Shediac’s got the blues

Shediac’s got the blues coming to them. No, this has nothing to do with a decline in tourism, the economy or anything of the like.

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They literally have the blues coming to them.

From Friday July 31 through Sunday August 2, Shediac will be hosting the third Shediac Blues Festival at different venues throughout the town. The festival is attracting local names like Theresa Malenfant and Glamour Puss performing alongside notable artists such as Wes Mackey and Fredericton’s Keith Hallett.

Wes Mackey will be performing on Sunday August 2 at the Festival Tent. Born in the Southern US, he has had the unique distinction of having played in the backing band for such renowned blues artists like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker and even backed up Motown legends Martha and The Vandellas.

“Way back in the day, I played in a band called The Rock n Roll Kings,” Mackey explains from his hotel room in Montreal, “and we used to back up all of the acts which came through the University of Georgia for shows.

“There was no rehearsal and absolutely no advance notice of what songs these guys would be playing during their set. You just got up and played!”

The list of artists that Mackey has backed is impressive to read about now so it is all the more astonishing to hear him admit that at the time, backing these guys really wasn’t that big of a deal.

“They were all just regular guys; there was nothing special about them then. Now it’s a lot bigger of a deal when we talk about them; a lot of those guys have gained legendary status in the blues world.”

Mackey even had the chance to perform with another Motown star.

“One time I was playing in New York City at a club called Smalls Paradise,” Mackey relays. “It was owned by Wilt Chamberlain and was directly across the street from the Apollo Theatre. Stevie Wonder would drop by and do guest spots with us after his shows across the street; it was right around the time of his hit ‘Signed, Sealed and Delivered’ and was a pretty cool thing to be a part of.”

Sharing a bill with Wes Mackey is Moncton blues band Glamour Puss, who is reemerging into the music scene after lying low for a period of time. Glamour Puss guitarist/vocalist Travis Furlong is looking forward to the band’s return to the stage and to the blues festival specifically.

“The Shediac Blues Festival is going to be awesome. We know we will be seeing many familiar faces and can’t wait to make new friends at the show,” says Furlong. “Having a blues festival so close to home and in a beautiful area like Shediac is a huge treat. We are proud and excited to be a part of such a well-planned event.”

While rock and roll and country music festivals have proven their popularity in the Maritimes, the blues festival is catering to a growing number of fans and according to Furlong, gives a much needed boost to the genre in the Maritimes and beyond.

“An event like The Shediac Blues Festival is integral to the growth of blues talent and gives a much needed venue for established local and international blues acts,” Furlong states. “Perhaps most importantly, the blues festival gives fans a chance to hear their favorite music, or to find blues music for the first time. Young people are growing tired of formulaic music and are turning to local young blues and jam bands for something real.”

Nick Cormier is a member of the Moncton-based Eric and the Blues Band, a relatively young act who cite artists like Led Zeppelin, Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran among their influences. They will be using the festival to showcase their songs after answering the call for submissions that was put out by the festival.

“My father mentioned an article in the Times-Transcript mentioning that the festival was looking for bands. I submitted some material from the band and a few weeks later, we got word that we had been accepted,” Cormier says.

Indeed, the blues aren’t an old man’s game anymore, although some would dispute that it was never was exclusively so anyway. To help drive interest in the blues across various age groups, the opening night of the festival will see a “battle of the bands” competition that will see five bands, including Cormier’s, compete for a $2,000 prize.

Furlong sees much value in such a competition, as it can only serve to further develop younger acts taking an interest in the blues and helping to ensure blues bands for audiences in the future.

“The mainstream rock and country festivals that the region has hosted have done a great job at getting our area on the map,” Furlong says. “Now, I think we should shift our focus to helping local blues bands to be some of the opening acts for these huge shows. Getting exposure for our homegrown blues talent to promoters, managers and others within the industry is the next logical step.”

Cormier agrees with Furlong, noting that he would consider it to be a great feat to see blues acts take a more prominent role in festivals that are not typically blues-oriented, such as the recently held Evolve Festival in Nova Scotia.

With the public’s support, the Shediac Blues festival will serve to fuel interest in the genre and continue to flourish over the coming years. Support of the smaller music festivals is just as important if not more so as the large scale festivals as it shows that the region is able to financially support multiple music festivals and also show that there is a demand for non-commercial music as well.

I highly recommend taking in some of the best new and established blues talent at the Shediac Blues Festival.

For more information on the Shediac Blues Festival, call (506) 532-5333.

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