The Nanaimo Summertime Blues Festival is offering a stage for young musicians to showcase their talents this year.
Brought together by the Sunday Blues Jam sessions, held weekly at the Queen’s Hotel, James Vickers, Ezra Beaton, Malakai Robson, Sarah Varro, Carson Maertz and Cameron Boudrot will play the first act on Saturday, Aug. 13, as the Nanaimo Youth Blues Showcase.
The group, who are all 21 years and under, were brought together by Jackie Moisan, president of the Nanaimo Blues Society, who thought they made “a natural fit” together.
Vickers, 12, and Beaton, 14, both Indigenous Tsimshian and Haida musicians, promise a high energy show that will “serve a good dose of rock and blues.”
“We’re going to blow everybody away,” said Beaton.
The youth blues showcase started playing together earlier this spring, and since discovering their chemistry, “jam out” as often as possible.
“These parents and guardians, I can’t say enough about them for supporting the young people and bringing them out,” said Moisan.
The chemistry of them playing together was almost immediate, Vickers said.
“Sarah was on the drums the first time I ever played at the Queen’s … She’s the kind of drummer that people would ask for if they had a band – who would the drummer be? Oh, Sarah, obviously.”
Local musician Thomas Morris has been Vickers’s mentor since “day one.”
“He’s the reason why I got to play here in the first place. He told Jackie about me … And I like coming here because I get a lot of new lessons from a lot of great musicians who play here, for sure. Feedback from the crowd, and a feel for how it feels to play on stage.”
Vickers and Beaton will play the blues festival fresh from sharing the stage with Malakai – who uses his first name only as his stage name – on Aug. 1 during the 39 Days of July music festival in Duncan, and from “rocking out” the Hall Stage at the Kispiox Valley Music Festival late July.
Going beyond the summer, the two hope to play live for the Smithers radio station CICK after being invited to do so following their Kispiox performance.
When Moisan asked if Beaton would like to perform at the Nanaimo blues festival, Beaton’s uncle and James’ father, Noel, said his nephew’s jaw dropped into a wide smile. “He was just so excited, it was great.”
For the Aug. 13 showcase, the group plans to play 10 to 12 songs together, from 1-2 p.m., with Malakai performing several songs solo.
Moisan founded the jam sessions at the Queen’s and has carried it on for nine years.
“It really is about cross-pollinating the young players with the more experienced players. But it is a semi-pro jam – it’s not an open mic,” she said. “It gives them an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise. To be able to come in and at 12, 13, and 14 years of age and play with professional blues players, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
For the Summertime Blues Festival, running Aug. 11-14 at Maffeo Sutton Park, Moisan said there will also be a new soul and gospel hour featuring Louise Rose this year.
“Louise is on the other end of it – she’s in her mid-80s and she’s an absolute icon,” Moisan said.
Also new this year will be an opening on Saturday, Aug. 13, with Snuneymuxw drummers for a traditional welcoming ceremony.
In organizing this year’s event, Moisan said one of the biggest challenges was dealing with inflation costs and not being able to put on the festival for the price they were able to pre-pandemic.
She expressed her gratitude for the sponsors and the volunteers, including Youth 20/20 Can, without whom the blues society would not have been able to host the festival this year, “and the musicians who all stepped forward this year after two years of COVID to make this happen.”
Moisan also noted that on Thursday, Aug. 11, the Nanaimo Blues Society will be donating $5 of every ticket sale at the gate to Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank. She also encouraged attendees to bring a non-perishable food item to donate on Thursday.
Tickets can be purchased online at http://nanaimoblues.tickit.ca.