It seems fitting that we should post a quick look back at last year's festival as the 2015 edition is poised for kick off today. I look back at the photos from last year's festival and realize what a great lineup it was. Jarekus Singleton, Tommy Castro, Smokin' Joe Kubek and B'Nois King, Shemekia Copeland, Kirk Fletcher, Sugaray Rayford (he's back this year!), to name just the international guests...Heading up for my annual dose soon. The roster looks promising this year too...
The Tremblant International Blues Festival (TIBF) is legal everywhere this year. Celebrating its 21st edition, the 2014 repertoire was pegged as being one of the richest and most diverse in the 20 year history of the event according to organizers. Musicians (as well as audiences) from around the globe partook in the event. Raw blues to fusion blues, all styles were well represented at this year’s festival. With multiple outdoor stages set up and all within walking distance of each other, there was ample opportunity for blues enthusiasts to catch a variety of acts performing different styles. As a matter of fact it would appeal to music fans in general. To add to that there was the L'Aire du Blues tent which featured top artists performing and answering questions posed by those in attendance. Layla Zoe, Marcus James, Steve Strongman, Jack de Keyzer, Teeny Tucker, Jordan Patterson Band, Adam Karch, Frank Bey and Anthony Paule Band all took part in these workshops. The price for all of this? Well, as I explained to an elderly gentleman with his grandson I met in an elevator, it was absolutely free for everyone. No matter how old you were or which stage you went to. Not a bad deal for the talent that had been assembled.
The plan was to get up to the TIBF early Saturday afternoon. Get checked in. Get something to eat. No rush. Catch Layla Zoe on stage at 3 pm. Then check out Brent Johnson and the Call Up at 7. We were determined to broaden our horizons and check out some acts we had never seen before. We had penciled in Shemekia Copeland’s 9 pm show to be the first to enlighten us.
What better way to do some research on an act than to go to the source. That’s exactly what we did. Literally. A chain of events led to Copeland and one of her guitarists for the past five years, Willie Scandlyn, hitching a ride with us to Mont Tremblant. Now keep in mind the two, along with the rest of the band, had just flown to Montreal from Chicago, and a couple of days before that, from France. The last thing they may be in the mood for was some of our amateur comedy. Might be a long drive. Five minutes into the drive, the van with the band went one way and we went another (it is also the orange cone festival in Montreal with highway entrances and exits being closed everywhere you go due to construction). Simultaneously, a puzzled look appears on Scandlyn’s face and Copeland’s cellphone starts ringing. We assured everyone we were seasoned veterans and we knew some short cuts. Five minutes after and the ice was broken. This was going to be a fun ride. In all of our years going up to Tremblant, this was the most educational. Rule number one? At Scandlyn’s insistence, Copeland was not to drive as much as she pleaded. Copeland has the solution to world peace. Ice cream. If everyone had an ice cream cone at the same time all of the world would be smiling. It’d be as simple as that. On reflection I think she's right. Coffee? Not for the driver or co-pilot. They never do. What do they drink during the cold Canadian winter...hot chocolate. Enough to make Copeland want to squeeze our cheeks (still not sure which ones). We are so adorable. Willie on the other hand thought we were wimps. We had to stop off at the store once at destination to stock up on beer to man up even though the cooler was already bursting with pints. We also learned that as long as Copeland was happy nothing would get set on fire. Good to know! She had our undivided attention. Even with traffic, this drive did not last long enough. Would have given them a lift to Ireland!
Once we arrived to Mont Tremblant and our guests were safely checked into their hotel, we did the same. Unfortunately we missed Layla Zoe due to our chauffeuring duties but we did get a chance to have a quick chat with her later on.
Brent Johnson and the Call Up was the first show we saw in it's entirety. We met Brent and drummer John Perkins a year and a half ago when they were touring with Bryan Lee. At the time, Johnson was given the opportunity to start those shows by performing two songs before Lee would take the stage. His guitar playing immediately struck a chord with me. Extremely smooth but with a little raunch. Having seen him perform with Lee a few times it was obvious it was only a matter of time before this kid would be flying his own flag. I was more than pleased to witness the break out. Perkins followed along and Bill Blok was added on bass, and the three recently released Set the World on Fire. The album material was strongly featured in the trio's set and was well received. A great band with a bright future ahead. As Johnson later posted online, Perkins and Blok were on fire that night.
The next act we caught was The Legendary Downchild Blues Band. This boogie-woogie blues jump band knows how to get the crowd going and delivers the goods. They have been on the scene long enough and the experience shines through.
Next up... Shemekia Copeland. On the way up she had asked us if we had ever caught one of her shows before. We confessed that we were virgins. She said that was fine, she would rock it out for us that night. And that she did. With great stage presence, Copeland and her band rocked it, funked it, and bluesed it. Her voice is sultry and commanding. She never overdoes it as some singers tend to. She is in control. The charisma we witnessed on the drive up shone through on stage. Songs like Ain’t Going to be Your Tattoo, It’s 2:00 AM, Somebody Else’s Jesus and Never Going Back to Memphis were all killers and sung with passion. With a tight rhythm section and two well rounded guitarists, this was a treat to watch. Maybe a little too much for our first time. I mean how do you follow up on that? Kudos to guitarist Arthur Neilson for passing the quiz with flying colors after the show.
And so went the proceedings for our first day (day 2 of the Fest) at Tremblant. We caught up with some old friends and made some new ones afterwards. Most of those stories must remain confined to our memories to protect the innocent (Bill Blok- a first?) and the guilty.
One observation I made was how accommodating all the artists had been after every show. Their willingness to stick around and sign autographs, pose for pictures and chat with fans is an added touch and only adds to the ambiance of the festival. The organizers should get a round of applause on how this event is run. The shows run over a ten day period. If there were any hiccups they weren't apparent to the general public.
Great music, beautiful surroundings, and amazing people make this a festival that should not be missed and should ensure its longevity. See you next year!