This year’s Burnaby Blues + Roots Festival was a more intimate affair this past Saturday, after being scaled back to two stages and nine bands, and focusing on mostly Canadian performers.
While the festival was smaller in size, loyal music lovers who had been coming for years still showed up to enjoy the day-long festival at Deer Lake Park.
Anna and Richard Koett have attended the festival for about a decade, coming every year after first receiving tickets as a gift.
“We like the blues, and we like the venue,” Richard said.
The couple has discovered performers who resonate with them, such as Lindi Ortega, and has gone on to see them at other venues.
The festival is a great value, Anna said, adding she wished there was a better turnout and more appreciation for the local event.
“It’s a shame there’s not more people,” she said. “More people need to come.”
What the festival lacked in size, it made up for in energy, particularly the energy of the nine musical acts performing.
But it wasn’t just performers and concertgoers who were passionate about the music – there were others at the event, determined to keep the blues alive.
The Canadian Pacific Blues Society was located at the Blues Market tent, filling people in on its upcoming blues shows.
Ron Simmonds, who was a longtime blues promoter and talent buyer for venues like the Yale in Vancouver, said it’s an uphill battle to get people out to blues shows these days.
“It’s certainly not going to be like it was 20 years ago, or five years ago,” he said. “We have to get people off the couch.”
Many of the society’s shows are in the fall and spring, as many performers are doing the festival circuit in the summer, he added.
The blues was a big part of the Burnaby festival, even with the roots and folk performers.
Leeroy Stagger is a B.C.-born singer and songwriter whose sound is more roots rock and alternative country. But he captivated the crowd with a harrowing story about his brother, very much in the spirit of the blues.
Stagger’s younger brother was in an accident in a taxi on Gorge Road in Victoria, according to Stagger, and was in a coma. Stagger went to visit him, but his brother remained unconscious for days.
“I put my hand on his forehead, and my brother furrowed his brow,” Stagger told the audience, “as if to say, ‘brother, get your hand off my forehead.’”
Afterward, his brother regained consciousness and has since recovered, Stagger said before launching into Little Brother, a song about the experience.
Stagger included family onstage as well, bringing his five-year-old son Guthrie up for his debut performance.
Guthrie proudly wielded his cardboard guitar, made at the craft table at the Blues family area of the festival.
This year, B.C. performers such as Stagger made up the majority of the festival, which began with Mohawk piano player and singer Murray Porter on the Main Stage.
The Juno Award winner from North Vancouver did not disappoint, sharing the stage with his very talented backup band. His bluesy, country style was the perfect kickoff for the event.
Vancouverite Kaya Kurz, a jazz studies student at Capilano University, sang an eclectic mix of songs on the Garden Stage. She ended with one about her ex, saying it felt right for a blues festival.
Jesse Roper, travelling over from Victoria, was a whirlwind of blues-infused rock and funk on the Main Stage, while Vancouver’s own Jesse Waldman followed up with a mellower folk set on the Garden Stage.
Little Miss Higgins returned to the festival with her special blend of old country blues, performing with members of her backup band, The Winnipeg Five.
After that, things moved over to the Main Stage, with Canadian blues singer and guitarist Sue Foley. The award-winning performer brought her signature pink paisley Fender Telecaster to life as she played and sang numbers like Gaslight, a fan favourite that will be included on her upcoming solo album.
New Brunswick’s Matt Andersen hit the stage next, joking with the audience and sharing stories about life on the road, as his guitar needed a quick repair. The East Coast powerhouse soon showed he was capable of much more than joking around, though, as he belted out the blues with energy and depth.
As dusk descended on Deer Lake, the final act, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, took to the stage.
Troy Andrews, who performs as Trombone Shorty, took concertgoers on a journey to New Orleans. He led them there with his trombone, with his voice, and with his extremely talented band.
The crowd near the front of the stage grew along with the music, as Andrews engaged the audience with hits like Here Come the Girlsfrom his new album Parking Lot Symphony.
Though some of the audience began to head home during the final performance, many others went down toward the stage to dance and enjoy the music.
At one point in the evening, Andrews led his horn players in a piece that sounded like the cascading effects of fireworks – a brilliant send-off for the festival.