The 20th anniversary edition of the Roots and Blues Festival is shaping up to be another affair to remember.
The slate continues to expand and artistic director Hugo Rampen is now ruminating about the workshops he puts together every year – jam-sessions where performers share the stage, often without having met each other – and almost always with amazing, crowd-pleasing results.
“Early on in the booking process, I was so short of female performers,” he says. “But we’re at the end of the process and I look at the quality of the female performers – it’s phenomenal, and I’m really excited about those voices and putting them together in workshops.”
Back on the booking line, five more powerhouse groups have signed on recently, adding even more roots, blues and soul to an already eclectic musical menu.
One of the female sounds Rampen is looking forward to hearing is that of Cold Specks songwriter and vocalist Al Spx from Etobicoke, Ont., who now lives in London, England.
The band’s name is taken from a line in James Joyce’s Ulysses: “Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.”
Describing her sound as “doom soul,” Cold Specks’ music is steeped in the musical traditions of the Deep South.
Then there’s Cherine, known by many as the “queen of dance hall soul,” offering a mix of dancehall, reggae, soul and r&b.
Her genre-defying grooves coupled with her powerful voice and thought-provoking lyrics have brought her in front of well over one million live audience fans and the numbers keeps growing.
With an ever-increasing army of supporters she affectionately calls her “dancehall-SOULdiers,” she has toured Jamaica, Europe, Canada, Australia and the U.S.
Two other newly signed and fabulous bands hail from Wild Rose Country next door.
The Kirby Sewell Band is a high energy, soul-slinging R & B band, reaching out with modern interpretations.
Known for their passionate live performances, the monster six-piece extravaganza serves up what they call alternative blues, with melodic heart-pulling stories from the depths of an old soul, while breathing new musical life into a genre.
With the same kind of long and rich tradition, but born often of pain and suffering, come the Black Pioneer Heritage Singers.
Incorporating a wide variety of styles from field chants, rich spirituals, gospel standards, and rollicking call and response, these singers are blood descendants of slaves from the Deep South who helped to settle Alberta in the early 1900s.
With their spirit-filled sound that is universal in its appeal yet seldom heard outside of the southern U.S., the Heritage Singers give an authentic representation of these centuries-old styles of singing along with the little-known history of the slave descendants who settled Alberta starting in 1905.
The pain of bondage and the celebration of freedom are skillfully presented through tight harmonies, soaring vocals, hand rhythms and lush vocal dynamics.
From the U.S. Pacific Northwest, and about to release their new CD, Brother Sinner and the Whale, Kelly Joe Phelps is returning to the Roots and Blues Stage after a seven-year hiatus.
Cut from America’s folk and blues traditions, his music is rendered thoroughly modern by his unique ability to improvise – guitar and voice alike – within what would seem an unmovable context.
Phelps describes the music he writes and sings as folk/blues and explains songs are never performed exactly the same way. They are instead coloured and shaded by the nuances particular to a moment, venue, stage, evening, energy, etc.
“I approach music this way to give it a chance to breathe, walk, or whisper,” he says, noting improvisation, even in small amounts, can turn a song into a conversation in real time, with all of the unexpected twists and turns that any conversation is going to have…”
Since his 1994 debut album, the Pacific Northwest-based singer and songwriter has written and performed some of the most compelling slide guitar-based music ever recorded.
Tickets for this 20th anniversary extravaganza are available online at www.rootsandblues.ca, at 250-833-4096 or by dropping in at the office on the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds.