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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

A Re-Cap Of The Canal Bank Blues Festival In Thorold, Ontario, Canada

By Ken Wallis.

The Canal Bank Shuffle was a roaring success and one of the premiere blues festivals in Ontario. The festival was brought to life by Tim Sinnett and John Davis who, after attending the Spring Blues Festival in Orillia in 2002, decided to give it a go in Thorold. The first festival featured twelve bands over three days and it continued to grow year after year. The festival ran for 18 years but in 2021 Tim Sinnet passed away and the festival was in a holding pattern. With the arrival of Covid, the festival was temporarily moth balled.

Enter musician Brant Parker and Joe Viele, owner of Donnelly’s Pub in Thorold. They decided it was time to resurrect the festival under a new branding, the Canal Bank Blues Festival featuring 20 acts. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and it was a weekend of spectacular music. The festival ran for four days, Thursday October 12 through Sunday October 15 and was held in three distinct venues, Donnelly’s Pub, The Legion, and the Corps, all conveniently located within five-minute walking distance.

Let’s re-visit the acts we saw, and unfortunately, we couldn’t hit them all. We were unable to attend the opening night due to prior commitments, so we missed out seeing Thomas Nelson Band, who we’d never seen before, and Garnetta Cromwell & DaGroovMasters, who we’ve been fortunate to see earlier.

We arrived early Friday afternoon, filled with excitement, anticipating what was to come. Join our journey chronologically as we tried to catch as many bands as possible.

First up was Little Magic Sam and what a great way to kick off the day. Sam Taylor is one heck of a guitarist, and his band was tight as they launched through some great tunes, both new and some traditional blues tunes. Harmonica player Steve Grant knocked my socks off. He is an amazing player. Keep your eyes on the Little Magic Band, they’re on the rise. I gotta admit though, taking photos in coloured light is not easy 😊

After a belly-filling meal of Vietnamese pho, we skipped over to the Legion to hear Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne. When Kenny sits down at the keys, you know you’re gonna get some rollickin’ boogie woogie. Especially when accompanied by Brant Parker.

We stayed put in the legion because it was time for one of our favourite bands, The Jack de Keyzer Band. Jack has played every Canal Bank festival from the very beginning up to this year’s new version. And what a lineup including Richard Thornton on sax, Nick Succi Sr on bass, Eric Lambier on keys, and the always entertaining Rick Donaldson on drums. The place was hopping with dancers tearing up the floor.

That closed out the evening with the promise of more great music to come on Saturday. And I need to mention we stayed at a wonderful Bed And Breakfast, Robinsong B&B, with Dale Ohm. It’s only a ten-minute walk to the festival and is a wonderful facility.

Saturday started off with a delicious breakfast at Robinson B&B, a huge fruit platter set on top of pineapple, home baked muffins, and then I absolutely pigged out on eggs benedict. Wonderful!

We started the day off at Donnelly’s pub with Brant Parker and his band. Brant’s guitar soared along with his band of Alan Duffy on bass, Joey DiMarco on drums, and Paul Mitchell on horn.

That got the heart pumping and to top it off we had one of the best pizzas ever at Donnelly’s. WOW! I wish I had taken a picture, but it was gone in no time.

Once again, with my belly filled, I waddled over to the Legion to see Rick Taylor. I’ve always enjoyed his recorded material, but this was my first time seeing him live. He really knows how to coax some great notes out his guitar. Not only a fine musician, but a real gentleman. Really enjoyed meeting him.

Then it was off to the Corps to get together with one of my favourite bands, Murray Kinsley and Wicked Grin. We’ve gotten to know Murr over the years and his guitar playing is complemented by his raw vocals that express the blues in his unique manner. But the thrill of the night, was the addition of Larry Kurtz on harmonica. Larry is the founder of the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival but he’s not just an organizer. He’s one hell of a harmonica player and his tunes blended so well with Murray’s guitar. It was pure blues heaven!

Murray even pulled out a cigar-box guitar made for him by Matt Isbell of Ghost Town Blues Band fame. Matt is not only a great guitar player himself, but a master craftsman of making guitars. Murray was really enjoying himself and jumped off stage to play with the dancers. Great stuff!

And then it just kept on coming. It was time to feature the young guns of the blues world.

Up first Joel Dupuis rocked the place with some hard-driving electric blues.

Then Hayden Fogle took the stage and coaxed some sweet and distinct sounds out of his guitar. These two guys are the future of the blues.

Then Spencer MacKenzie took over. He’s no longer a young gun and no longer the future of the blues. He’s arrived and he is the NOW the blues. His stage presence is mesmerizing, and he has become not only a musician, but an established performer. Hats off to a great set!

Just when you thought you’d see it all, it was time to head off to the Corps for the pro jam. And what an apt title that was. I’ve seen a lot of jams in my days, but this was absolutely mind blowing. Led by Brant Parker, it was an unforgettable session. The first set featured Brant, Murray Kinsley, Joshua Arden Miller, Alan Duffy, Brad Krause, Jim Casson, Paul Mitchell blowin’ the roof off with his horn, and matched by the searing harp of Larry Kurtz. What a set.

And then it just kept rolling on. Joel Dupuis and Spencer MacKenzie unleashed their guitars in a couple of tunes that had your hair standing on end.

Thomas Nelson joined the fun with some slick bass and powerful vocals.

It just kept rolling as Alfie Smith absolutely knocked us out with some slide work that defies description.

And to finish it all off, Silvia Dee and the Boyfriend (Rob Deyman) joined the jam. As a kid, my best friend’s sister played accordion, and I hated it. But in the hands of Silvia, it’s not a screeching monster but an instrument of pure music enchantment. This gal can play the accordian any time she wants, and she puts that together with sweet vocals. And Rob shines on guitar.

Exhausted, we headed back for a night of sleep. I just can’t wait for next year’s edition of the Canal Bank Blues Festival.

One note: None of this would’ve been possible without the support of Angela Wallis. She’s my rock and every blues musician loves to see her.

Regrettably we couldn’t stay Sunday to enjoy Joshua Arden Miller. We had to head to Kitchener for A Celebration of Life for my blues-radio buddy, Patrick Monaghan of the Buckslide Blues Cruise on Canoe FM. Many of his mementos, including his Maple Blues Award, were on display.

Jim Dan Dee (Stefanuk) played in salute of Patrick.

I was honoured to co-emcee along with Dave Harland. Here are 4 pictures that show how much fun it was to hang with Patrick.

Gonna miss ya buddy!


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