Summertime Blues artistic director Grant Payne said this year he’s put together “probably the strongest festival we’ve ever had in the history of the event.”
“Last time we were all local and regional. This year we’re local, regional, national and artists from the United States,” Payne said of the four-day festival, which takes place at Maffeo Sutton Park from Aug. 22 to 25. “So it’s a much bigger lineup with some very prominent names in the blues genre.”
These include Walter Trout, former guitarist for John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Tom Lavin and the Legendary Powder Blues, whom Payne calls a “Canadian icon,” and the Proven Ones, a “West Coast super group” featuring musician who played in the Fabulous Thunderbirds and have accompanied numerous renowned blues artists.
Another one of those prominent names is Ottawa’s Sue Foley, who started her recording career in Austin, Texas in the early ‘90s, but returned home around the turn of the century to raise her son.
“He’s all grown up and I’m back on the road,” she said.
Foley’s most recent album, 2018’s The Ice Queen, marks her return to Austin. She said the album title is a reference to her Canadian background and as it was written in the autumn, there are songs that allude to the coming of winter. The Ice Queen features many Austin-based musicians with guest appearances by Texas guitarists including Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Jimmie Vaughan, brother of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. She said it was a huge honour to work with them.
“They’re amazing people and obviously amazing musicians so I was just tickled that they would be so generous as to do this,” Foley said.
Coming from south of the border is Kansas City singer and guitarist Samantha Fish. This is her first performance in Nanaimo and the only Western Canada date on her current summer tour.
“I just like to hit ‘em with a heavy dose of fun and rock ‘n’ roll and try to cover a couple different albums just to give them a taste of what we do…” she said of playing for a new audience. “I’m always trying to put together a show that’s really dynamic and takes the audience on a bit of a trip.”
This fall Fish is releasing her sixth album, Kill or be Kind, which she describes as a collection of songs about love, heartbreak, happiness and those “conflicting emotions.” She recorded the album, which she said sees her stretch as an artist and stretch the blues genre, at Memphis’ famous Royal Studios.
“It’s where Al Green recorded every hit he had,” Fish said. “There’s so much soul that is just pouring out of the walls there it just seeps into your music. You get inspired by that.”
On the road she’s been playing a few new songs but she’s keeping the rest “under wraps” until the record is released.
“If I start playing the songs too early, by the time the album comes out I’ll be ready to do something else,” Fish said.
Payne said the Nanaimo Blues Society decided to recruit artists from outside the province this year because they want to give local blues fans the chance to see musicians that don’t often come to the Island. He said he also wants to turn Summertime Blues into a “destination festival” to attract audiences from beyond the local area.
He said that means putting together a festival with notable artists and a diversity of instrumentation and style.
“I don’t want to have eight guitar players one after another because it just gets kind of boring after a while,” he said.
Payne said this year’s Summertime Blues features a mix of harmonica players, keyboardists and guitarists representing Chicago blues, New Orleans blues, Memphis blues and more.
“There’s a lot of different genres there so I try to put together a combination of artists that will entertain well and work together well so that it’s not opposing, but complementing.”
WHAT’S ON … Summertime Blues takes place at Maffeo Sutton Park on Aug. 23, 24 and 25 starting at noon. $75 for singe day ticket, $170 for a weekend pass. Available at http://nanaimoblues.tickit.ca. Loaves and Fishes food bank charity concert on Aug. 22 starting at 4 p.m. Admission by non-perishable food item or $10 donation.