WATERLOO REGION — We are fortunate in Waterloo Region to have an abundance of free outdoor music festivals sprinkled throughout the summer.

Interestingly, the three festivals that have been around the longest embody and reflect the personalities of the communities in which they unfold.

The university city of Waterloo has a jazz festival, blue-collar Kitchener has a blues festival and the early Scottish mill town of Cambridge has a folk festival.

Three very different communities; three very different music festivals. Nice.

By the way, I’m not forgetting about Kitchener’s upstart Big Music Fest, which celebrated its second year at McLennan Park, or Kultrun, which relocated from Waterloo Town Square to Victoria Park this year. It’s just that they took place this past weekend, so are over for another year. And I’m too old and out of it to comment knowledgeably about the KOI Music Festival, Kitchener’s ever-expanding celebration of indie music which takes place Sept. 25-27.



Celebrating its 23rd year, the Sun Life Finacial UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival takes place in the heart of UpTown Waterloo over three days this weekend (July 17 to 19).

Waterloo has become jazz central in Waterloo Region, anchored by the annual jazz festival and sustained throughout the year by the popular Jazz Room at the historic family owned Huether Hotel.

The festival features a blend of local, regional, national and international jazz musicians, spanning a range of formats including world rhythms, light jazz, fusion and funk.

Due to construction of light rail transit, which has closed King St., music will be concentrated on the main stage at Waterloo City Centre.

Jane Bunnet & Maqueque

Jane Bunnet & Maqueque

The lineup includes:

  • Jane Burnett, the Toronto-based flute/soprano sax ace who has appeared at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre as well as the Jazz Room. She will be accompanied by the all-female Cuban band Maqueque.
  • Yellowjackets, the multiple-nominated and Grammy winning jazz fusion ensemble out of L.A.
  • Oakland Stoke, the Toronto-Based Tower of Power  soul, funk and R&B outfit.
  • Local jazz artists Tim Louis and Andriy Tykonov.

Information available online at http://www.uptownwaterloojazz.ca

Sheesham & Lotus & Son

Sheesham & Lotus & Son

The biggest challenge confronting the Mill Race Festival of Traditional Folk Music — which like the Jazz Festival, is celebrating its 23rd year — is attracting people who live north of Highway 401. Believe it or not, the congested four-lane remains a huge obstacle — whether geographical, mental or symbolic — for the free trade of arts and culture in Waterloo Region.

The other obstacle facing the folk festival, which takes place over three days on the Civic Holiday weekend (July 31-Aug. 2), is convincing people that it offers traditional music from around the globe including Canada, the U.S. and both South and Latin Americas, in addition to the British Isles.

Brad McEwen, the only one from among all the festival artistic directors who is a musician, has been guiding the festival since the beginning. He is a stickler for confining the program to a wide range of folk music. You won’t find contemporary singer/songwriters or pop acts masquerading as folkies here.

Inspired by British village festivals, the folk festival takes place at several stages across the historic downtown Galt portion of Cambridge. Featuring traditional folk music and dance from various world cultures, the it offers concerts, dance demonstrations, open stage, informal pub sessions and children’s stage in addition to arts and crafts vendors.

The showpiece is the stage at Mill Race Park which is reminiscent of an Old World amphitheatre, created from the ruins of a historic stone textile mill on the banks of the Grand River. The other main stage is located at Civic Square.

The concert and workshop performers include:

  • Seven-man vocal ensemble The Bilge Rats
  • Area Celtic trio Bourrée à Trois
  • Harp and ducilmer duo Celtic Crossing
  • Quebec quartet Les Chauffeurs à Pieds
  • Local Celtic folk singer Brian Crozier
  • Local fiddle/guitar duo Phil Elsworthy and Ed Koenig
  • Old Timey country folk quartet Everlovin’ Jug Band
  • Folk Quartet The Fair Wind
  • Friends of Markos Toronto-based quintet
  • Southeast Asian Li Wang Trio
  • Popular English folk duo Mary Humphreys & Anahata
  • Toronto-based Kjacko Backo
  • festival faves Shesham & Lotus & Sun
  • Silk Road duo of Xia He and Andre Thibault
  • Southern Ontario Dulcimer Association
  • Tethera Quintet
  • Young Belgian folk trio Trio Dhorre
  • Celebrated British trio The Young’uns making their festival debut

Information at at http://www.millracefolksociety.com/Festival.html

Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples

The big daddy of the local festivals is the TD Kitchener Blues Festival, which unfolds over four days, on three stages throughout down Kitchener, Aug. 6 through 9.

The festival kicks off with a pair of paid-admission concerts at the Clock Tower Stage in Victoria Park featuring former and forever squabbling Guess Who bandmates Burton Cummings on Aug. 6 and Randy Bachman at the same venue Aug. 7.

Cambridge’s Connor Gains Band and Devon Allman Band open for Cummings, while Soulstack and North Mississippi Allstars open for Bachman. The ticketed concerts on consecutive nights replace the familiar pattern of ticketed concerts opening the festival on Thursday and closing the festival Sunday night.

This year’s notable international acts boast Blues Foundation Hall of Famers Charlie Musselwhite and James Cotton, both of whom are making festival debuts. Edgar Winter, who debuted at the festival with brother Johnny in 2011, returns. The marvellous Mavis Staples is back for the second time, while festival fave Watermelon Slim returns for the fourth time.

At long last, acoustic bluesman Guy Davis makes his festival debut. He cut a deep mark on the area when he performed in Guelph and St. Jacobs on numerous occasions around the turn of the millennium. Anyone who loves acoustic blues should NOT miss Davis.

Guy Davis

Guy Davis

The international acts are rounded off with Chris Beard, Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, Nick Moss Band, Nikki Hill, Popa Chubby and Tinsley Ellis.

The national acts include a trio of West Coast artists — Current Swell, David Gogo (who appeared at the old Boathouse) and David West & the Willing Victims.

The provincial acts are anchored by David Wilcox, arguably the festival’s most popular performer who earned the distinction pounding out guitar-driven blues rock in some of the region’s dingiest watering holes nearly a half century ago. Additional provincial acts include Alfie Smith (who has also appeared at the Mill Race Festival), Nicole Christian, Big Rude Jake, Catl, Ginger St. James, Joel Johnson Blues Band, MonkeyJunk, Pat Temple & the Hi Lo Players, Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar and Sugar Brown.

The local acts feature Matt Storch & the Usual Suspects, Miss Angel & the Homewreckers (who, as usual, kick off the main stage in front of Kitchener City Hall), Waterstreet Blues Band, 24th Street Wailers and the participants in the Grand River Blues Society Blues Camp and Youth Legacy Showcase winner.

Kitchener blues diva Charity Brown is this year’s Mel Brown Award winner.

Tickets for the paid admission concerts at Encore Records or online at www.ticketscene.ca

Information available at http://www.kitchenerbluesfestival.com

(Featured image is photo of The Young’uns)