(WINDSOR, ON) – Windsor came to party and party they did. The Festival Plaza was chilling to the blues as 14 internationally acclaimed acts transformed the riverfront venue into the hippest happening joint over the weekend.
Showcasing unmatched local talent, and mixed with the best artists from the rest of Canada and the US, Bluesfest Windsor 2015, the 21st edition of one of North America’s largest music reviews, was an unrivalled success from the Dave Edwards and The Look to the final strains of Leo Lyons and the Hundred Seventy Split.
The Detroit mainstays The Look opened the festival with a bluesy-rocking set that had the early audience clambering for more. Unlike a typical festival where the performers quickly depart for their hotels or on to other shows, at Bluesfest Windsor it was common to see artists among the crowd watching the shows. Dave Edwards couldn’t get enough of Morgan Davis and was excited to see Lowrider Band, later in the evening.
Stealing the show Friday, however, was Reverend Peyton and his Big Damn Band. The high-energy trio converted the congregation to their brand of back-road religion. The faithful could be seen dancing in the aisles like holy-rollers at a Sunday social, hard-pressed to keep up the pace the good reverend laid down for them.
Peyton rode the crowd hard and put them away wet. By the time Lowrider Band took the stage, the fans were more than ready to ease into the Latin strains of many of the hits of War. When the band broke into their namesake tune, the audience was back on their feet in appreciation.
Saturday’s line-up didn’t get started until 6:30 pm when Big Ray and the Motor City Kings got things going. Those who were at the fest on Friday needed the time to recover and recharge, but they were thrown into the fray as Big Ray didn’t take any prisoners. The Kings’ driving performance led nicely into Groove Council’s funk- and soul-filled rifts which gave the crowd a chance to sit back and, well, groove.
There must be something in the milk in Wisconsin. The Jimmys frontman, Jimmy Voegeli, a fifth generation dairy farmer near Madison, is a keyboardist at heart. He’s gathered a band six musicians who look like they are having the time of their lives on stage and that passion for performing exudes every note. In turn is generated an equal response from the audience. It is no wonder the Jimmys are a perennial favourite amongst Windsorites.
Rick Vito and The Lucky Devils were fourth on the bill Saturday evening, and they appeared with special guest keyboardist Reese Wynans. The blues purist put on a display of guitar genius and was ably backed as Wynans pounded the chords on the organ. By the time that Gregg Rolie hit the stage the house was again primed for a grand finale.
The co-founder of Santana, and fan favourite in Windsor, didn’t disappoint. The Latin-rock fusion dominated the setlist and the patrons could be heard singing along with Oye como va, Evil Ways, and Black Magic Woman. It was difficult to conceive how the Bluesfest organizers could top Friday night, by Day 2 of the festival exceeded all expectations.
By the time Sunday rolled around, it was time to lay back and take things down a notch, especially those of us who had been there from the opening note. The fans got up close and personal with six artists on the day’s bill, at an intimate early afternoon question and answer segment hosted by Ken Kokstad. Leo Lyons, Joe Gooch, Cheryl Lescom, Scott Holt, and Robin Banks thrilled those in attendance with anecdotes from their careers in music, a few jokes, and an hour of jamming to their favourite blues tunes.
As that was happening, the best guitarist Essex County has to offer was setting up on the main stage. Assumption College School grad and recently accepted to Berklee School of Music in Boston, Christian Vegh is a guitar virtuoso who wasted no time getting down. The masses gathered at the stage when the first notes were heard and the appreciative onlookers gave the band a standing ovation after the final song, Rush’s Spirit of Radio.
Chatham’s own Miss Robin Banks brought her repertoire to Windsor, belting out the vocals of over a dozen tunes with jazz-like clarity and precision. In a way only she can, Kitchener’s Cheryl Lescom filled the river air with a throaty huskiness that evoked the image of a smoke-filled Louisiana juke joint. She and The Tucson Choir Boys plied the house with an intoxicating musical mixture.
Throwing open the VIP section to all, the organizers gave the gift of Scott Holt to all the festival goers. Firstly and lastly a lover of music and performing, Holt’s every move on stage elated the spectators who mistakenly thought Sunday was a day of rest. Otherwise at home with his family, the Tennessee native made a special trip to Windsor for the festival and the crowd responded with a welcome reserved for conquering heroes. The ever gracious Holt tried to extend his set as long as possible in return.
What do Gregg Rolie, Leo Lyons, and Michael Shrieve have in common? They all played at Woodstock and they all appeared at Bluesfest Windsor 2015; Shrieve as the drummer for Rolie and Lyons as the frontman for The Hundred Seventy Split.
Lyons closed the show as he, Gooch, and Damon Sawyer rocked the remaining diehards of around 2,000. Lyons brought the hit songs from his previous band, Ten Years After, that no other venue in North America will hear this year. The Wales-based band has cancelled all tour dates on this side of the pond except for Bluesfest Windsor.
With the 2015 line-up it is not hard to understand how 25,000 to 30,000 fans made their way to the waterfront. It wasn’t completely to do with the three days of perfect weather for the concert.