Annual Saskatoon Festival Celebrates Blues Music

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Crystal Shawanda, a Juno Award winner and top 20 artist, will perform at the festival. (Photo Supplied)

Do you have a case of the winter blues?
If so, the treatment may be to head out and get a dose of the blues — a dose of blues music, that is.

The 17th annual Saskatoon Winter Blues Festival is currently underway and runs until March 2. This year, acclaimed musicians and seasoned professionals will bring their talents to the main stage at The Bassment, such as Juno Award winner and multiple Maple Blues Award winner Morgan Davis and Juno Award winner and top 20 artist Crystal Shawanda.

Other main-stage performers include the acoustic blues duo Mama B & Freight Train, master guitarist Amos Garrett and Maple Blues Award-winning harp player Harpdog Brown.

Kevin Shook, president of the Saskatoon Blues Society, said one of the reasons the long-running festival has been so successful is because of the people organizing it. The Saskatoon Blues Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the blues, and people work on the festival year-round.

“We’re all volunteers; nobody gets paid for the society for doing any of this,” he said. “We all just volunteer our time because we care about the music.”

There are many pieces that come together as part of the annual blues festival. One part is the Downtown Festival Lounge Series, which is offered in partnership with Downtown Saskatoon (DTNYXE), the city’s central business improvement district. The lounge series runs until Feb. 27.

“What we do is we put musicians in some of the downtown lounges and bars in Saskatoon, and they’re playing free of charge,” said Shook. “There’s no cover or anything for that.”

Another component of the blues festival is an outreach program that sends musicians to perform in seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities. 

“It’s sort of for people who otherwise couldn’t get to see live music, so we bring the music to them,” said Shook. “That’s always very popular with the residents in these homes.”

As well, the Saskatoon Blues Society offers the Blues in the Schools program in conjunction with the festival. Through that program, musicians perform in local schools, mainly for elementary students, and provide a history of the music. That means “the kids are introduced to where the blues comes from and how it sort of is the basis for most popular music,” said Shook.

The main-stage portion of the festival generally showcases more established, veteran musicians. However, this year, during a blues showcase scheduled for Feb. 28 at Buds on Broadway, up-and-coming local musicians will be featured: Apollo Cruz, Mitch Romancia & the Heart Attacks, and Neil Roston. Following that, the main-stage series at The Bassment will kick off on March 1 with Morgan Davis and Crystal Shawanda, with Mama B & Freight Train, Amos Garrett and Harpdog Brown scheduled to perform on March 2. 

Also on March 2, Morgan Davis will present a 90-minute workshop at 1 p.m. at Amigos Cantina on the history of the blues. It is a free, all-ages event. On March 3, the festival wind-up party will be held at 1 p.m. at Black Cat Tavern. Tickets are $10.

Shook emphasized that the festival — which is presented by Cherry Insurance — comes together because of the help of a “great group of volunteers” and a number of festival sponsors. 

“We couldn’t do this without them,” he said.

For more information, go online to saskatoonbluessociety.ca. Tickets are available online and at Cherry Insurance, McNally Robinson and Long & McQuade.