Review: The Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival, Kincardine, ON, Canada
By Ken Wallis, host of BluesSource Canada.
If you did a Google search on picturesque lakesides, you would certainly see the name Kincardine. This town with a population of 14,000 boasts a gorgeous view of its Lighthouse and Harbour on the shores of Lake Huron.
And what a perfect location for a blues festival! The Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival ran July 8, 9, and 10 and it was one of the best festivals a blues lover could attend. Managed by Rick and Marilyn Clarke, it’s a non-profit festival that packed a 1000 seat Main Stage on Friday and Saturday night. That was just the beginning of a wonderful weekend. There was a Saturday Street Festival with four performance stages that featured toe tappin’, dancin’ blues from a multitude of musicians. There was also a sports car show, a petting zoo for kids, and a retail street market.
With so many stages and so many acts, it was a challenge to experience every artist, but we did our best. I’ll highlight what we did get to see and apologies to those artists we didn’t see.
We arrived in Kincardine later than expected because of the Rogers outage that delayed our departure, but we got there in time to see the first act on the Main Stage at The Bruce.
First up was Spencer MacKenzie who shredded some great guitar work that not only featured some tunes from his upcoming album Preach to My Soul, but was highlighted by a jump that was actually caught on camera. I caught part of it, but Nick Harding really nailed it. Spencer may be young, but he plays like a veteran.
Then it was time for the Ben Racine Band. From Quebec, they know how to keep the music flowing. The band often backs Dawn Tyler Watson, which they did on Saturday. At this time the hunger pangs seemed to beat along with the music, and we were able to sit on the outside deck of the Bruce Steakhouse and chomp down a great meal overlooking the stage and Ben Racine.
Bywater Call was the next band on the bill, and they knocked it out of the park, or maybe I should say out of the harbour. Led by vocalist Meghan Parnell and guitarist Dave Barnes, they kept the pulse alive and kicking. This is an up-and-coming band was nominated for a Maple Blues Award for new band and will be competing at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, sponsored by the Grand River Blues Society.
The excitement built as Crystal Shawanda took the stage. Her album Church House Blues won a Juno award, and her music is finely tuned. This was the first time I got to see her live and she simply took my breath away. What a voice! She sang her heart out and at the same time smiled throughout the set. You could tell she was happy to be back on stage entertaining an audience. I’m gonna make sure I see her every chance I get.
The last artist to appear that night was Vanessa Collier. Known for her sax playing and dynamo singing she kept the audience warm. And I mean literally warm. One aspect that I was not prepared for was that when the sun went down, a cool breeze off the lake tugged at us. I learned that warm clothes would be needed for next year’s visit. Vanessa had been nominated for seven Blues Music Awards and won two of them. She showed why. Cold and tired, but with a warm glow we headed off to our hotel.
We headed out early to walk the downtown area and take a peek in some of the retail shops. The street festival kicked off early at 10:30 and we saw as many bands as we could. To keep this article brief we’ll simply list who we saw. The Johnny Ballard Band, Dark Angel, Morgan Davis, Suzie Vinnick, Jim Dan Dee, The Chris Murphy Band. And those alone were not even half the bands that were performing.
I have to mention two bands. Jim Dan Dee from Toronto really turned up the volume at the Library Stage. Jim Stefanuk leads the band. He’s an accomplished guitarist and songwriter who’s making a name for himself.
And the pleasant surprise for me was the Chris Murphy Band. Hailing out of London, I had never seen this band before. Boy were they good! Chris along with guitarist Teddy Leonard laid down two sets, back-to-back, and absolutely astonished everyone on the street. I snagged a couple of albums for my radio show, not realizing until I got home, that we were connected on FaceBook.
Somehow we managed to sneak a lunch in and then it was off the main stage.
Shakey Trill opened up the evening’s festivities. They’re a two-piece blues-folk duo from Saugeen Shore in Ontario and they played with passion as the audience filed in. This group is going places for sure.
Then Joshua Miller and The Pappy Johns Band started to heat up the stage. Known for his rockin' blues s soul music, he plays a mean guitar backed by a tight band. They kept the audience enraptured as the sold-out crowd cheered them on.
Then a hush fell over the audience as Dawn Tyler Watson walked out onto the stage. Sporting a glimmering dress with the slogan, Music Is My Drug, she had the audience mesmerized. She can belt it out with the best of them. No wonder she won a Juno plus took first place overall at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Backed by The Ben Racine Band, she rolled from one song to another with some lively banter in between.
Then it was time for the Queen of Canadian Blues, Cheryl Lescom, along with the Tuscon Choir Boys. Cheryl has been on the blues scene for many a year and she joked about what it’s like for a woman growing older. Well, I can tell you, she’s found the Fountain Of Youth cause not only did she put on a rousing performance with powerful vocals, but she presented a look that many a woman would wish for. I was thoroughly impressed by her set.
Sadly, that was the last act we were able to see. We missed Angelique Francis and the Ghost Town Blues Band from Memphis. But the good news is we’ll catch Matt Isbell and the Ghost Town Blues Band at the upcoming Southside Shuffle in September in Port Credit.
All in all, it was a jam-packed, wonderful blues festival. The Bruce Telecom Lighthouse Blues Festival is a must-attend event and we’ll be back next year for sure. The festival may be small by comparison, but it delivered BIG TIME!
More pictures will be posted on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/Bluessoutceentertainment