While lots of other festivals this summer have been riding the hype train so hard it's about to derail, the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival relatively quietly took over Deer Lake Park this weekend -- Saturday, to be exact -- for its 15th year. Somehow, I had missed the festival every year up until now, but with a headliner like Big Sugar, and some other strong blues and roots acts this year, I decided it couldn't be missed.
I got to Deer Lake Park just in time to make a tough decision: Rich Hope & His Evil Doers or Miss Quincy & The Showdown. Seeing in that I haven't seen Rich Hope in quite some time, I chose his set. Joined by just his drummer, he kicked off the set by proclaiming this was "music for having the sex to" and ripped into some dirty bluesy rock 'n' roll riffs. A little bit of technical difficulties didn't throw him off his game as he ripped around the stage with songs like "I See Trouble" and "Let's Jump Around Some" as well as a few covers of songs by The Sparkles and Jimmy Reid. He had a great stage presence, chatting with the crowd a little between songs, and he even hopped off the stage and onto the grass to urge people to sing and clap along with the last song of his set, "When My Light Comes Shining"
From there it was immediately over to the main stage for The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer. I have had bad luck with the Vancouver duo's live shows, missing every once since I first saw them two years ago, so I was very much looking forward to their set. They started off just the two of them -- Shawn "The Harpoonist" Hall on vocals and harmonica, as well as percussion with his feet, and Matthew "The Axe Murderer" Rogers on guitar and a drum pedal for each foot -- but they soon brought out some help; an organist, and trio of ladies on backup vocals (including Miss Quincy herself). Hall joked that it took them from HAM 2.0 to HAM 5.1 as it really fleshed out their sound.
Highlights of their set included the rockin' "Don't Make 'em Like They Used To" from the new album, as well as a song about how Vancouver's music scene was (and, frankly, can still be) a little sleepy, "Wake Up". They ended off with the stomping (or, clapping since we were on the grass) number "Get Out", as they likely made more than a few fans that'll be there at the November 8th Commodore show they announced on stage.
Back over on the (thankfully tented and shady) Westwood Stage, the Winnipeg/Montreal Chic Gamine was hitting the stage. I had heard of them for a while, but for some reason had never heard their stuff, which I now feel silly about.
Led by Andrina Turenne, Alexa Dirks, and Annick Brémault, their three voices blended for amazing and soulful harmonies, as they also traded off on keys, snare drum and guitar. Their set started with a more soulful, almost R&B sound, including a song called "Girlfiiend" with the haunting and accusatory chorus of "does your girlfriend know?", but as the set went on they got progressively more upbeat and rockin'. With a mix of blues and soul and rock, they had a great flow to the entire set, and they teased an upcoming album with a few songs (as well as a Christmas album, but no songs from that). It's definitely something I'll have to keep an ear out for.
I took a bit of a break to grab some food while Irish Imelda May played the main stage, who sounded good from the food cart section, before it was back to see the headliner of the Westwood Stage, Wide Mouth Mason. With Gordie Johnson pulling double duty on bass, the trio immediately launched into an older tune "Why", stirring up some nostalgia in the crowd before shuffling between old and newer songs. The highlight, as with most every WMM show, was Shaun Verreault's incredible guitar playing, as he effortlessly shredded through the 45 minute set, from some of their oldest material "This Mourning" to their newer, "Go Tell It To The Waterfall" -- which Shaun also slipped in the chorus from another famous song about Waterfalls.
After a set that seemed way too short, they ended with "Midnight Rain", but the crowd was not having it and demanded one more. I didn't think it would happen as Bettye LaVette had already started on the main stage, but I was pleasantly surprised when they were back out for "Change" before thanking everyone and closing down the stage in style.
For the next couple acts I lounged in the back of the park (hiding in the sweet, cool shade) taking in the festival. First was Bettye LaVette, celebrating 50 years making music. And she definitely had both the voice and the stage presence of someone with that much experience. Her set featured many covers; Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" as well as some Tom Waits, and an absolutely soul-shattering version of "Love Reign O'er Me" originally by The Who. Her own "Close As I'll Get To Heaven" was another highlight, her 70-year-old voice brimming with soul and passion and heartbreak.
Second was Matt Andersen, filling the stage with nearly a dozen performers as he was joined by The Mellotones. He was a great guitarist and good performer, and the giant band filled out for a rich sound, but for whatever reason his style of blues just didn't resonate with me. At one point in the set he was on stage alone for a very low down deep blues song, and he dug into the Canadian Songbook for The Band's "Ophelia", and they wrapped up the set with another cover, "Get By With A Little Help From My Friends". It was certainly a good set, but for whatever reason I just wasn't into it.
before pulling out some old favourites, "Open Up Baby", "Diggin' A Hole", and one of my favourites, their version of "Dear Mr. Fantasy". Unfortunately, Gordie's vocals were buried during the latter, as there seemed to be some technical issues plaguing the start of the set (if the stage techs running around adjusting things were any indication).
But it soon levelled out and most of the set went off without a hitch. A lot of the songs in the set flowed into each other, either with a reggae-influenced verse from the deadlock'd keyboardist Friendlyness or seamlessly transitioning musically, and Gordie had fans joining along (or "jamming with Big Sugar" as he called it) for songs like "If I Had My Way" and the newer "Eliminate Ya". Other highlights included "Ride Like Hell" where Gordie literally turned his guitar into a revving engine and the more funky, hip shaking groove of "Little Bit A All Right", another one from their comeback album.
As their set drew to a close, they played a few more of my favourites; the second most Canadian song of the entire day, "All Hell For A Basement" and the insanely raucous "The Scene", both of which which had more jamming from the crowd. And the night was brought to an end with the Big Sugar tradition of an instrumental version of "O Canada", the crowd patriotically singing along, as Johnson finishing off by hoisting his double guitar behind his head to show off the maple leaf painted on the back.
Aside from a few technical issues on stage, most of the day went off without a hitch. The three stages staggered in time and were setup so there was almost no sound bleed, and near constant music. I would have maybe put on another act or two on the side stages, or even "tweeners", as the last three acts on the main stage had nothing during the breaks, but aside from that minor quibble, it was a great day of blues and roots.