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Calgary International Blues Fest keeps spirit of blues alive

By Thomas Johnson, July 11 2018 —

Calgary’s festival season won’t be slowing down anytime soon. As the summer winds to a close, the 14th edition of the Calgary International Blues Fest will cap off the city’s genre-diverse warmer months, running from July 30 – Aug. 5 at Millenium Park.

Cindy McLeod, creator and producer of the Blues Fest— and established blues musician in her own right — holds strong to the genre’s tradition of oral education and passing along knowledge and experience through example. She considers the festival as a way for seasoned veterans to pass the torch to newcomers interested in the blues, an art which continues to maintain a devoted fandom despite falling largely out of the public eye.

“A lot of people think the blues is about clubs — yes, they did absolutely form the backbone of the artform, especially here with the King Eddy — but when the clubs closed it became a scary thing for the blues. That’s why I felt compelled to do something. I started the festival,” McLeod says. “There was a huge audience for it, there was tons of talent around town. People have a really high opinion of Calgary. Musicians love coming here because they get so much support.”

This year, the festival will host marquee names such as BB King’s Blues Band on Aug. 4 and the Chicago Blues Reunion on Aug. 5, as well as established local acts such as Brian McCullough’s the Blonde & the Bluesmen on July 30 and Mike Watson & the 6L6s on Aug. 2.

“The blues is gaining ground. It’s been a bit of a challenge, more so because it’s originally an African-American art form, so there’s not a lot of context here [in Calgary],” McLeod continues. “The tone is about talking about the history of the blues and how it informs what we listen to today.

“I try to do a mix of up-and-comers and emerging artists and veterans. [The veterans] have become legends in the industry, they’ve worked with those that came before them and set the footprint.”

The Blues Fest has been hosting hour-long sessions between noon and 1 p.m. on Stephen Ave. this month that will continue through August. In addition, the festival will partner with Heritage Park for their Music in the Plaza series at the park’s Engineered Bandstand on July 25.

“[Calgary’s support for the festival] moves me, it really does,” says McLeod with a laugh. “The audience is incredibly loyal  and the support for blues is very strong, North America wide. We’re always looking to grow that demographic wherever possible.”

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