This last Saturday, “And it Rocks” turned to “And it Blues” as we were invited to the 14th annual Burnaby Blues + Roots festival which took place in Deer Lake Park. It was an eventful day that started with clouds and the look of rain but quickly changed to warmth and blue skies for the start of the shows. Both headlining and closing this year’s festival was the Canadian Hall of Fame inductee and multiple Juno Award winning band, Blue Rodeo.

Also on the bill were a number of established and upcoming Canadian and International performers, entertaining on three stages. Here is a breakdown of the times and stages where each musician performed. Highlighted in blue are the artists heard and seen, and in red, the ones which were unfortunately, missed.

Main Stage

Blue Rodeo – 8:30pm-10:00pm
Charles Bradley – 6:45pm-8:00pm
ZZ Ward – 5:30pm-6:20pm
Shakura S’Aida – 4:00pm-4:45pm
Ndidi Onukwulu – 2:30pm-3:15pm
David Gogo – 1:05pm-1:45pm

Westwood Stage

Jon and Roy – 4:45pm-5:30pm
The Sojourners – 3:15pm-4:00pm
Brickhouse – 1:45pm-2:30pm

Garden Stage

John Lee Sanders – 4:45pm-5:30pm
Vince Vaccaro – 3:15pm-4:00pm
Shaun Verreault – 1:45pm-2:30pm

Conveniently, a shuttle was provided to ferry festival-goers from the parking lots at the Willingdon edge of Deer Lake Park, to the festival grounds next to the Shadbolt Centre. On entering the gates, the festival layout was fairly easy to navigate. There were spaces for food vendors, a market for clothes, a row of tents selling assorted wares, watering stations, and restroom facilities. The festival also featured a contest held by Tourism Burnaby to win an electric guitar, and the winner was presented with the prize (more on that later) on the mains stage.

There was also a space overlooking the main stage which was reserved for a VIP event hosted by Hilton Hotels. Finding music was fairly straight forward on the festival grounds, and the online schedule made it easy to double check the stage where each entertainer was to perform.

On the garden stage, Shaun Verreault and his band were plugged in and ready to rock. Festival goers dotted the grass in front of the stage soaking in the sun and enjoying the music. Couples were at the front side dancing along in their own secret worlds. For those who do not know, Shaun is the primary songwriter and guitarist for the popular Canadian rock band, Wide Mouth Mason. The intimacy of the stage set up meant that everyone had a good seat and that the amps were left lower than usual. With that said, his set was entertaining and lively albeit missing the grander movements more common on a larger stage.

Ndidi Onukwulu started at 2:30 on the main stage, and put on an entertaining set of original music. Warm and smooth, Ndidi’s vocals moved through her set of bluesy jazzy compositions. She ended her set with an entreaty to the crowd to get out to support more Canadian artists and performers, explaining that she spends more time in Europe because there is not enough work for her here. Whether this was an appropriate comment to make to a paying crowd is open to discussion, but it admirable when our Nation’s creative folk open the door to allow us to understand what affects them directly.

Over on the Westwood Stage, The Sojourners set up, and the crowd quickly formed. The stage here was similar to the Garden Stage, but with the area before the stage covered inside the tent. The Sojourners initially started as a backing group to local blues great Jim Byrnes and then went on to independent success as a Gospel Trio with opening slots for Doctor John and Jim Byrnes in addition to performances at several music festivals. For this particular set the trio brought a drummer, bass, and guitar player to complete their sound. Things were hopping under the tent!

Unfortunately (or fortunately) Peak FM radio station favourite, Vince Vaccaro, was on the Garden Stage at the same time performing to the crowd in the sun. However, shadows were stretching from under trees to keep those wished to be free from the rays. Vince has a number of radio friendly songs over the past few years, and has grown a solid local following over the years. He performed most of the set with his quartet, with a few songs featuring Shawn Verreault, or alone on the guitar for others.

Shakura S’Aida was up next on the Main Stage where she brought her uniquely soulful blues to the crowd. Backed by strong band, and a great stage presence, Shakura successfully kept the crowd with her throughout the set. There were many special moments where guitarist Heather Crawford shared the spotlight Shakura, and times when Heather was given it for herself. The beauty of more traditional Blues is that there are always moments when each musician can play to their strengths, and if anything, that was something to take away from this performance.

At 5:30pm, the main stage opened up for the evening to shows, and lovely and talented ZZ Ward (Zsuzsanna) arrived on stage with her group to give a successful and rousing performance of alt-rock bluesy music. This show was a bit of a warm-up for the group in preparation for their upcoming Down and Dirty Shine Tour (you can purchase tickets for future shows via ticketmaster: ZZ Ward Down and Dirty Tour). For those new to ZZ, she’s been a musical guest on several American talk shows.

The Charles Bradley show started with an extended musical introduction from the his Extraordinaires and then a formal introduction to the crowd from organist, Mike Deller (The Budos Band, Menahan Street Band, Extraordinaires) whereupon Charles walked onto the stage to launch the set. The entire scene was very reminiscent of James Brown, and fortunately, Mr. Bradley and his band have the chops to stand next to those greats. This is the second consecutive summer And it Rocks has covered Charles Bradley, and it is fair to say that his set is strengthened by his most recent release, Victim of Love. At the end of the set, Charles came down to the crowd and hugged every one in the front row. This is the act of an earnest, hardworking, and grounded man. For all the showmanship Charles shows, you can

Before the start of Blue Rodeo, the winner of the electric guitarJulianna accepts guitar from Matthew Coyne was announced. A ten year old girl named Julianna won a contest hosted by Tourisem Burnaby, and she was brought on stage by the Festival to receive the instrument from Tourism Burnaby’s Executive Director Matthew Coyne. As you can tell from the photos, winning certainly made Julianna’s night, and this moment made this photographer, as the crowd applauded.

The crowd seemed to double as Blue Rodeo were announced, and with good reason. Blue Rodeo have been performing now for over 29 years and have a preceding reputation for both looking and sounding fantastic in person. Between Jim Cuddy’s impressively (blue-eyed) soulful lilting inflections, and the rocking psychedelia of Greg Keelor’s lead vocals, there are many directions the band could go on any given night, and their 12 albums worth of cleverly understated melodic alt-rock have successfully explored many of them. This evening was a wonderful mix of both as the band performed both new material, and many of their greatest hits.

After photographing Blue Rodeo from the pit, and a little time at the front, I moved to the back up top as the band continued to play, as a means to soak in the experience, perhaps as my own way to take it home with me, observing that the crowd below were so in tuned with the band, and that the large screens so common at large festivals, allowed distant viewers such as myself a different perspective to the happenings on stage. As with all festivals, the line up for the Burnaby Blues + Roots Festival was eclectic, a reality most festivals need to embrace in order to survive. As a reviewer, then, I’m happy to report that this year’s festival was a great success, and it is with anticipation that I await the announcement of next year’s event.

Photographs and words © Gerry Toews /
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