2016 Trois-Rivieres en Blues Festival – Ascends to the top of the stack as one of this year’s best Blues Festivals. This is the eighth edition of this otherwise known Three Rivers Blues Fest by non-French speaking folks like me. This marks the second-year that the two-year old Cogeco Trois-Rivieres Amphitheater facility was utilized. This impressive amphitheater is gorgeous and is held up by eight columns, a thin and elegant roof takes advantage of the natural beauty of the site framing the majestic St. Lawrence River. Seating capacity is thirty-five hundred orchestra seats, the roof slopes upwards and out to the lawn area that can accommodate an additional fifty-five hundred outdoor patrons, it truly is a magnificent structure and a site to behold. Geographically: Trois-Rivieres is located in the province of Quebec, about ninety minutes northeast of Montreal, and approximately seventy-five minutes from historic Quebec City. Many (but not all) of the performances are free. Like previous years this festival offers a mix of Canadian talent and USA bands. This special four day event sizzles at the amphitheater and the downtown locations for four consecutive days and nights.
Day one; Opening night at the amphitheater was the veteran Angel Forrest whose career spans twenty-seven years, with nine albums credited to her name, Forrest was also the winner of the Maple Blues Award for Female Vocalist of the Year for three consecutive years: 2013, 2014 and 2015. I’ve seen Forrest several times in the past and her Trois-Rivieres set was one of her best. Exemplifying that she’s maturing like a very fine bottle of wine, and demonstrating that over her nearly three decade career that she continues to grow and advance. Find out more at: http://angelforrest.ca/
The closing act: the Sugaray Rayford band was a first see for me, the Texas bred vocalist proved to be a powerhouse singer and also fronted a first rate band with the superb guitarist Gino Matteo. Rayford is a compelling performer who now lives in Los Angeles where his career has flourished. After witnessing Sugaray’s set it’s no wonder that he’s quickly become a seasoned worldwide traveler – singing with bands like the Igor Prado Band, “Big Pete” van der Pluijm, Sax Gordon, as lead vocalist for the well-known and popular Mannish Boys and several other musical bands. The future looks bright for Rayford, find out more at: www.sugarayblues.com
Day two: At the amphitheater the opener was the appropriately titled: Southern Hospitality band whose main three musicians now reside from either Florida or Tennessee. The Band is comprised of lap steel guitarist Damon Fowler, guitarist JP Soars, and keyboardist Victor Wainwright; all three sing. I have seen this band several times in South Florida, but on this given night JP Soars has taken a reduced role with his vocal chores, and I do feel that this will be a significant improvement for the overall future of Southern Hospitality. Even though Soars’ sang lead on one song; it was their set ender, but he only had two choruses. Interesting, but Soars is a fine guitarist, as is Fowler who is a wonderful crooner. For my ears the gem of this group is Wainwright who is a consummate entertainer who is known for his boogie piano, blending soul sounds, powerful Blues, roots rock ‘n’ roll, and a voice that (at times) evokes other famous southerners; Dr. John and Leon Russell. This fine band is rapidly budding; their Trois-Rivieres performance was a huge leap from any other time I saw them perform. Unfortunately they do not have a website but you can find out more at: https://www.facebook.com/southernhospitalitymusic
What more can be said about Colin James who is an inductee in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He’s won six Juno Awards including “Male Vocalist of the Year” and the “Best Producer” award for his efforts with outstanding The Little Big Band albums. He is the recipient of seventeen Maple Blues Awards having most recently been honored in 2013 with “Entertainer of the Year”. I had never seen Colin perform live and had high expectations, and he did not disappoint in Trois-Rivieres. Learn more about Colin at: www.ColinJames.com
The finale for day two was the highly entertaining and powerful Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. I’ve seen Shepherd many times over the years but this was the second time he really blew my mind. The other was when they played at the Tremblant Blues Fest, must be the Canadian air. The KWS band has been stayed with the same solid lineup for many years now with ex Stevie Ray Vaughan drummer Chris Layton (Double Trouble,) bassist Tony Franklin (the Firm,) keyboardist Riley Osbourn (Willie Nelson) and the powerful singer Noah Hunt who seriously deserves to be known by a wider audience. Salivating all over myself; this set was easily the highlight of the four day festival. Shepherd was on-fire throughout and the band received (at least) six standing ovations. Brian Slack told me that the KWS band loved the venue, so when will they bring them back? Details at: www.KennyWayneShepherd.net
Day three: Featured Mike Zito and the Wheel with Alexis P. Suter and her longtime vocal associate Vicki Bell. Good set but not very memorable. www.MikeZito.com – www.AlexisPSutter.com Then it was bombs away with the one man band of Steve Hill who delighted the crowd and received passionate applause, he wasn’t this listeners cup of tea. www.SteveHillMusic.com The amphitheater finale was Saturday eve with Canadian legends Steppenwolf with their original leader John Kay. Basically your greatest hits performance by a once wonderful and adventurous band from the late sixties and early seventies. Not sure how many other Steppenwolf original bandmates are still in this current configuration, but the band sounded good, and performed those walks down memory lane extremely well. The crowd loved it, and everyone seemingly had a great time. www.Steppenwolf.com
Day four: All free performances that took place in downtown Trois-Rivieres. But due to inclement weather with rain and thunder the shows were quickly shuttled and moved indoors. This was unfortunate as I was looking forward to seeing Sean Chambers www.SeanChanbers.com The always delightful Dawn Tyler Watson with the Ben Racine Band www.DawnTylerWatson.com – www.BenRacineBand.com and the Monkeyjunk www.MonkeyjunkBand.com But when the rain arrived we decided to have dinner at the Delta Hotel. After a few minutes, and a few beers; guess who sits right alongside me: Monkeyjunk’s lead guitarist Tony D. We had a delightful chat with Tony about the band, the Olympics, sports, news, his Italian roots and whatnot, a great guy. Anyway with an early morning departure – including a short detour stopover at Saratoga Race Course, (I lost money again,) we decided to not brave the heavy rains and called it a night.
So there you have it. My second Quebec, Canada musical adventure of 2016 (the Tremblant Bluse Fest was the other,) both offered high-quality and memorable moments. A lot of this has to do with the Canadian go-to promoter Brian Slack who consistently demonstrates that he knows how to assemble sophisticated Blues talent that rivals any and all Blues based festivals in the world. Slack is also connected to booking some of the Blues shows at the Montreal Jazz Fest, and the Tremblant Blues Fest, as well as Trois-Rivieres. By the way; previously the Tremblant International Blues Festival was rightfully honored by the Memphis based Blues Foundation with a Keeping the Blues Alive award in the “International Festival” category in 2013. Slack deserves another Keeping the Blues Alive Award for this 2016 Trois-Rivieres en Blues Festival. Last but not least: look forward to what Slack and Trois-Rivieres concocts for 2017, and seriously consider visiting Three Rivers, Quebec next August; it’s a great area, and has this wonderful Blues Festival. Until that time keep an eye out for what the Three Rivers Blues Fest has planned for next year at: www.3renblues.com
Note: Special thanks to Laura Carbone for all photos in this article: www.DrLauraPhotography.com
For 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal with his Sounds of Blue radio show. Hear new Homegrown Sounds of Blue internet radio shows: http://soundsofblue.com/radioshowsmp3.htm
Sounds of Blue can also be heard every Wed. at John Sinclair’s www.RadioFreeAmsterdam.com
Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune www.YonkersTribune.com & www.MakingAScene.org Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com