Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival

NIGHTS ON BROADWAY ARE HOT HOT HOT! And so are the days when the Orangeville Blues and Jazz comes to town. The festival has definitely found its groove.

March 22, 2007 | | Back Issues

Dateline : June, 2006 – Monday morning. Thank god for routine. Partying with the stars is exhausting business and I did a lot of jumpin’ and jivin’ this weekend – where else but at our very own Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival, brainchild of musician and woodworker Larry Kurtz.

Memories of slick harmonica and “daddy-cool” stand-up bass are still making my dancing muscles twitch.

And, yes, we were rained on. Rather a lot in fact. But here’s what I’ve learned about gigs dragged down by weather: for every audience member forced to leave, the musician works twice as hard to convince the rest to stay.

For instance, the Gary Kendall Band was playing to an audience of twelve under a rainy blue tarp at the Old Train Station, but you would never have known they weren’t having the time of their lives. When it wasn’t raining, Michael Keys played his “easy jazz” piano outside Dragonfly, and when it was he moved it back in. These guys take the “show-must-go-on” credo seriously.

Certainly there were many drier and more comfortable places to be. Beverly Taft played delicious little jazzy numbers in the cozy Café Uno. And if the rest of my party crew hadn’t had enough food, fun and music that night we’d have hit the Winchester Arms for a pint and a listen to Erin McCallum.

There were concerts at two other great restaurants. Mono Cliffs Inn had a local band, The Cellars, on Friday night and the Mike Dennett Quintet on Saturday.

In the opposite direction, David’s Restaurant in Erin had folks working up a sweat with Fathead on Friday night, and Sab on Saturday.

Believe me, we did try to make it to as many shows as possible, but I’m here to tell you it would be darned near impossible to do them all. We stuck to the mainstage shows and the Broadway strip, enjoying “appies” at the White Truffle with local musicians Bob Hewus on stand-up bass and Bob Parkins playing sultry jazz piano. Then on to Juniper Grill for entrées and sassy performances by Dean McTaggert and Danny Brooks.

The Paul James concert was a roaring success at Broadway Musical’s shiny new location at one end of Broadway and my scouts tell me that Kevin Breitt and the Sisters Euclid outdid themselves in the opposite direction at the beautiful Acoustic Traditions locale.

And there was more – so much more: 160 performers, 26 locations and 14,000 music lovers in all.

In four short years, festival founder Larry Kurtz had turned a passion for the blues into something we can all share.

His army of volunteers makes things move along like clockwork with seamless breaks between acts. Their dedication to the success of the event is what has brought some of the world’s finest musicians to our little town.

Those musicians include Michael Pickett, Jane Bunnett and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, as well as Paul James, Jack de Keyser, Wayne Buttery & the Groove Project, and Downchild Blues Band.

But the festival also gives plenty of local talent a chance to strut their considerable stuff: Perry Joseph, Ryan Grist, Heather Katz, the Campfire Poets (love the name) and Larry’s own band, Trouble and Strife, which also features Bruce Ley and his son, Michael (and was nominated as Favourite Blues Group at this year’s Independent Music Awards).

Younger, budding musicians, such as David Joseph and John Scott along with other local students have taken the stage in the past, with outstanding results. Did I mention the hills are alive…?

Anyway, back to why my head is still pounding. Alan Gerber rocked my socks off at the gala opening at the Old Train Station. He’s been in the biz a long time and shows no signs of slowing down. Piano, slide guitar and fiddle are scratched and old with pounding use. My daughter and her friends saw him the next night and confirmed he’s crazy cool – a fabulous wordsmith and composer. (Note to self: next time buy the CD when you have the chance.)

 

The shows on the main stage at Alexandra Park are free to all comers – hooray! Beer tent and food stalls make the experience complete. We parked our lawn chairs, put on hats, and prepared to dance, sing and applaud Swing Rosie, Danny Marks, David Rotundo, Curley Bridges, Kevin Turcotte, Barry Elmes and the Toronto Mass Choir, to name just a few of the outstanding acts that dazzled the crowd.

I was heading away from it all for a bit when Harrison Kennedy’s voice pulled me back to the circle of sound. The former member of the popular R&B band, Chairmen of the Board, has a fetching “come-hither” voice that I just had to take home with me. (I mean I did buy the CD.)

Photographer Pete Paterson and I supped with the tiny but fully impassioned Robyn Pauhl. She was unwinding after an intense day in which her mother and grandmother – both also in the music business – had been in the audience.

Another performer who deserves special mention is Chuck Jackson. This Port Credit boy is a long-time member of the Cameo Blues Band and the Downchild Blues Band. He served apprenticeships with Bo Diddley and James Cotton and jammed with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

Chuck throws the annual Southside Shuffle – a kind of blues-and-jazz walking tour along the rejuvenated Lakeshore Road in Port Credit – way fun. Chuck has played gigs in Orangeville for thirty-seven years – cutting his teeth at the old Grand Hotel. He’ll be playing the festival again this year, promoting Downchild’s new CD.

And what do Orangeville business people think of the event? Well, enough that it was voted “Best Downtown Initiative” by the BIA in 2003, the festival’s inaugural year, and “Best Festival or Event” by the Hills of Headwaters Tourism Association in 2005.

I spoke to Janice Gooding, owner of As We Grow, a fixture on Broadway for twenty-five years. Janice spent nine years on town council, six as reeve, and now manages the Farmers’ Market. A tireless town promoter, Janice credits Larry Kurtz for his “genuine way with people.” The festival buzz, she says, “puts Orangeville on the musical map.”

With the restaurants full and visiting musicians and fans enthusiastic about the town, Janice says, “Larry’s vision for the festival has received tremendous support in our community, particularly downtown.”

And the business community has responded in kind, with sponsorships and a grant of from the BIA that jumped to $30,000 this year from $8,000 in 2006. (The Town of Orangeville is contributing $10,000.)

Larry and friends have recently applied for their first provincial grant. If it comes through, the $54,000 Celebrate Ontario funding will allow for a second outdoor stage to feature local students and other community programming, as well as extending the festival’s marketing efforts into upstate New York and Quebec.

In the meantime, you can be a sponsor for as little as $50. And you can attend the fundraising screening of the Dixie Chicks’ Shut Up and Sing, co-sponsored by Monday Night at the Movies at Galaxy Cinemas on April 16.

Boycotted by country music radio stations and fans for their blunt, post 9/11 criticisms of George W. Bush and his invasion of Iraq, the Chicks didn’t back down and public opinion has swung back in their favour. When they swept record of the year and four other Grammy awards last month, the all-American audience leapt to its feet with cheers. The movie tells their story.

Other fundraising initiatives include a fashion show at As We Grow, featuring Ryan Grist on sax, on April 26. And Larry is also arranging a promotional CD featuring music from past performers. Be sure to pick one up at local music stores.

Larry started planning for this year’s event the day after last year’s ended. He tells me that this year we can expect return visits from Jack de Keyser, Kevin Mark, Alan Gerber, Fathead, and Bill King and the Real Divas (one of whom again is Heather Katz).

And he has booked some exciting headliners for this year. They include the African Guitar Summit. The 2005 Juno winners are a musical collaborative of nine of Canada’s best guitarists of African origin, including Adam Solomon and Madagascar Slim.

Also on the 2007 marquee are legendary pianist/composer Joe Sealey, who will play with Ryan Grist, and the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece Canadian band headed by veteran trombonist McMurdo.

It’s an impressive line-up, and Larry is pleased with the festival’s steady growth. Still, he notes, “it will take another twenty years to get every musician through that I’d like to bring here.”

Keep a weather eye for this year’s posters and flyers and plan to come out the first weekend in June.

Ya gotta be there!

About the Author More by Lisa Watson

Orangeville writer and musician Lisa Watson released her CD, Love Songs for the Open Range in 2012.

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