The 2nd Annual Waterfront Blues Fest took place at Woodbine Park, in Toronto’s trendy Beach area of east Toronto, for three glorious days of blues, Friday June 4th to Sunday June 6th, 2010.
Many times throughout this very bluesy weekend, rain clouds did their thing, raining on the sometimes sparse and other times quite well-attended crowds who came out to this show.
Despite the bad weather which prevailed throughout most of this weekend, there were many who braved it, with umbrellas, ponchos, beach blankets and lawn chairs, to enjoy the great blues as well as the out-of-this-world-good BBQ’d food offered by the Ribfest cooks. Some came out for the food, others for the blues and still many others for both. The atmosphere was upbeat all the way, despite the inclement weather at times.
I had a chance to try a BBQ’d pulled pork sandwich from La Fiesta Catering, which was outstanding. There was also a food vendor called Bloomin’ Onion. What they did was deep fry a huge whole onion cut to fall open and look like a lotus. For fried onion and onion ring lovers, I don’t think there could be any better tasting and pure than this almost all onion, and big enough to be a meal in itself! I also tried the succulent melt-in-your-mouth BBQ’d ribs and chicken from Crabby’s BBQ Shack, from London Ontario. You can’t get any better eating than that! Neilson Ice Cream had a booth there too. Luckily I left room for their 97% fat-free 'Skinny Cow' ice cream sandwich, which was delicious.
While enjoying all this fabulous food and dessert, the entertainment onstage for all three glorious days of blues, was as good as anyone could hope for. Day #1 was Friday June 4th, 2010. The wonderful Erin McCallum Band opened this weekend’s festivities with some high-energy originals, and slow, soothing blues ballads, sung by Erin McCallum. Her soulful deliveries were accentuated by high-energy, and devotion to her craft. At times she played some incredibly delectable blues harp for the crowd, whose avid catcalls of approval and applause told the whole story from the blues fans’ point of view.
Erin’s lead/slide guitarist Trevor MacKenzie, came up with some really interesting, high-energy blues leads; complemented by his equally entrancing blues slide guitar solos. Bassist Ronald Lombard was in-the-pocket and going for broke, with imaginative bass lines, adding a real touch of appeal to the proceedings. Joe Pace, Erin’s drummer was also superb making Erin’s time on stage seem all too short, since her set was extremely enjoyable to listen to.
Next up was Juno and Maple Blues Award winning blues band Fathead. They’ve been a mainstay on the Canadian blues scene for over a decade now, ever since their first CD on Electro-Fri, Blues Weather came out in 1998 and won best Juno. They played several tracks from their most recent 2010 Electro-Fi release, Where’s the Blues Taking Me at Waterfront.
Fathead’s lead singer John Mays really captivated the crowd, with his gut-wrenching vocals. The soulful expression on his face at times, really tells the story of a man devoted to delivering up the blues, from deep within himself.
Fathead founder Al Lerman, played some high-energy blues harp, and sometimes switched to tenor sax, to ecstatic enthusiastic response from the blues fans in attendance. I’ve also seen Lerman play awesome blues guitar on previous occasions, with equally entertaining expertise. Guitarist Teddy Leonard’s blues leads and slide blues, are always a mystifying and highly entertaining experience for this writer to see. Whether he’s playing with Fathead, or the Gary Kendall Band, or sitting in on an all-star blues jam with New Orleans Sax King Johnny Pennino at the annual Southside Shuffle in Port Credit, Ontario this guitar virtuoso is always a welcome sight to the senses for this blues fan. Omar Tunnock was playing his early ‘60s Fender fretless bass groovin’ with drummer Bucky Berger’s solid blues beats throughout Fathead’s highly enjoyable set and it was also Bucky’s birthday, which added a special touch to this performance. He seemed to be having a real good time, and at one point stood up from his drum set and played the cow bell and some other percussion instruments.
My main regret this weekend was missing two of my favorite blues bands blues guitarist Shawn Kellerman’s band, and blues harp sensation Paul Reddick who played on Saturday afternoon. I’ve seen both many times in the past, and have always been thoroughly pleased with their performances onstage. I saw Paul the previous year at the first annual Waterfront Blues at Woodbine Park. That show was unbelievable! Paul’s time onstage then, blew the crowd away, as I saw them recently do at the Cadillac Lounge in Toronto’s west end, (a show that had a huge attendance, even though it was a long weekend, where many blues fans might have not been in town for the show). At last year’s fest, Paul and his band opened for blues great Watermelon Slim. If anyone’s seen Slim’s Oklahoma-based blues band, you’ll know they put on one ‘helluva’ great performance, and have CD’s with equal energetic appeal.
Saturday June 5th finished off with the out-of-this-world-good Chicago blues of Alligator recording artists Lil’ Ed & The Imperials. They’re from Chicago, and their blues consists of many high-powered tunes reminiscent of late great slide blues masters Hound Dog Taylor and Elmore James, whose famous "Dust My Broom"-style high-energy blues has captivated this writer for decades. The same can be said for Lil’ Ed Williams and his band, the headliners for the Saturday night portion of Waterfront Blues at Woodbine Park. Lil’ Ed, wearing his trademark red fez, switched guitars a couple of times and came out into the audience as well bringing the blues right up front and personal, to his fans, whose were going wild over his amazing blues leads and slide blues. His 2nd lead/rhythm guitarist Michael Garrett was also outstanding. He also sang some lead vocals towards the end of the set, which really went over well, and added some great variety to this evening’s show. Kelly Littlejohn went wild on the skins, accompanied by bassist James "Pookie" Young on bass and background vocals. Towards the end of their amazing set, Lil’ Ed walked on his tip-toes in his red and white Converse running shoes, all the time keeping the beat with his feet, while playing some totally ballistic blues leads. What a way to finish off a show! He also spent time talking to his blues fans after the show.
Sunday afternoon and early evening also offered up some amazing blues talent onstage. When I arrived, some in attendance were raving about having seen blues band Blackburn, as well as blues vocalist/guitarist James Hunter at Waterfront Blues.
The Alexis P. Suter Band from the Brooklyn area of the ‘Big Apple’ were the closing headliners of this incredible weekend of blues. Alexis’ vocals ran the gamut from slow, soulful blues, to high energy, inspired Gospel blues and some delightful Chicago-style blues.
'Blues for a Big Town’ promoter Rico Ferrara, along with Beaches Jazz Fest founder/promoter Lido Chilelli brought all this top quality blues to Woodbine Park’s Waterfront Blues Fest for the past two years. Rico mentioned to me that he’d heard about Alexis’ incredible blues talent from a US blues promoter friend of his in Florida, who’d seen her and her fine band perform at the Pocono Blues Festival, in Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania. Blues news tends to spread fast in the closely connected blues community, which seems not to have borders or boundaries, when it comes to good taste and good music. Which is how Rico heard about Alexis and was able to bring her to Toronto, for her first blues performance ever, in Canada. Hopefully this won’t be her last especially since Rico was so enthused about her, and he also books some of the finest US and European blues acts into Toronto’s Silver Dollar Room for many years now.
All in all, this was a huge success in regards to high quality blues performances by one and all and also in regards to the appetite quenching BBQ’d food offered. The weather at times might not have been the best, but the blues fans’ enthusiasm and the artists’ performances onstage, were a natural high which is really what the blues is all about, isn’t it?