Is it possible to have too much fun over a ten day period? From July 4-13, thousands of blues fans from around the world convened at The Mount Tremblant International Blues Festival and tried. Judging by the camaderie, smiles and good vibes all around, both performers and fans alike would agree this 2013 “Keeping The Blues Alive North American Blues Festival Of The Year” winner delivered.
Presenting nearly 90 FREE shows on four stages around the village over ten days, more than thirty after hour club gigs where the musicians jammed with their peers and mingled with fans, and ten workshops featuring everything from Teeny Tucker’s “History Of Women In The Blues” to Marcus James explaining his vintage, self-assembled guitars, Layla Zoe showing the blues side of gospel music, Alligator Records head honcho Bruce Iglauer chronicling the behind the scenes story of signing fast riser Jarekus Singleton and Paul Deslauriers, Frank Bey and Anthony Paule discussing their craft. With music and after hours from noon till the wee hours, there was barely time for sleep, but who was counting?
The G2 Productions event programming staff of Brian Slack, Gary Quadros and Guy Primeau, along with Production Co-ordinator Veronique Martino are to be commended for maintaining the quality of the festival in the face of a sponsorship pullout by VW.
Want to bring the family? Luge runs, bungee jumping, rock climbing, balloon tiers and roving stuffed animals kept the kids smiling. You could hike or ride the gondola up or down the mountain for spectacular views, or ride the new zip line if whooshing down from 3 stories up doesn’t make your heart flutter. And as in years past, the festival remained very eco-friendly, with multiple announcements asking for programs to be re-used and to direct trash to the many receptacles.
A veritable army of cigarette collectors and garbage handlers kept the ground immaculate. More non-musical endeavors included the 200 mile bike path all the way back to Montreal if you so desired, and multiple lakes, rivers and national parks for outdoor activities. The Casino at the top of the mountain offered gambling and music too!
Besides the setting and friendly vibe which seduced both artists and visitors, there was BLUES, BLUES, BLUES!! Highlights were too numerous to list, but some favorites were: Jarekus Singleton being surprised by a birthday cake on his 30th birthday and being totally humbled as the crowd sang him Happy Birthday in both English and French (he was voted the production team’s favorite, and will be invited back next year); Marlon Green, onetime drummer for John lee Hooker using his body as a drum set (miked and all), and winning over everyone with his infectious smile; Victor Wainwright having the crowd pretend to be his grandmother driving, then sling production assistant Catherine Duval over his shoulder while he performed; the power vocals of Shemekia Copeland, Dawn Tyler Watson, Teeny Tucker, Angel Forrest and Layla Zoe; the double neck pyrotechnics of reigning Canadian Guitarist of the Year Paul Deslauriers and his groundbreaking collaboration with sitarist Anwar Kurshid; JJ Grey and Mofro’s living room ambiance, right down to the lamps; and the Mannish Boys’ Sugar Ray Rayford lighting up a cigar and prowling through the crowd singing, never missing a beat as he stopped to socialize.
The set everyone talked about all week was Vintage Trouble. It was pouring, and they could’ve not played or just mailed it in, but they smoked the mountain and all who toughed out the Biblical rains. Throw in Monkeyjunk, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King, Canadian legends The Downchild Blues Band, Tommy Castro, JP Soars, David Gogo, Doyle Bramhall, Conor Gaines with Jerome Godboo(reigning Harmonica Player Of The Year at the 2014 IBC’s), Bharath and His Rhythm 4 and Eric Sardinas & Big Motor and I could go on and on all night about the music!
Canadian mainstays Carl Tremblay, Jim Zeller, Steve Strongman, Mike Goodreau, Jimmy James and Wang Dang Doodle all delivered rousing sets. And this year’s discoveries, demonstrating how the programmers think outside the box, included Sean Pinchin, Finland’s Erja Lyytien, Rocket Rached and the Fat City 8, Adam Karch, a Brazilian Tribute to JJ Cale, Brazilian guitarist Nuno Mindelis, Drew Nelson, Whiskey Legs, Jordan Officer and Firebelly. Jarekus Singleton won my Ironman Award, as he did three shows in two days, finished late in the night, then drove nine hours to Rockland, Maine for an 11am slot at The North Atlantic Blues Fest the next morning.
I also got to maintain my “Susan Lucci” runner-up status in the Blues karaoke for the 4th consecutive year, but the blues ain’t sports. Who wouldn’t want to sing in front of a few thousand people with a band? I plan to go for #5 when I reconvene with my blues family July 3-12, 2015 for the festival’s 22nd edition. Hope you can join us.
The Mount Tremblant International Blues Festival
Images courtesy of Marcus Darwell/Gotcha Images