Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival 2013

BurnabyBluesRootsThe 2011 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festiva has become one of my favourite things about summer. This year in 2013 was no exception.

The festival represents more than just a world-class outdoor festival celebrating folk music, rock music, country, the blues, and every blend of music in that spectrum. It’s a chance for me to see my friends Emme and Erica, and a chance to meet new people too, since Emme is constantly making new connections.

That’s helpful to a shy, retiring fellow like me, although one who can still appreciate the energy of a crowd that loves to witness some great performances. I’m talking about the music, now, although Emme has her moments when it comes to performance, too.


Rob Jones, enjoying the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.

A photo of me, taken by an impish young friend (8) of Emme’s, who refused to let me be shy.


Another aspect of the festival is that it seems to go from strength to strength each year, getting bigger and bigger, and yet still feeling like the community building and community inclusive event that it is. Children, teens, seniors, couples, hipsters, the curious, and middle-aged music geeks are all at home. And the line-up is always a delightful mix of the big names you know, and the names you didn’t know that you needed to hear.


Dancing to Shaun Verreault at the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.

The early afternoon crowd having a blast dancing it up to Shaun Verreault.


This year, the festival was expanded, adding another stage to make things more flexible, and to give more acts a chance to wow the crowds. This meant that this year, my friends and I had a choice on which acts to catch. It was hard to choose. But, I think we chose well. Here are some of the highlights for us, although since the extra stage presented some choices, I’m sure you’ll hear a different story depending on who you talk to. We love stories here! And here’s ours.


David Gogo

He’s a blues-rock guitarist who’s been on the scene for many years here on the West Coast, and then subsequently all points east too. He won points with me by opening the festival with a storming version of The Faces‘ ‘Bad N’ Ruin’, one of my favourites. Also, his take on Muddy Water‘s ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ was a sight, and sound to remember.


David Gogo at the 2013 Burnaby Blues  and Roots Festival.

David Gogo in the moment at the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.


Shaun Verreault

You know him from his work with Wide Mouth Mason (a canning term, not a blues term as I learned …). But, a big highlight was his ability to take the musical letters from the names of members of an audience (in this case, ACE), and make a live improvisational song out of it using those respective chords. This was a phenomenal showcase for his band, and their almost psychic ability between them to deliver music from the ground up and in the moment.


Shaun Verreault at the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.

Yep, that’s Shaun Verreault of Wide Mouth Mason!


Shakura S’Aida

A singer with divine pipes who’s worked with the legendary blues singer Ruth Brown and soul-jazz architect Jimmy Smith, S’Aida was aided and abetted on this occasion  by a crack band of pros including a lead guitarist who shredded her axe to pieces – in a good way, of course. S’Aida’s song ‘That Ain’t Right’ is a must-hear tune. In fact, listen here.


ZZ Ward

One of the things that the Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival helps to do is to remind people that these strains of music are living, breathing artistic avenues being explored by up-and-coming writers and performers. This was embodied this year at the festival by ZZ Ward, who takes the blues traditions of the past and repositions them for modern audiences, referencing Etta James, Son House, and many other influences. When ZZ Ward sings, none of the power of what we love about the blues is lost. It’s alive, and ready to mess with you. Her song ‘Charlie Ain’t Home’ was a true stand-out.


The Sojourners


The Sojourners at the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.

Man! Do The Sojourners ever move the soul!


“Yes, people it’s true; we are black folks”. It was the tongue-in-cheek quip that this trio of singers included in an introduction to one song called ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Prize’, an anthem to the civil rights movement, a time when gospel music of the southern churches met with what was being called ‘message’ music. This is where the Sojourners live, as an active connection to this tradition. Their voices melded perfectly, matching the sacred with the secular with ease. And as they sang this tune, we were all connected.



John Lee Sanders

Transplanted from Lou’siana to Vancouver of all places, John Lee Sanders laid down the fonk of the New Orleans variety. And connected with what the Sojourners had said about how the history of black America informed the development of the music, Sanders talked about how Louisiana was a bastion of musical culture from its very early history, with cultures mixing and exchanging ideas in a way that was unique. As we rocked to the R&B of the deep south, with Sanders playing piano and saxophone with equal aplomb, we were reminded how far the music has come since that melding of ideas began.



Charles Bradley


Charles Bradley on the Big Screen at the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival

Rather love this shot of Charles Bradley and Band that our young 8-year-old friend took on the Big Screen.


In the traditions of James Brown and Wilson Pickett, Bradley carries the torch. And quite simply, it was all about the sanctified version of Neil Young‘s ‘Heart of Gold’ for me. Class!


Charles Bradley at the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.

Charles Bradley showing off his moves at the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.


Blue Rodeo

What can be said of this band who forged a path into what would become known as alt-country many years later. Although it must be said, this band is beyond a single scene, and certainly of a single musical label. Since their formation on Toronto’s Queen Street scene in the early to mid-80s, they’ve built up an incredible catalogue of songs to match any pop songwriting standard you’d care to name. Live, they are a force of nature. Every song was an event, I suppose. But hearing ‘Diamond Mine’ being performed by the guys who wrote it was a thrill to beat them all.


Blue Rodeo at the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.

Closing out the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival … Blue Rodeo!



There were other cool acts that we didn’t catch. And of course, there were food wagons, craft booths, kids’ activities, giveaways, and other cool stuff that happened, too. That’s the beauty of the Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival. There are all kinds of avenues of possibility to explore. No festival is the same twice, good people – even if it’s the same one!


Blue Rodeo at the 2013 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.

A great end to a great day of fantastic music!


Thanks to Emme for letting me tag along once again!


Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival 2011

One of the most fascinating things about the blues is that no one really knows how old it is. It is a mysterious, sexy beast.

This sense of mystery is true of all folk music, handed down from generation to generation, and not by means of historic documentation. No. By its very nature, blues and folk music, and all of the popular music that they inspire, is kept alive by listening to it, playing it, adapting it, and sharing it with a live audience. It illuminates our lives when we see it and hear it on stage.

So, with all of that in mind, I am pleased as punch that our Emme Rogers has asked me to be her correspondent at the Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival, 2011. The festival this year inspires audiences on several levels, as usual. And with the promise of what awaits me on Saturday, August 13 in Deer Lake Park, Burnaby this year,  I am reminded of how far-reaching the music really is.

For instance, a HUGE BLUES LEGEND John Mayall (!!!) will grace us with over 50 years worth of live and recorded blues behind him. A ’60s British blues-boom hero, this is the guy who apprenticed Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jack Bruce, Mick Taylor, and a bunch of other guys who went on to blues, blues-rock, and rock/pop greatness themselves. I mean, you wanna talk about reach, and influence? And really that’s only one strain of vital music Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival audiences will soak up along with the sun this Saturday.

Blues Legend John Mayall (Photo: Per Ole Hagen)

Speaking of Eric Clapton, Irish singer Imelda May has shared a stage with him, too, not to mention David Gilmour, Shane MacGowan, and fellow countryman Van Morrison. Her music is an amalgam of rockabilly and ’60s surf rock styles that I’m really looking forward to hearing live.

For that earthy, early ’70s Cosmic American Music, Ben Rogers and the Black Oats brings the goods, with not just a little bit of Steve Earle in there for good measure. They will be playing tunes off of their new EP, Brigands.

Hailing from the Deep South, the cradle of American popular music, come the Secret Sisters.  This is a duo of actual sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, singing close-harmony country music that hearkens back to an earlier age.

Matt Anderson ties together various strains of roots music, including hard-hitting blues-rock that is meant for open air festival crowds. Originally from New Brunswick, Matt’s word-of-mouth following has led him all over the country and beyond. For soulful vocals, and guitar hero showmanship, Matt’s on-stage experience opening for the likes of blues legends Buddy Guy, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and Bo Diddley is ripe for the Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival.

Victorians Current Swell demonstrate that the creation of roots music is not just an exercise in celebrating the past. Theirs is a vital sonic avenue into the future, allowing them to share stages with acts ranging from Bedouin Soundclash to the Beach Boys. Find out where they fit in between that spectrum, kids!

Musical journeymen Luke Doucet and The White Falcon joins this year’s Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival, with a classic-era anthemic roots-rock sound that has earned them a 2011 Polaris Prize nomination alongside Ron Sexsmith, the Dears, and Black Mountain, among others.  A charismatic frontman, and seasoned guitarist, Doucet and his band create a sound that supports tunes that you swear have been around forever.

And who is the headliner this year?

k.d lang

k.d lang (Photo: jbach)

What about k.d lang?

A giant among Canadian artists, sure. But, also deemed “the best singer of her generation” by Tony Bennett, a guy who knows a thing or two about singing, folks. An uncannily gifted interpreter of music that ranges from Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, to Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”, to her celebrated version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as performed at the 2010 Olympic Games, k.d lang is a national musical treasure.

Her roots as a cowpunk and alt-country pioneer is matched only by her work as a revivalist torch song stylist. And of course, she writes her own songs, too, like the radio hit “Constant Craving”, her signature tune. Country, pop, tin pan alley; she’s mastered them all, and all of those styles feed into all manner of pop music as we know it today. That’s why they call it roots, after all. And who better to deliver it than k.d lang?

Music is best when it’s enjoyed live, and (in my humble opinion) in the open air. With a scenic setting like Deer Lake Park, I’m looking forward to falling in with a jubilant festival crowd at the Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival for the third year in a row for me.

This is becoming a habit, and one that’s becoming an indespensible part of summertime in the Lower Mainland.

The Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival takes place this Saturday, August 13 at Deer Lake Park. Gates open at 1:00PM, and the show starts at 2:00PM.





Ron Sexsmith Love Shines Movie Shown in the UK

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (March 4-6) the Douglas Arrowsmith film about singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith Love Shines was broadcast on BBC4. The broadcast reached the big audience that Sexsmith has built up over years of releasing records and touring there. But, it also reached a new audience in those quarters, too, in part because of word-of-mouth efforts by many of the fans who already know and love his music.

Ron Sexsmith image courtesy of the2scoops

Reaching new eyes and new ears where Sexsmith’s music is concerned is perhaps the main aim of Love Shines director Douglas Arrowsmith. The documentary was shot during the time Sexsmith was working up material for the Long Player Late Bloomer album, Sexsmith’s latest record, produced by Bob Rock.

The core of the drama in the film is that of unique songwriting and performing talent Ron Sexsmith, celebrated by a cult audience, striving to get his music heard by more people. During the course of the film, he confronts his own identity as an artist, and is challenged to determine his own definition of what success actually looks like. All the while, the idea of fans championing his cause is pretty central to the soul of the movie.

Some high profile artists count themselves as Sexsmith admirers. Rod Stewart, Michael Buble, k.d lang, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin have all recorded Sexsmith’s material. Feist is another, and she also appears in the film. Elvis Costello, an early Ron Sexsmith champion, continues to sing his praises in an interview section in Love Shines. Steve Earle, who appears in the film as well, was the producer of the excellent 2001 Blue Boy album, and remarks on Sexsmith’s deep musical well. The list goes on.

Where many are familiar with those famous names mentioned, Sexsmith is not exactly a household name himself. Regardless, he’s something of a veteran anyway, with a twenty-year, twelve album recording career behind him, and with dues paid before that time as a struggling musician by night, holding down a courier job by day. Long player, late bloomer, indeed. But, partially thanks to Twitter, Facebook, the Ron Sexsmith online forum community, and a new album and documentary for them all to talk about, the perception that Sexsmith is an untested newcomer is changing.

For instance, the broadcast of Love Shines on BBC4 trended on Twitter in the UK during each airing, and internationally too, indicating great viewer numbers and a significant achievement for fans, who were instrumental in spreading the word.  Significantly, this helped to sell records, too. The Amazon charts went from 6-2 in the rankings immediately after Friday’s broadcast and the parallel chat on social platforms, with a number of Sexsmith’s albums showing in the top twenty.

Not bad for a”cult” artist.

Ron Sexsmith image courtesy of spaceameoba

It is a compelling idea that Sexsmith is something of a throwback singer-songwriter that would have been very welcome on ’70s AM radio, had he been born twenty years earlier. His work certainly would have fit in with that of artists like Harry Nilsson, Carole King, Elton John (yet another documented Sexsmith fan), Jackson Browne, Bill Withers, Joni Mitchell, and Todd Rundgren.

Yet, in other ways, Sexsmith being championed by so many voices all at once online can’t be easily dismissed. It has been these online communities championing Arrowsmith’s film, and Sexsmith’s music by association, that has really pushed Sexsmith’s exposure to that wider audience so far. It’s important to note that Love Shines director Douglas Arrowsmith is a fan himself, with the same goal shared with the very active community of fans on social platforms: to get Ron Sexsmith’s story told, and to get his material heard, bought, and celebrated. This concerted effort between artist, filmmaker, and fans is a very 21st Century phenomenon.

This is another layer to be found at the heart of the film; that the artist’s struggle to be heard by more people is actually also the very welcome and joyous struggle of those who already appreciate his work. This core of the drama goes beyond the interest of TV broadcast numbers, licensing, and international boundaries. It becomes something that great art was always intended to be; a shared and transformative experience.

Read more about the upcoming premier of Love Shines at SXSW in Austin on March 15, 2011 at 6:15 PM, where an even larger potential audience will be reached.

Also, be sure to become a fan of the Love Shines Facebook page for frequent news and updates that pertain to the film.

And thanks to Emme for allowing me to publish this piece on her site!

Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival 2010 From A Music Geek’s POV

Hi everyone!  This is my first guest post here at Being Emme (thanks, Ems). They say you never forget your first time.  Let’s just see.

Seeing as it’s nearly time for the 2010 Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival, which our sunglasses-and-smiles hostess will tell you all about after she attends on Saturday August  14, I thought I’d ask our Emme if it would be OK for me to submit my own thoughts on the festival, and what you guys can expect from it when you go.  You see, last year I accompanied Emme, plus friends Erica Hargreave and Jon Jennings, to the 2009 festival. Besides being an afternoon with good friends, I was there, ostensibly, as resident music geek.

And a geek I was.

The fact is, outdoor festivals like this really turn my crank.  I love seeing live music being performed by enthusiastic musicians, for equally enthusiastic crowds. This is not to mention the food.  Food almost always tastes better outside, in the company of friends, and sitting on blanket and deck chairs, enjoying the sounds together in the summer sun. And let’s face it; I love the presence, function, and all around generosity of beer tents.

During this particular festival, it was fun to see Emme in her element too, dancing with strange guys (and I do mean strange), chatting up the paramedics at the first aid station (She got a bit of sunscreen in her eye. Well, so says she.), and spreading false rumours about me on Twitter while I innocently took in the music, unaware.

She’s a handful. But she’s an endearing handful. Water under the bridge.

The line-up last year was stellar.  Some acts I knew about, and others I discovered for the first time. In any case, it’s already a year later, and if you were ever in doubt about attending the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival this year, here’s the line up and what you can expect from each act.

Taj Mahal

This year, there are some real luminaries at the festival, including headliner Taj Mahal, who has been playing folk blues shows like this, and putting out records, since the 60s. Among other things, Taj Mahal was the only North American act that played the Rolling Stones’ classic (and for many, many years unreleased) Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus special in 1968, along with The Who, Jethro Tull, Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, and the Stones themselves. Taj Mahal continues to blur the lines between blues and folk musics from around the world, and to deliver singular excitement in a live setting.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s blistering blues-rock is bound to get people up on their feet. He’s been an undeniable live draw for many years and is master of whipping up summer audiences into a fun-loving frenzy.  Shepherd proves that when the blues had a baby and called it rock ‘n’ roll, that baby has continued to grow, although not forgetting where she came from. For that organic feel of the blues, with the drive and guts of modern rock, come and get it.  This guy’s got it.

Colin Linden

Colin Linden is a solo artist, songwriter, guitarist, and sought-after producer, also member of folk-rock collective Blackie & the Rodeo Kings.  He’s also a long term musical collaborator and producer to another hero of mine: Bruce Cockburn.  He’s produced a number of albums  and written songs for other artists you’ve heard about (Colin James, The Band, etc).  He’s served as back-up guitarist for country maven like Emmylou Harris, while also having been tutored as a young player by electric blues titan Howlin’ Wolf. Colin brings out a unique warmth in the long traditions of the blues and folk.

Juno winner and country-music-with-a-kick performer Serena Ryder will on hand to showcase her powerhouse voice; a smokey and textured instrument that contrasts the pristine beauty of her songwriting which has earned her a gold record.

Californians Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real, will show you the connections between rock, blues, and all the folk music forms in between.  If you’re a fan of that Woodstock sound of the Band, Van Morrison, and New Morning-era Bob Dylan, these guys will make the afternoon in the park worth your while.

Little Miss Higgins weaves together the musical threads of proto-electric rural blues of Memphis Minnie, the country music of Jimmie Rodgers, and Bob Wills, and early jazz-blues recordings from Lady Day herself, showing how the rich tapestry of these musical traditions continue to wind their way into the modern age. Her music is rooted in an approach to performance that says “welcome! come on in”.

Retro-rock group Yukon Blonde comes complete with classic 70s AM rock radio texture, and sunshiny 60s flavoured harmonies perfect for a summer festival like this one.

The Burnaby Blues and Roots festival is being held at Deer Lake Park on Saturday August 14.  If you go, make sure to tell us about your favourite acts – especially those you didn’t know going in –  in the comments section of this post, or other posts themed around the festival.




Taj Mahal image courtesy of Bill Gracey. Kenny Wayne Shepherd image courtesy of Farky. Colin Linden image courtesy of Stephen Dyrgas.