Tremblant Blues Fest Review

The Tremblant Blues Festival is World Class!

For sixteen years our friends from the Festival International Du Blues De Tremblant have been assembling annual festivals that stand up with the best in world. This year's event headliners featured: Rick Esterin & the Nightcats (with Little Charlie Baty sitting in,), Edgar Winter, Hubert Sumlin and Robert Cray together, Shemekia Copeland, Mavis Staples, ex-Rolling Stones Sugar Blue and Mick Taylor (who due to illness, had to cancel,) Jimmy Thackery, Joe Louis Walker, Junior Watson, Howard & the White Boys, and Buckwheat Zydeco. As expected, there was a good smattering of very talented Canadian bands: David Rotundo with Enrico Crivellaro from Italy, the soulful Blackburn Band, the all-star lineup of the Maple Blues Revue, Shawn Kellerman, Bob Walsh, John Campbelljohn, Dawn Tyler Watson, David Gogo, and others. A deep lineup with free admission.

Nestled away in the Laurentian Mountains approximately ninety minutes northwest of Montreal is this gorgeous chalet town of Mont-Tremblant which looks much like Quebec City with cobblestone streets, old world architecture, and gondola rides for all! Yet for almost two intense weeks, the Blues rule in the cool and fresh mountain air. The Canadians seem quite rabid about Blues music. Not only were they enthusiastically involved with the performances, they also were quite knowledgeable. Plus, I also heard a lot of great Blues music spewing from cars that drove by as I meandered the streets.

I attended three days. Tuesday's highlight was Robert Cray who did not look particularly happy on stage, but when the always cheerful Hubert Sumlin plugged in his guitar, Cray's set took a positive turn. Hubert was very much on his game, sang, and really took command of the festivities. Backstage, Hubert was obviously in a good mood.

Enrico Crivellaro dropped by and asked me to introduce Hubert to him. Hubert took an immediate fatherly liking to Enrico, and when Crivellaro showed him his latest Mojo Zone disc, Hubert said, "I know you must be good just by the way you hold your guitar on the cover shot, I feel it!" Crivellaro emoted with a huge smile and pointed out his "Hubert" tune. Hubert gushed and gave him a huge hug and thanked Enrico. It was a very special moment to behold. Getting back to Cray, something was definitely going on with him, as he was the only musician that did not go to the CD tent to meet his fans and sign CDs. But the veteran Hubert was right there ready to do all for the many who wanted to meet the man who rode shotgun guitar with the Wolf and Muddy.

On Wednesday I anxiously waited to see the Toronto-based Blackburn Band that delighted the crowd with a soulful and funky set of roots-based Blues. Blackburn's CD Brotherhood is one well produced gem of soul, the kind rarely heard from north of border. The band consists of four Blackburn Brothers, and they are a B3-based group with guitar, bass, drums, and an innovative two-piece horn section. One could not have asked for a better segue than from The Blackburn Brothers into the illustrious Mavis Staples who followed. Mavis was amazing this night. She almost always is, but this is the first time I got to see her with her new band lead by Rick Holmstrom.

This mighty unit backed her to perfection as Holmstrom unearthed Pops better than anyone I had previously seen, yet he kept his own identity and exuded his signature. Jeff Turmes' bass (and sometimes guitar) and Stephen Hodges' drums were magnificent to watch as their interplay and musicianship was of the highest magnitude. Yet this was all about Mavis who for a gal who just turned seventy has certainly not lost her vocal prowess nor that gorgeous smile which definitely had the mostly Canadian audience digging her gospel groove and funk. There was also an instrumental segment, where Holmstrom and company really roared and just added another dimension to this top shelf set.

Mavis' band performance was easily my favorite at Tremblant. Afterwards I had a moment with Holmstrom and asked, "Whose idea was it to match his band with Mavis?" His answer was the ex-Tone Cool Records President Dave Bartlett. Kudos for Bartlett. It's an unlikely pairing, but it really works. As a quick note, this is the second time in two years that I saw Canadian audiences in awe of gospel soul. Last year the Dirty Dozen Brass Band had a similar hypnotic effect on the crowd at the Montreal Jazz Fest.

On Thursday, my last night, I really don't want to leave Tremblant, so I made the best of it by catching another fine set by Blackburn. Sugar Blue was next, and he blew down the house with yet another virtuosic harp attack. The band was super tight too, and I just wonder when the Blues world will realize that Sugar Blue needs to be recognized for a Blues Music Award.

He spoke to the crowd mostly in French which was neat, plus Blue told me that his new CD should be forthcoming soon and the new tunes are "off the hook." Next up was Jimmy Thackery, a definite crowd favorite as the crowd seemingly adored his crunching guitar. His set was further aided when he called on Joe Louis Walker for a couple of tunes. Thackery and Walker immediately gelled, and with a fourth instrument added, Jimmy's band really worked for me. My last stop of the evening was to see The Maple Blues Revue, and from the get go, this band stomped, rattling off a cool mix of covers and originals. Be sure to check out their fine new disc Live at Twisted Pines. And you're formally put on notice that Dawn Tyler Watson will be one of the next big names to soar out of Canada as her deep textured vocals in front of this large band setting knocked me out!

So there you have it, a fabulous week in the country with abundant amounts of outstanding Blues music. Congratulations and thanks go to Program Director Guy Primeau, Talent Director Brian Slack and, last but not least, Public Relations and Communications Supervisor Catherine Lacasse who put on a spectacular event and made my stay in Mont-Tremblant memorable and so very special. For next year's updates, go to:

Bob Putignano a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at Bob maybe contacted at: