My soul was going on a groovy, magical journey. Eyes closed, I could feel my body swaying and dipping into the sounds dancing off the stage. My body hung on every note, every passionate melody, each pluck and strum of the guitar. I had forgotten I was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Yes, I was at the Saskatoon Blues Festival in Saskatchewan. Admittedly, I had no idea that the city even had a Blues Society or a Blues Festival (and a well known one to boot!).
I had the opportunity to sit down with Al Wood, President of the Saskatoon Blues Society, to get some insight into the festival and the Saskatoon Blues scene. As it turns out, the city has a strong Blues music scene and a history of teaching children the Blues at an early age to nurture their passion. Thirteen years ago, a Blues Society was created to promote, support and celebrate Blues music in Saskatoon, which led to an annual winter Blues Festival showcasing national and international Blues artists.
Well known amongst Blues artists in Canada, the Festival has a rich and diverse Blues community outreach program along with a line-up of world class musicians who pour their hearts and souls out on the festival’s acoustic and electric stages. This year it featured musicians with diverse styles of Blues such as award winning Suzie Vinnick, Swamp Blues Queen Kat Danser, Austin Texas Blues band Omar and the Howlers, Lucky Peterson, Tommy Castro and the Painkillers and Morgan Davis.
I love live music, and after feverishly YouTubing some of the performers, I couldn’t wait to take in three straight nights of soul rocking sounds. Being a Festival newbie, I decided to split my time between the acoustic and electric stage.
Each stage has its own unique vibe, and along with it, characteristically different audiences. The acoustic stage is an intimate listening room where the audience simply sits and listens, appreciating the sounds and rhythms, punctuated by storytelling. Singers narrate the history of Blues, taking you through the roots of this genre and perform a variety of styles from traditional field-hollers and working songs to contemporary Blues all while using only their voices, acoustic guitars and old cigar boxes fashioned into working guitars. With each slide and riff, I felt pulled closer and deeper into the music and their stories.
Now, if you want a dynamic music experience where you can throw yourself into it and lose yourself on the dance floor, you need to hit the electric stage for some hard-rocking Blues sounds and crazy ass guitar solos. It was like being at a rock concert, minus the mosh-pit scene and being pin-balled around by concert goers. I was able to get right up to the front of the stage to jam and groove.
So what makes the Saskatoon Blues Festival special and different from other Blues Festivals?
I was surprised to hear that both the Blues Society and the Festival are run 100% by dedicated and passionate volunteers! In addition to live music, the Festival also incorporates various community outreach programs during festival week such as a Blues in Schools program that teaches students the history and basics of Blues music, Blues camps and musical performances in extended care homes. Local Blues musicians and artists performing in the festival are invited to take part in these programs.
The festival is known to be very well run and in the words of Edmonton Blues musician, Kat Danser, “the Saskatoon Blues Society is one of Canada’s Finest”. Its “commitment to forwarding Blues for generations to come” and role in preserving and “building the Blues community across Canada” through the “integration of old pros and regionally developing talent” in their Blues in Schools program is “one-of-a-kind”.
Choosing to return to participate in the Saskatoon Blues Festival is an easy decision for Kat Danser. The support she receives as a female Blues musician and her love of the Saskatoon Blues community, fans, volunteers and lifelong friendships created there keep her coming back. It’s evident that the Saskatoon Blues Festival and Society have a solid reputation and that Saskatoon’s hospitality certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.
If you find yourself in Saskatoon and want to check out what’s happening on the Blues scene while you’re in the city, contact the Blues Society for the latest events. You can plan your trip for next year’s festival; the 2015 festival dates are available on their website.
This post was originally published in Eat Drink Travel Magazine. A special thank you to Tourism Saskatoon for supporting this trip and to the Saskatoon Blues Society for providing me with tickets into the Blues Festival.