Burnaby Blues and Roots FestivalDate: August 9th, 2009 Venue: Deer Lake Park
August 9, 2009 marks Burnaby’s 10th Annual Blues and Roots Festival at Deer Lake Park. Despite a rainy forecast, the weather in Burnaby, BC became surprisingly sunny; rolled up jeans become common and many rain jackets are shed. People in the Chevron-sponsored tent are also giving away tiny bottles of sunscreen, so for those who forgot theirs at home, or thought they wouldn’t need any (that would be me), these could help prevent getting red in the face. An “Artisan Tent” is also set up, where vendors can sell sculptures, clothing and buttons with funny sayings like “Dinosaurs Against Extinction.” The food is sometimes pricey, but how can you resist a Nutella and banana crepe? Fans of all ages are in attendance and the anticipation for the Festival to start is palpable.
There are two stages set up and the first performer on the Garden Stage is Rich Hope. This two-man band consists of Rich Hope on guitar and vocals and Adrian Mack on drums and backing vocals. With a big personality and charismatic demeanor onstage, Rich Hope is a fantastic opening to the Festival. Dirty, electric blues at its best, Rich Hope is not an act to be missed.
Next on the Garden Stage is Oh Susanna, a talent from Toronto with a wonderfully beautiful voice. Melancholic and genuine, Oh Susanna sings the blues so authentically that she makes me almost want to cry. And setting up on the Lake Stage is J. J. Grey and Mofro, a band from Jacksonville, Florida that features a big brass section and an equally big sound. We switch back to the Graden Stage where Tinsley Ellis is performing.
Another Festival highlight is Raul Malo. Previously of the Grammy award-winning alternative country music band The Mavericks, Malo has since branched out to grace audiences with his own brand of country inspired, Latin infused blues music. Citing Elvis Presley as one of his heroes, there is obvious influence from the old rock ‘n’ roll star.
Of course, the Festival saves the veteran performers, and perhaps the best performances, for last. Right as Sharon Jones starts belting that big old voice of hers, I know that her set is bound to be amazing. We rush to the front of the stage and are stunned and awed by Sharon’s energy, class and sheer natural talent. Not only are her vocals phenomenal, but her dancing is incredible and infectious. Think James Brown and Tina Turner all rolled into one person and you have Sharon Jones. And backing the unbelievable show(wo)man are the fabulous Dap-Kings, house band for Daptone Records. They are so good that Amy Winehouse hired them to back her up on her Back to Black record and on tour. These guys are some serious musicians and the combination of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings is surely unstoppable. Finishing with “100 Days 100 Nights” and then coming back to do an encore with “Answer Me,” the crowd (myself included) loves the songstress and the band, and do not want their set to end!
And as the big headliner of the evening, Smokey Robinson delivers a solid set of hits including both new tunes and fan favourites. With an effortless falsetto, Smokey pleases and woos the crowd with his performance. Looking amazing despite his 69 years, Smokey was giving everyone at the Festival a wonderful set full of classic Motown songs, including “Tears of a Clown,” “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” and “Who’s Lovin’ You,” among others. Along with a great singing voice, Smokey also penned a lot of great tracks for some of the great Motown singers, such as The Temptations. Performing a medley of their classic hits, including “My Girl” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” Smokey has the entire crowd cheering, proving that he is indeed one of the greatest Motown artists. Ending with “The Tracks of My Tears,” Smokey finishes Burnaby’s 10th Annual Blues and Roots Festival with class, grace and irreplaceable artistry.
In the end, the Festival appears to be a huge success. Summertime is the perfect time for outdoor festivals and Deer Lake Park is a beautiful venue for musical performances of any kind. Burnaby’s Blues and Roots Festival is an event not to be missed by those who enjoy music festivals of any kind: the vibe is chill, the patrons are friendly and the atmosphere is beautiful. Many thanks to everyone involved in this wonderful event; it is becoming a yearly summer staple that should be recognized for its ability to get all of these great acts in one space. Until next year, let’s hope I haven’t sold my own soul to the Devil.