This year's BluesFest International took place July 13-16 in Windsor, Ontario along the Detroit River and simultaneously at the Covent Garden Market in London, Ontario. The festival began humbly 5 years ago on a downtown Windsor Street. Just a few local Detroit and Windsor bands were featured at the first one, which was attended by a few hundred people. Within a couple years the festival expanded to 2 sites. The original in Windsor and Novi, MI a suburb of neighboring Detroit, giving the festival an international feel and flavor. By now big namers such as Junior Wells, Buckwheat Zydeco, Downchild Blues Band, James Cotton, Eddy Clearwater and Buddy Guy were common to the festival. Attendance climbed into the thousands with people being attracted from all over Ontario and the immediately neighboring States.
This year London, Ontario replaced Novi, MI as the second site but the festival kept its international name. I was interested in seeing the new venue so I headed off to London. The stage was located in front of the new Covenant Market, right in the heart of downtown London. It was a beautiful site, not far from the former Talbot Inn, which formerly housed the Firehall blues club, which was known as London's home of the Blues. Rain and below seasonally temperatures plagued the festival. But the outstanding lineup of both blues and rock artists ensured that every seat was taken on every day.
Legendary British blues guitarist Kim Simmonds has been laying down the blues-rock foundation for over thirty years. In 1966, he formed the group Savoy Brown in the prime of the British Blues golden era. In fact, he is credited with helping to start the British Blues movement of that period. He started rockin' blues boogie-woogie and paved the way for the likes of blues rockers like Johnny Winter. At Blues Fest International, Simmonds led his trio through a powerhouse set. Tunes included "Tell Mama", "Little Red Rooster", "Wang Dang Doodle", and "Boogie Chillen". At one point, Kim brought out his Gibson ES, and played some wild slide guitar.
Another power trio followed Savoy Brown. It was the Greg Serrato Band from Ontario, CA. This left-handed guitarist laid down some blazing riffs in the vein of Coco Montoya. Among original tunes they played scorching versions of 'Voodoo Chile', 'All Along The Watchtower' and 'Flooding In Texas'. Keep an eye out for this up and coming band.
The influence of the Texas guitar greats is easily heard in the music of Sonny Rhodes. However he is best known for his lap-steel blues guitar playing, which he learned from
Oakland bluesman L.C. 'Good Rockin'' Robinson. Last year while traveling to a gig, Rhodes was in a terrible accident with his van. He managed to escape only to see all his equipment go up in smoke. Based, on his performance at this festival, he has fully recovered from the accident.
Including Sonny, the band had a total of 3 guitarists all equally gifted. Sonny and his band told the crowd how they had traveled through 2 deserts to get to the festival but unfortunately got lost and didn't appear the night before at the Windsor site. His real blues set was the highlight of the festival. It was mainly Texas blues with the influences of Albert Collins and T-Bone Walker easily heard on every note. His performance ended with the song "Like a Rainbow" which was a tribute to Johnny Clyde Copeland. This received the first standing ovation of the day.
Other artists on this year's bill included: Mudpuppy, Rik Emmett, Leon Russell, Colin James, Scott Holt, Downchild Blues Band, Andy J Forest and Big Jack Johnson. Once again it proved to be the party of the year in Southern Ontario.
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