It was a triumphant moment in Windsor’s summer festival history. With a lineup as diverse as the city itself, Bluesfest Windsor celebrated this weekend (July 12-15, 2018) with the most successful festival in its 23-year history – complete with high profile rock, rap, pop, R&B and blues artists. The four-day festival saw the likes of Night Ranger, Colin James, Beth Hart, Eddie Money and a rap ensemble of Vanilla Ice, Naughty By Nature, Rob Base and several others.
Night Ranger tore the place apart on Thursday kicking off the festival with a few thousand fans rocking to hits like (You Can Still) Rock In America, Sister Christian and a handful of Damn Yankees songs written by frontman Jack Blades. They also performed covers of Alice Cooper (in recognition of guitarist Keri Kelly) and Ozzy Osbourne (for guitarist Brad Gillis who toured with the Black Sabbath star on his 1982 Diary of a Madman Tour). The band still sounded hot after nearly 40 years together and when the originals were mixed with the other material, it gave the show plenty of bite. The band actually sounded much louder and heavier live than it does on its studio albums.
Extreme was the first headliner to hit the stage on Thursday and after halting a false start mid-way through opening song It (‘s A Monster), kicked into a greatest hits set including several tracks from its hugely popular Pornografitti album. Singer Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt were in fine form bouncing around the stage. Cherone still sounds great and kept up with rockers like Get The Funk Out, Rest In Peace and Decadence Dance. Bettencourt had a few guitar interludes including Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee and a slick acoustic solo. Bassist Pat Badger had a few moments on the mic and showed his voice could keep up with Cherone’s if needed. The acoustic guitar work in More Than Words still sounds as awesome today as it did back when it was released.
Thursday’s support act was Windsor’s Drop Dead Famous who performed a slick set of familiar tunes from artists like U2. They’re a great act to look forward to in the future.
Friday was pretty much dedicated to the blues with Canadian pop-blues-swing headliner Colin James performing a few of his hits like Five Long Years, Voodoo Thing, Keep on Lovin’ Me Baby and Why’d You Lie. He slowed down the hit Just Came Back to the point where the song almost sounded re-invented. The new tone for the track gave it a groovier and heavier sound. Colin is a great performer and never fails to please his fans.
Pat Travers turned up the volume a bit for his unique blend of hard boogie rock. He’s a master of the guitar and gave the crowd a few shining leads throughout the show. Fans got a bit excited when he pulled out hits like Snortin’ Whiskey and Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights).
Support acts Danielle Nicole, Sugaray Rayford and local horn-driven cover band Nemesis played their hearts out as people arrived for their day of blues, rock and pop.
Saturday is when things really warmed up at Bluesfest – literally – the temperatures rose to a humidex of 42°c. That’s the way Eddie Money and Jonny Lang seemed to like it too.
Headliner Eddie Money was in fine form. The classic rocker seemed to be enjoying himself, chatting up Canada and even waving a big flag at one point. He told stories, rallied the crowd and was the most personal of all the performers throughout the entire festival. And the hits came like shotgun fire: Baby Hold On, Walk on Water, I Wanna Go Back, Gimme Some Water, Take Me Home Tonight, Think I’m in Love, Two Tickets to Paradise and Shakin’.
Blues guitarist Jonny Lang is captivating to watch. He’s a master of the guitar and it’s easy to get lost when watching him really dig deep in the music. He performed a fairly balanced set of music through his career including a few tracks from his latest albums Signs including the title track and Bring Me Home. He also performed a few hits like Rack ‘Em Up and Lie To Me, as well as a smokin’ guitar solo.
Sugaray Rayford was a monster in the heat. He was sweating a storm at the peak of the heat, but he still managed to perform an incredible set. Rayford and his band are consummate bluesmen – they show up, play their hearts out and shake as many hands as they can. Rayford’s deep soulful voice was a pleasure to listen to for the three days he was in town.
Support acts The Wild Rides, Kathleen Murray & The Groove Council and Angel Forrest provided a great variety of tunes for sweaty patrons on this very hot day.
The most controversial of the four days, the Sunday lineup seemed to confuse many – except for the largest crowd to ever assemble for a Bluesfest concert. Kicking off with a good dose of rock and blues, support acts the Moondog Howlers and Sugaray Rayford started things off in style to make way for Grammy Award nominated blues headliner Beth Hart.
Hart was absolutely stunning. Not only was her voice crisp, clean and sultry, her stage presence was mesmerizing. She gave Windsor a full set filled with her best material. She wore a small black dress and bounced around the stage like she was possessed by Janis Joplin. It’s not hard to see that there’s a closet hard rock hiding under there somewhere. She sings with a passion few will ever have and her raspy voice is truly a gift from God – even if she used to “smoke and curse”. If you’ve never seen Beth perform, she’s certainly one you shouldn’t miss.
Bluesfest closed with the touring rap show “Back To The 90s” featuring Vanilla Ice, Naughty By Nature, Rob Base, Young MC and C+C Music Factory featuring Freedom Williams.
The show was a blast from the past, complete with three different turntable platforms used throughout the show – one for Rob Base, Young MC and Freedom Williams and the others reserved for Naughty By Nature and Vanilla Ice respectively.
The rap segment began with Freedom Williams who performed the rap parts of successful C+C Music Factory hits Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now), Things That Make You Go Hmmm and Here We Go (Let’s Rock & Roll). It lacked the big dancers and a live female vocalist, but Williams voice was on the money. He performed in the rain as the crowd got soaked.
Rapper Rob Base hyped up the crowd with fist-pumping and hand-waving chants through hits like It Takes Two, Get on the Dance Floor and Joy and Pain, that last of which contains the lyrics “sunshine and rain”, which we appropriately had both during its performance.
Young MC was a lot of fun in the rain as he bounced around the puddles and tried to get as close to the edge of the stage as he could. He kept going despite the downpour. His biggest hit Bust a Move brought out tremendous cheers.
Naughty By Nature are headliners in their own right. They had a longer set than the previous acts and offered up a hefty serving of some of their favourite 90s sing-a-longs including brief tributes to Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. This is when the bass of the subwoofers really kicked in. There’s a lot of bass in hits like O.P.P. and Hip Hop Hooray and the trio absolutely loved it. Treach and Vin Rock still sound like the same guys we hear on the records and DJ Kay Gee looked like he loved spinning the discs at the back of the stage – it’s too bad he was so far back because he buried in the lights.
90s headliner Vanilla Ice really kicked it into party mode. The rapper/TV star had all the ladies in the palm of his hands. About halfway through the show he brought up a bunch of ladies to dance with him on stage. Even though it felt a little awkward with all those middle-aged women on the stage, the show took on a bit of a rave vibe to it, complete with confetti blasts. Ice is a great performer and still a pretty boy, even after all these years. Highlights included Play That Funky Music, his little nod to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and his massive number one hit Ice Ice Baby, which was bumped up to sound like a modern dance song.
It was a bit of a change for traditional Bluesfest goers, but the 8,000-plus crowd on Sunday night proved that the future of these types of festivals needs to adapt and change. Bluesfest Windsor is on the right track by diversifying its lineup and spreading its wings to compete with festivals like Rock The Park in London or big headliners always playing in Detroit.
In the future Bluesfest needs to bring in bigger names and concentrate on less mid-week evenings. It’s a formula that the 90s show undoubtedly proved this year. With more than four-times the amount of tickets sold on the festival’s best previous Sunday, there should be little doubt that this was the right move.
As far as blues itself goes, there is no one more popular than Beth Hart at the moment – she was nominated for three Blues Music awards in 2018 and walked away with the Best Vocalist award. Two of this year’s Bluesfest performers, Hart and Sugaray, were also performers at this year’s awards show. Even the Blues Foundation, who operates the Blues Awards, found a need to add a Rock award to the ceremonies this year.
If Bob Dylan was asked to sing a song about blues festivals, he might have to call the song “The Bluesfest’s They Are A’ Changin’.