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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Blues Festival

Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday February 19, 06:44 pm
Saskatoon’s first music festival of the year is set to rock


Feb. 26th-28th

Various locations

“What I’ve always loved about the blues is how it makes you feel,” says Diane Zilkowsky, media coordinator for the Saskatoon Blues Festival. “As clichéd as it sounds, the blues really is a feeling. You can’t separate the culture from the music.”

The Saskatoon Blues Festival runs from Thursday Feb. 26thto Saturday Feb. 28th, with some other shows in the days surrounding the core of the festival. Aside from the PotashCorp Electric Blues Stage at TCU Place and the SGI Acoustic Blues Stage at The Park Town, there are several lounge series shows, and even a dinner show.

One of the more interesting new additions to the festival this year is a film component. On the 22ndthe Broadway Theatre will play host to a documentary called Ain’t About the Moneyabout Winnipeg’s Big Dave McLean, who’s definitely become an adopted icon of Saskatoon’s blues scene over the years.

“It’s a movie about his journey in the blues and his fulfillment of his lifelong dream to visit the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi,” says Zilkowsky. “He did that in 2014. They’ve documented a bit of his history in Canada, and some filming in Clarksdale itself. It’s free admission with a question period after with the filmmaker [Charles Konowal] and Big Dave.”

In order to teach more people about the origins of the genre, The Saskatoon Blues Society puts on songwriters’ circles and interactive workshops, as well as a blues camp for kids aged 12 to 17, where they get hands-on instruction on everything from playing an instrument to the history of the blues.

“This year the theme of the blues camp is, ‘Ain’t No Bullies in Blues,’” says Zilkowsky. “It’s an education around black history and the music.”

When it comes to the festival itself, there are some big blues names from around the world rolling into town — like American guitarist Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin.

“[Margolin] spent 11 years as a member of The Muddy Waters Band,” says Zilkowsky. “He appeared with Muddy Waters in The Band’s Last Waltzconcert. So he’s part of the old guard in the blues community. He’s also a blues journalist and he’s written an e-book about his life in the blues. He’s got some amazing stories about the blues.”

The Festival has grown each year, but some in the music industry fear that baby boomers are the only demographic still following what most people would recognize as the blues. That seems like a short-sighted way of looking at it; while the music isn’t always as traditional as that of Robert Johnson or Willie Dixon, the DNA of the blues can be found embedded in a lot of music — from rock to hip hop and beyond. Sadly, there are hardliners that refuse to accept a notion of “the blues” that doesn’t fit into their little box, but Zilkowsky says that there is more to the blues than some purists want to admit.

“I think there’s room enough in the blues for everything,” she says. “Willie Dixon said it well: ‘Blues is the roots, the rest is the fruits.’ You get a lot of people that maybe haven’t explored as much in the music, but they like to listen to the blues. But they categorize it, and anything outside of that sound they don’t want to hear. But good music is good music.”

People will always dig back for the classics, but the blues — like anything else — has to evolve and grow or risk dying. Zilkowsky herself has traveled around the south, learning about the music and where it came from, even having been to the fabled crossroads. She also points out that when you really go back and look at the origins of the blues, there’s no purist approach, even in Mississippi.

“It started out in Mississippi,” she says, “but even there you’ve got hill country blues, you’ve got delta blues, there are so many genres of blues. And those origins resulted in different evolutions whether you go to New York City, which is more jazz-based, or Chicago where there’s some very definite sounds. In Detroit it’s more the soul-type origins. Texas blues is much more electrified and guitar-based.”

So if there’s a different style of the blues for every region, does that mean there’s a Saskatoon way of doing things? There may or may not be an overly specific “Saskatoon blues” sound, but we’re definitely a city where the genre has flourished over the years, with places like Bud’s on Broadway and mentors like Big Dave McLean producing young blues guitarists that venture out into the world.

“Saskatoon has produced some really amazing blues artists, like Suzie Vinnick,” says Zilkowsky. “Jordan Cook, I saw him when he was five or six years old at Bud’s jam. It’s been nice to see these people come through and develop their own styles and their own music, and carry on with that. A lot of people don’t realize just how much background there is in Saskatoon.”

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