By Ken Wallis, Blues & Roots Radio
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The allure of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario is legendary. Nestled in Burlington, minutes from Hamilton, it’s Canada’s largest botanical gardens. Fondly cared for, the RBG offers the nature lover some of the most picturesque gardens you’ll lay your eyes on. There’s more though – Wednesdays offer hot jazz and cool blues evenings. For the price of admission, you can revel to great music under a tent filled with some of the best musicians around. This past Wednesday was a classic example of the best cool blues in Canada. The Paul DesLauriers band took the place apart with some of the best blues this country has to offer. Winner of 4 Blues Awards this past year, Paul and his trio smoked their way through two sets of rockin’ blues.
Not only has this guy got the voice, but he can play the guitar like a house on fire. Along with his award-winning band mates, Greg Morency on bass, and Sam Harrisson on drums they put on a performance that took your breath away.
When they swung into their signature song Still Under My Skin from their Relentless cd, the audience was captivated. And then to seal the deal, they played Love In Vain like no-one has ever played it before. The Paul DesLauriers Band played this tune at the International Blues Challenge and won second place among all the bands that competed from around the world.
The second set featured Paul utilizing a theremin to put on a psychedelic show that knocked everyone on their b.b (blues butts). This band is one of Canada’s best – catch them if you can.
Coming soon to the Cool Blues at the Royal Botanical Gardens – Spencer MacKenzie, August 16th
Andria Simone August 30th and Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar on September 6th.
The Ultimate Stop – Festival International Du Blues De Tremblant
Or to some, the Mont Tremblant International Blues Festival. Set in the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec, this year’s festival was the 24th edition. Just wait till next year and the 25th Anniversary. You know they’ll pull out all the stops. Cause they sure did this year. The ambiance reeked of blues at every turn of the eye.
This is the grand daddy of all blues festivals. It’s 10 days of blues music with more than a hundred indoor and outdoor shows, most of them free. Without doubt it’s one of the largest musical events in Canada. There are concerts/workshops at 4 outdoor stages and in the 9 participating resto-bars of the pedestrian village. There’s always something going on. Street Blues, jam sessions in unusual locations, blues’araoke and music workshops for the family and aspiring blues artists.
And speaking of a session in an unusual location, get a load of this – Steve Strongman put on an impromptu concert from the balcony of his unit. Gotta love it :)
My first thought upon arriving was the slogan I’ve heard so many times, ‘we have to keep the Blues Alive’. You must be joking. As if the blues is in danger. Go to Mont Tremblant and you’ll find the blues is more than alive and well – it’s thriving. Over a 100,000 attendees take in this Blues Festival.
And wait it’s not only us white haired oldies. There’s young folks – even young parents with their kids. Some of the musicians also reflect a younger generation. And as Brian Slack of Zeb productions and one of the festival’s driving forces says “ if you don’t like music, you’re in the wrong place ”
Similar to Whistler, Mont Tremblant is a cozy village featuring shops, restaurants, and oh yeah, great blues music. It’s a challenge to keep up with everything that’s going on. There are many stages at different levels on the mountain. To go up or down, the easy route is via the stand-up chair lift ride.
Others prefer to stroll up and down at a leisurely pace. Just one caution – if you have knee problems don’t do this walk often. Ouch. Much of the activity takes place at the top of the mountain at the Casino stage. If you come next year, be aware the chair lift ceases operation at 7pm.
On our first day there, it took all of ten minutes to run into some of our favourite musicians.
It was great chatting with Jack de Keyzer and sax player extraordinaire, Richard Thornton.
We saw a lot of bands and they were just oozing the blues.
One of the highlights was seeing fellow Hamiltonian Steve Strongman. Erin McCallum once told me that the bigger the crowd, the more the musician feeds off it. Well this was certainly the case as Steve put his all into it and the result was a wowed audience. He even danced and played out amongst the crowd.
There were some special moments to be had at the Festival. Imagine walking through the shops on an early Saturday morning in search of a coffee only to hear ‘sweet blues’ coming from one of the venues. We walked inside and couldn’t believe our eyes. It was Mike Goudreau doing a solo acoustic.
But of course that wasn’t all. Later that night, Mike and his Boppin Blues Band had the audience dancing up a storm at the B.B. King Stage.
There were so many highlights – I got to see the Lucas Haneman Express which I had never had the opportunity to see live before.
So many other great blues artists – I don’t have room to mention them all. Coco Montoya – oh my, what a blast.
The Blackburn Brothers. Dawn Tyler Watson, winner of this year’s International Blues Challenge took the stage on Sunday. And Dwane Dixon did 3 shows on Sunday. And Mark Crissinger proved he’s one dedicated musician. Who else could do a solo on Sunday morning at 10? And then do a full band show later the same day.
My only regret. Due to scheduling issues we only went for two and a half days. What was I thinking? I should’ve been there for 10 days. Oh maybe I should amend my regret statement. I had another regret. I left without getting a Mont Tremblant t-shirt. Every serious blues fan needs one in their blues wardrobe.
By the way the name Mont Tremblant was given to the area by the local Algonquins who referred to it as the " trembling mountain ". And let me tell you, during the blues festival it more than trembles – it rocks big time. And if you want some down time, there’s a great beach at Lake Tremblant.
Angel Forrest, Sean Pinchin, Chuck Jackson & Tyler Yarema, Curtis Selgado, Dawn Tyler Watson, Dwane Dixon, Ghost Town Blues Band, Guy Belanger, JW Jones, Paul DesLauriers , Paul James, Steve Hill and Matt Andersen, Spencer MacKenzie, the Hogtown All Stars, Toronzo Cannon. It was just an amazing line up
All I need to say is mark your calendar for July 6th to July 15th 2018 for the 25th anniversary next year.
A small piece of advice. If you can afford it, find lodging right in the village. You won’t regret it. You’ll be in the thick of the action. If you love the blues, and how could you not, you need to make the Mont Tremblant Blues Festival the one must-attend event. Make it part of your bucket list. I did and I’ll never forget it !