Despite adversity fest anything but blue

Organizer Ginzer rethinks the bluesfest

Maurice Ginzer is a man of action so he isn’t about to sit around for long and whine about the challenges that have plagued the Calgary International Blues Festival this year.

First the event had to change venues with LRT construction forcing it from its traditional home at Pumphouse Park to the smaller surroundings of Shaw Millenium Park. Its new location has also impacted the festival’s beer garden typically a prime source of revenue. This year due to Shaw’s close proximity to residential neighbourhoods the beer tents will be forced to shut down early. So instead of being able to enjoy cold brewskies while watching the event’s headliners patrons will now be diverted to two nearby bars at the to carry on the festivities each night.

As well the fest’s opening night will face some stiff competition — a show with Van Morrison and Jim Cuddy at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

Still Ginzer the fest’s producer says his team is ready to let it rip.

“As far as location goes… It’s six of one half dozen of the other” Ginzer says. “There were some benefits at the old location and there are some benefits here at Shaw.”

“We’re angling to eventually put this festival on at Prince’s Island Park [so far the city says no]. We think we deserve it and it’s grown into a bigger festival which requires the space. It’s down the road and it’s a work in progress.”

Tighter quarters and the obvious downtown parking issues aside there’s still an LRT station one block east of the park and Ginzer says Shaw’s natural surroundings should be more comfortable than the asphalt and bleachers of Pumphouse Park.

“Being on grass will be nice” he says noting that he’s not referring to the bloodshot-eye set. “We expect crowds of around 5000 per day and we should be able to accommodate them comfortably.”

Okay but what about going up against a legend like Van the man?

“I say the more the merrier” Ginzer says. “His show is an early start and I hope people will come down afterwards.”

“We’ve had all kinds of enquires from people presuming that Van is at our festival. It’s all good for publicity and live music in our city. We have a good fan base for our festival and we want everyone to know about it.”

And Ginzer’s confidence isn’t unfounded. Last year’s fest included scorching sets from Colin James Rita Chiarelli John Campbelljohn Watermelon Slim and the Workers Tim Williams Sue Foley Booker T and a jaw-dropping performance from Joe Bonamassa who is a bonafide international blues sensation.

“Without wanting to give myself too much of a pat on the back Joe was someone I went after thinking that he was something special” Ginzer says. “Sometimes you get lucky and that was the case with Joe — he was outstanding.”

And this year’s talent is as good perhaps even better. Headliners include Blood Sweat and Tears main man David Clayton Thomas Little Feat and Albert King protégé Coco Montoya.

Sunday evening’s climax is the Chicago Blues Reunion featuring heavy hitters such keyboardist Barry Goldberg (who put in two years with the Rolling Stones) singer-guitarist Nick “The Greek” Gravenites harmonica hotshot Corkey Seigal and original Canned Heat guitarist Harvey “The Snake” Mandel.

But while the headliners are sure to please Ginzer mentions that they only scratch the surface of the fest’s deep lineup.

“You’re always trying to strike a good balance of headline acts artists on the verge of breaking big sleepers and a good Canadian contingent” he says.

Ginzer also points to such artists as folk fest favourites The Holmes Brothers Canadian-by-way-of-Russia bluesman Arsen Shomakhov the Mike Reilly Band Mississippi Heat Australia’s Mason Rack Band and award-winning Ottawa blues act Moneyjunk as this year’s possible Bonamassa-esque jaw-droppers.

“Monkeyjunk is a band that people are going to want to see” Ginzer says. “They won five Maple Blues Awards last year and they are the only Canadian band I know of to win an America Blues Award [for best new artist]. They’re getting a lot of media attention down East and they’ve been stealing the show at the festivals they’ve been performing at.”

And beyond the music there are four days of food and drink arts tents merchandise and even kids’ stuff.

“A lot of the attention has become on the fun of the event itself” Ginzer admits. “A lot of people might not even know some of the bands that are playing but they know they can come and hang out have something to eat and drink meet some cool people and chill out. We’ve always aimed at creating a good time and I think we’ve become successful at it.”