Meet the Blues Revival Masterminds

Meet the Blues Revival Masterminds

Unearthing the Pioneers Breathing New Life into BC’s Vibrant Blues Scene

As I make my way through the bustling stalls of the Roots N’ Blues N’ BBQ Festival in British Columbia, the air is thick with the soulful sounds of electric guitars and the tantalizing aroma of smoked meats. It’s a sensory overload, to be sure, but one that I can’t get enough of. This annual celebration of all things blues, roots, and barbeque has become a cornerable fixture in the province’s cultural landscape, and at the heart of it all are the dedicated musicians who are keeping the genre alive and kicking.

I weave through the crowds, dodging flying frisbees and children chasing after balloons, until I finally spot the person I’m here to meet – James Wilkinson, the mastermind behind this incredible event. With a warm smile and a firm handshake, he welcomes me into the organized chaos backstage, eager to share the story of how this festival came to be.

“It all started back in the early 2000s,” James begins, his eyes twinkling with nostalgia. “I was a young blues fanatic, spending every waking hour listening to the legends – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Koko Taylor. But I couldn’t help but notice that the scene here in BC was seriously lacking. Sure, we had the occasional touring act passing through, but there was no real sense of community, no gathering point for all us die-hard blues heads.”

He pauses, taking a moment to sip from a steaming cup of coffee, before continuing. “That’s when I had this crazy idea – why not start our own festival? Something that would bring together all the best blues artists from across the province, and beyond? It was a lofty goal, no doubt, but I was determined to make it happen.”

The Birth of a Blues Revival

And so, with a small team of equally passionate volunteers, James set out to turn his vision into a reality. The first Roots N’ Blues N’ BBQ Festival took place in 2006, in a modest park tucked away in the heart of downtown Vancouver. The turnout was modest, to say the least, but those who did attend were treated to an electrifying lineup of local and regional acts, from the gritty, Delta-inspired stylings of The Hound Dogs to the soulful, horn-driven grooves of The Rhythm Makers.

“It was a labor of love, for sure,” James recalls with a chuckle. “We were working around the clock, scraping together whatever resources we could to make it all happen. But the look on people’s faces when they heard that first note, when they realized that this was something special – that’s what kept us going.”

Over the years, the festival has grown exponentially, attracting blues enthusiasts not just from across BC, but from all over the world. The lineup has expanded to feature an eclectic mix of established artists and up-and-coming talents, each bringing their own unique twist to the genre. And the barbeque? Well, let’s just say that the competition for the best ribs and pulled pork is fiercer than a blues guitarist’s solo.

Fostering a Vibrant Blues Community

But the true magic of the Roots N’ Blues N’ BBQ Festival, I soon discover, lies not just in the music or the food, but in the sense of community it has fostered. As I wander through the bustling crowds, I’m struck by the camaraderie and joy that permeates the air. Strangers strike up conversations, sharing stories of their favorite artists and trading tips on the best local blues haunts. It’s a far cry from the stuffy, elitist reputation that the blues genre sometimes carries.

“That’s always been our goal,” James explains, gesturing to the throngs of people around us. “To create a space where everyone – whether you’re a seasoned blues aficionado or just someone who loves good music and good food – can come together and celebrate this incredible art form. We want to break down the barriers, to show that the blues isn’t just for a niche audience, but something that can be enjoyed and appreciated by all.”

And it’s not just the festival itself that’s fostering this sense of community. Over the years, James and his team have worked tirelessly to support the local blues scene, organizing regular jam sessions, open mic nights, and even mentorship programs for aspiring musicians. They’ve also forged partnerships with venues and radio stations, helping to amplify the voices of up-and-coming artists and ensuring that the blues remains a vital, thriving part of BC’s cultural landscape.

The Next Generation of Blues Visionaries

As I sit down with some of the festival’s featured performers, I’m struck by the sheer passion and creativity that permeates their music. Take, for example, The Hound Dogs, a young quartet whose gritty, Delta-inspired sound is already making waves in the blues community.

“We grew up listening to the greats – Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, all those legendary names,” says the band’s lead guitarist, Emma Zhao. “But we also wanted to put our own spin on things, to take the traditional blues sound and infuse it with elements of rock, soul, even a little bit of funk. It’s about honoring the past while also pushing the genre forward.”

And they’re not the only ones. Across the festival grounds, I encounter a diverse array of artists, each bringing their own unique perspective to the blues. There’s The Rhythm Makers, a nine-piece ensemble that blends soulful vocals with a horn section that could shake the foundations of any venue. Then there’s the enigmatic solo act, Jade Harrington, whose delicate, introspective songs are a far cry from the raucous, high-energy blues I’ve been immersed in all day.

“The great thing about the blues is that it’s such a malleable, adaptable genre,” reflects James as we wander through the festival grounds. “You can take the core elements – the raw emotion, the gritty instrumentation, the storytelling – and spin them in so many different directions. And that’s exactly what these young artists are doing. They’re taking the blues and making it their own, creating something that’s simultaneously classic and completely fresh.”

Carrying the Torch into the Future

As the sun begins to set on another successful Roots N’ Blues N’ BBQ Festival, I can’t help but feel a sense of awe and admiration for the work that James and his team have accomplished. What started as a humble dream has blossomed into a vibrant, thriving celebration of one of the most enduring and influential genres in music history.

But more than that, it’s a testament to the power of community, of passion, and of a relentless drive to keep the blues alive and kicking. As I wave goodbye to the festival grounds, with the sounds of soulful solos and the scent of smoked meats lingering in the air, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for the visionaries who have made this all possible.

So, if you find yourself in British Columbia next summer, be sure to mark your calendars and join us at the Roots N’ Blues N’ BBQ Festival. It’s a celebration of music, food, and the unbreakable spirit of the blues, and trust me, you won’t want to miss it.