Canada’s Winnipeg had their first BBQ & Blues Festival at Red River Exhibition Park in late August and I was able to take in several acts on the last night of the event. It was a warm summer Sunday evening and I arrived in an old bright red Oldsmobile convertible which came out about the time I was born. (let’s leave the actual year out of the post, shall we?)
The line up was top notch for their first year and had over 10,000 people pass through its doors over the course of the weekend.
They managed to pull in legendary Jimmie Vaughan (left) who is far more than just one of the greatest and most respected guitarists in the world of popular music. Vaughan is known as providing a link between contemporary music and its proud heritage, as well as being a longtime avatar of retro cool. Passionate about blues, he’s been playing since he was 13 and has played every day. He says, “I can’t imagine that I could exist without it.”
Also on the stage over the course of the weekend was Little Miss Higgins, Scott Nolan, Tim Butler, The Perpetrators, The Kathy Kennedy Blues Band, Tracy K, Eddie Shaw and his son, Curtis Newton, The Driving Wheel, The Jake Brakes, Steve Dawson, The Sojourners, Big Dave McLean and his band, Romi Mayes, and Jim Byrnes and band.
I interviewed Jim Byrnes and Dave McLean so be sure to check out my in-depth interviews here and here.
Little Miss Higgins was playing when I arrived. Thanks to Jodi, Rick and team, I was able to hang out in the green room and behind the scenes for the duration of the event.
Growing up playing piano, Higgins now uses guitar and voice as her main instruments as well as her theatre background to bring a “refreshing sound and story to the stage.” Over the past five years, Little Miss Higgins has built a strong national reputation throughout Canada, appearing in clubs and on festival stages in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Owen Sound and Canso, Nova Scotia performing most often as a duo with partner and guitar player, Foy Taylor.
A masterful guitarist and top notch harpist, McLean’s raw and gravelly vocals bespeak of a life lived to the fullest, and a career spent performing in and around those countless small towns that dot the Canadian prairies. He touts John Hammond Jr. as his mentor and inspiration over the years. He has a warm Manitoba personality and is just as down-to-earth off the stage as he is on.
Below, Big Dave McLean and band.
When the blues resurgence was in full swing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Eddie Shaw was in the eye of the hurricane. Shaw, a tenor sax stalwart, was right in the midst of some of the seminal blues recordings going down in a few Windy City studios. He played gigs with Hound Dog Taylor, Freddie King, Otis Rush, Earl Hooker, and Magic Sam. Shaw also arranged the tunes on The Howlin’ Wolf London Sessions (with Eric Clapton) and Muddy Waters’ Unk and Funk album. Shaw likens his style of sax playing to the same cadence and exuberance that comes from a Sunday pulpit.
Below Eddie Shaw and his son Eddie Vaan Shaw Junior.
Below is another shot of the legendary Jimmie Vaughan. (also top left photo).
Jim Byrnes, who I had a chance to interview after the show, is not just engaging, but a born storyteller. For more than thirty years, Byrnes has woven roots so deeply into the NorthernBlues scene that it’s difficult to remember that this quintessentially Canadian icon was born and raised in St.Louis, MO and that his instantly recognizable gruff as sandpaper, sweet as honey voice was not always an essential part of Canada’s musical landscape.
One of the reasons he’s such a born storyteller and has the gift of wowing anyone before him, is his long stint as an actor in addition to his musical career. He played Lifeguard in the CBS series Wiseguy, was in worldwide success in Highlander, and had a nationally broadcast variety show, The Jim Byrnes Show. I love this line in his bio because it is so, so true. “His evocative, smoky vocals are found in a truth that doesn’t come overnight.” I could have talked to him all night.
Below Jim Byrne and band.
Photo credits: Jimmy Vaughan and Eddie Shaw & Eddie Vaan Shaw Junior photos by Vince Pahkala. All other photo credits: Renee Blodgett.