This is the latest in our first-person view of the Tremblant International Blues Festival, happening now in the beautiful Mount Tremblant, Canada! Charlie, a good friend of the American Blues Scene and dedicated blues fan, is reporting from the trenches.
Another blistering hot day began with a workshop by Bharath and His Rhythm Four. These guys are really becoming one of my favorites, and are well worth checking out. He gave us a little look inside his life saying he’d come from a musical family, and hearing Little Walter had “saved his life” from some bad times. First up was “Jealous Hearted People” and “Just Keep Lovin’ Her”, which he prefaced by saying “The blues means different things to different people, but it’s a universal language. It’s also about exorcism of demons as well as cryin’, so Let’s Boogie!” Other insights: “Music is about dynamics, not just barreling through a song. The spaces matter as much, if not more than the notes.” and “Music today has lost its focus, being more about image than part of culture where families would gather around the piano at night.” To him, listening to Sonny boy Williamson was like listening to a conversation SBW was having inside his head. He also spoke of learning from Kim Wilson, the star of the previous night. “Baby Please Don’t Go” fired up the early afternoon crowd, “The Honeydripper” earned them a standing ovation, and Jimmy Rodgers’ “Goin’ Away Baby” was a perfect finale. Their new album was going to be 3 discs, but it’s been boiled down to an 80 minute single, with tunes recorded in California and at their own studio in Montreal, with several special guests. Definitely a band to look out for.
Just saw a few minutes of Bill Johnson, backed by David Vest and the Downchild rhythm section. Lots of nice Telecaster fueled twangy blues, and I know he was singing to me when he sang ” Sometimes I feel like another, so Charlie, take my keys and hand me that glass”. Done..
The reason I missed Bill was to hurry down the hill for Blues Karaoke. People get to audition for the chance to play on sunday with the band Wang Dang Doodle in front of several thousand people. I had lost last year by 1 db… Not really blues, as “Proud Mary”, Adele, “Sweet Child Of Mine” and “Chain Of Fools” seemed to be popular choices among the 21 contestants. I butchered “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” (again, not blues, but the closest other song was “Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors), as the machine raced off ahead of me, but I somehow made the final 7. And we know it wasn’t based on looks!!
After competing in karaoke, it was time to move 50 feet east and enjoy Mike Goudreau and the Boppin’ Blues Band. His opening song was the first one sung in French (that I was aware of) all week. When I asked various musicians why this was, they said that the blues is English based, as it’s an American art form. Most people in Quebec learn English in school, but don’t practice it enough to retain it, and use it fluently, especially as you go farther north. The band is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the 3 piece horn section gave extra punch to the mix of soul, funk and blues. They did a funky, slinky version of Stevie Ray’s Little Sister, gave the bass player and drummer a workout on Movin’ To The Groove, did a “stripper’s song”, I’ll See Ya Later Baby (no one took him up on his offer to remove clothes to the groove!), and closed with a rousing Caldonia. Mike’s guitar playing and solos complimented the band perfectly. He surprised me after the show by saying he was born in Newport, VT, but now lives in the Eastern Townships. Come back to your roots soon, man!
The Lowrider Band headlined saturday night, and showed the “other” band pretending to be War, where the real roots were. With original members Lee Oskar on harmonica, B.B. Dickerson on bass, Howard Scott on guitar and vocals, and Harold Brown on drums, they ran through a funkified set of their hits. Opening with Cisco Kid, the energy never let up. A 10 minute “Slippin’ Into Darkness” helped everyone get their funk on, and the title track of the album that won every award and helped them sell 70 million albums worldwide was propelled by a long bass harmonica solo by Lee. Everyone up the mountain was swaying and singing along to “Why Can’t We Be Friends”, and Howard brought a young woman up on stage to sing call and response with him to everyone’s delight. Oskar’s final solo through his bevy of effects would have made you think Chuck Mangione was onstage doing his thing on trumpet. Another big WOW!!
Day 10 began with the karaoke competition. No way anyone could compete with the winner Mistaysha. The singer from Chile — now in Montreal, wowed everyone with her powerful voice and performance. She came back later in the evening to join the jam at the end of the night that closed the festival.
Back to the bottom of the hill for the Carson Downey Band. This power trio was not letting the oppressive heat dull their performance. A supercharged “Thrill Is Gone” was followed by “Hey Bo Diddley” and “Voodoo Chile”, all changed up from their original versions. Hailing from Nova Scotia, they made everyone forget about the heat and BOOGIE!!
One of the big surprises of the week was the sunday afternoon performance of the Jireh Gospel Choir with Dawn Taylor Watson. Under the direction of Carol Bernard, there were 20 singers and 4 musicians on stage, and everyone was taken to church! the harmonies were exquisite, and the 4 piece band laid down a rock solid foundation to build the vocals on. Everyone got their turn to come out front and shine, and no one was not singing and swaying along by the end. Very powerful stuff.
The Songsters were up next, and the duo of Stephane Auger on harp, vocals and bass, with Yannick Baillargeon on guitars was superb in their interpretations of old blues. It may be the first time I’ve seen a 12 string guitar used for such powerful effect in an acoustic blues format. Normally part of the Power Stroke Blues Band, they’ve set out to explore the possibilities of a duo, and songs like Blind Willie McTell, John lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom Boom”, Johnny Winter’s “Catfish Blues”, “I’m In the Mood For Love”, Elmore James’ “Sky Is Cryin'” and a slower take on “Voodoo Child” all had people singing along, and clapping wildly at songs’ end. SRV’s “Life By The Drop” was a perfect set closer. I’d say their experiment is working.
Mike Deway was up next on the big stage, but I couldn’t get into all the songs being sung in French — of which I know zero. The musicianship was stellar, however.
The festival closed with a big jam hosted by Montreal’s Wang Dang Doodle, who had earlier been the house band for the karaoke competition. Jim Zeller, Steve Strongman, Mike Deway and Dawn Taylor Watson all did nice numbers, and Carl Tremblay was his usual strong self. He has played at all 19 festivals! An hour after the last note, the area received a drenching thunderstorm, with an incredible lightning show.
So many days, so much great music. How can a place in the middle of nowhere put on 10 days of FREE blues?? Hats off to sponsors Volkswagen and Telus, and talent bookers Brian Slack, Gary Quadros and Guy Primeau of G2 Productions. They felt the best “new” act for the festival was Otis Taylor, whom I didn’t get to see. Apologies to Betty Lavette, Alexis P. Suter, Andre Dupree, Adam karch, Bad Boyz Boogie, Clarksdale Moan, Falz, Firebelly, Hoodoo Man, James, deKeyser and Marks, Jamiah On Fire & The Red Machine, Jordan John & The Blue Angels, Mama Groove, Michael DozierNadia, Nanette Workaman, festival spokesperson and Canadian TV personality Norman Brathwaite, The Red Dirt Revelators, Two Man Blues, and Super Chikan, all of whom I didn’t get to see and review. If there is such a thing, there was too much music! Nice problem to have!
The area is beautiful, with hiking, biking, canoeing, swimming, waterfalls, national parks, kayaking, plenty of kid’s activities, a Casino for those inclined, a luge run, i.e. again, too much to do in even 10 days. Everything was clean to a fault, as people were constantly buzzing around all day and night, picking up every butt and piece of trash they could see. Another big plus: clean restrooms. Great food of all varieties. A short drive in any direction revealed beautiful lakes, rolling hills and bucolic countryside. This area and festival are a treasure waiting to be discovered. I cannot wait for the 20th anniversary edition july 5-14, 2013.