're also on social media so they can like the festival on Facebook or Instagram. We've got a great marketing team that is helping us out.
Where can folks buy tickets?
Ticketscene. We keep our tickets online for the convenience of everybody and it's also easiest for us in terms of tracking and organizing so, ticketscene.ca Lighthouse Blues Festival.
And a lot of attendees always ask this question. Do they need to bring chairs or are there chairs to sit on?
When they come and watch the acts, we do have chairs, probably about 200 on site. Usually, you can find a chair without too much difficulty. They're stacked along one wall. People are welcome to bring in their own chair as well.
Well Rick it sounds like an absolutely fantastic event, and I understand you guys raise money for local charities from this as well.
Well we are a non-profit so at the end of the day when all of the bills are paid, what proceeds are left go to our designated charities. The Lions Club of Kincardine is our major designated charity. They provide us with a lot of the volunteers. They do a lot of good work in this in this community.
And again, it is the Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival July 8th 9th and 10th and Rick I'm really looking forward to being there.
We've been very well received by blues fans and probably over 60 percent of the tickets sold come from people outside of the community. They make it bit of a destination weekend.
Not only do we have great live entertainment, but we have a tremendous venue. We're overlooking Lake Huron so you're going to get that sunset. Kincardine as a community is very warm and welcoming. It has a number of other tourism assets, so we try to encourage people to come and spend a little extra time here exploring the region.
Well, Rick thank you so much for your time.
There has always been blues music in Kincardine… it’s a genre with a small core following in this area. Two local bands from the late 60s, The Breakwater Blues Band and The Dark Angel Blues Band, are still performing occasionally today. Two venues in particular, The Beach Pavilion and The Windsor Hotel (since torn down), were frequented by touring blues artists moving through Ontario between Toronto and Detroit or Chicago, such as James Cotton. In 2006 a blues society was formed, originally a chapter of the London based Canada South Blues Society but a year later, reconstituted as the independent Bruce County Blues Society, and today has approximately 175 members and presents touring blues artists at The Bruce and The Sutton Park Inn.
In 2009, Rick and Marilyn Clarke, together with Brad and Craig Kirkconnell, sat down with Mike Brough and Rob MacLeod of The Coast FM, to plan for a two-day blues festival in the rear parking lot of The Bruce. The Coast FM was a natural title sponsor as it already supported blues music in the area, especially with its weekly blues show hosted by MacLeod since 2007. Unfortunately, before this major event could take place, the station was sold to MyFM Broadcasting. This only delayed the planning for a year though, and in 2010 the first Lighthouse Blues Festival was held July 9, 10. A key partner to the festival was Mike Manuel of The London Music Hall, who was contracted to provided full professional production services – lighting, staging, sound – and he did so, well below cost to help get the festival off the ground. The Friday night featured performances by four local bands, including Breakwater Blues Band and Dark Angel Blues Band, and the following Saturday night was headlined by David Rotundo with supporting acts Chris Murphy Blues Band, Rick Taylor, Trevor Finlay Band and The Bluesbells. Two scheduled acts were cancelled at the last minute, Motor City Josh from Detroit was turned back at the border and Robin Banks was felled by a broken leg and couldn’t perform. Despite these last-minute challenges, enthusiasm for the inaugural Lighthouse Blues Festival was strong and planning for 2011 began almost immediately.
In January 2011, the Lighthouse Blues Festival was incorporated as a legal not for profit organization with a Board of Directors to guide the planning and operations. In the second year MyFM Radio returned as a generous title sponsor and the two-night mainstage event was expanded to include a free Saturday afternoon “Back Porch Stage” in Victoria Park featuring a mix of local artists and regional talent. In these first two years the Festival contributed $8000 to the new Davidson Centre.
In 2012, Bruce Telecom came forward as the title sponsor and the festival took a major step to expand the free Saturday music offering (with the support of Kincardine BIA) to now include three performance stages in the downtown. The generous commitment of Bruce Telecom helped sustain the festival for future years and enabled it to expand its popular Saturday Street Festival. This partnership also had the added benefit of the participation of Bruce Telecom’s Marketing Department with promoting the festival. The ever-expanding library of performance videos on YouTube is one example. Every year the Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival has continued to grow in audience and features to enhance the weekend experience. In 2013 a third day was added, staging a Sunday Morning Gospel Revival in Victoria Park that has been directed by local artist Raylene Rebryna. The Kincardine United Church graciously arranged the use of its facility in case of rain, something that was necessary in 2014!
As a not for profit, the Board of Directors designated the Kincardine District Lions Club as its primary community partner and recipient for any profits from the festival. Over the next three years the Festival donated $30,000 for the new Lions Splash Pad at the Davidson Centre. In return, the Lions Club generously supplies the hard-working group of men and women volunteers over the three days that makes the whole weekend possible. Other community groups who have received donations include Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Kincardine, the Bruce Botanical Food Garden and the Blues in the Schools program of the Bruce County Blues Society.
In just 10 years the Lighthouse Blues Festival has established itself as a premier destination music event in Ontario. With its beautiful lakeside venue overlooking Lake Huron beaches, Kincardine Harbour and iconic Lighthouse, the 1000 seat Main Stage on Friday and Saturday night provides an intimate, up close experience for fans of the international touring artists. The Main Stage line ups are supported by a free Saturday Street Festival with four performance stages, and added family fun such as a petting zoo, vintage British sportscar display, Artist Row, a Children’s Zone and retail street market. Sunday morning features a three-hour Gospel Revival in a park setting that has wide support from community church congregations.
The Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival may be small by comparison but has an enviable reputation with blues fans across eastern Canada and the US. For the last 5 years the Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival was awarded a Top 100 Festival and Event designation by Festival and Events Ontario. Many consider it a “boutique” blues festival that has presented outstanding artists like Victor Wainwright, Shemekia Copeland, Joe Louis Walker, Ghost Town Blues Band, Brandon Santini, Steve Strongman, Jack deKeyzer, Jeff Jensen, Cheryl Lescom, Layla Zoe, Dawn Tyler Watson, Angel Forrest, Bryan Lee and many, many more! Stan Street, noted artist and musician from Hambone Gallery, Clarksdale MS has been responsible for the official Festival art since 2011.