Blues Bash features dozen free Victoria bands

IN CONCERT

What: 25th Annual Vancouver Island Blues Bash featuring Tinsley Ellis, Davina and The Vagabonds, Brickhouse and more
Where: Ship Point (Inner Harbour) and The Rubber Boot Club (1605 Store St.)
When: Friday through Monday
Tickets: Daytime performances are free; night performances are $15-$29 at the Victoria Jazz Society (977 Alston St., 250-388-4423) and the Royal McPherson box office or online at rmts.bc.ca

The Vancouver Island Blues Bash has made a pretty comfortable home for itself on Labour Day weekend, where it has been positioned since 1994.

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Times have changed during its quarter-century run. The four-day gathering used to signal the end of festival season on Vancouver Island, but as the festival community has grown in recent years, Blues Bash now serves as the lead-in to a busy September of events. Competition hasn’t soured festival founder Darryl Mar, who produces the event through the Victoria Jazz Society. He likes that his event has come to be associated with the last hurrah before students — and parents of said students — return to school for the year.

“Until a few years ago, we always bookended the summer with the TD Victoria INternational Jazz Festival [another annual festival Mar and the Victoria Jazz Society produce] in June and Blues Bash on Labour Day weekend. The landscape has changed, but we still consider Blues Bash the end of summer party. We have a pretty dedicated blues audience that looks forward to this event every year. It’s not a hard sell.”

Blues Bash has booked a pair of blues veterans as headliners this weekend. Tinsley Ellis, a powerful blues shredder who has played with everyone from Derek Trucks to Buddy Guy, performs Saturday at the Ship Point main stage, while Minnesota’s Davina and the Vagabonds — whose titular singer and pianist creatively bridges blues and jazz — are at Ship Point on Sunday.

Mar said a new twist this year are a pair of nighttime performances at the Rubber Boot Club, which give the festival a total of four ticketed performances. Vancouver R&B favourites Brickhouse perform at the Rubber Boot Club on Friday, while Juno-nominated Vancouver performer Adam Robert Thomas is on stage at the Store Street nightclub (located underneath Swan’s Hotel and Brewpub) on Saturday.

“Since [main stage programming] winds down at 10 p.m. at Ship Point, we noticed that audiences were still looking for something to do,” he said. “This gives them somewhere to keep the party going.”

A large part of Blues Bash’s enduring appeal is tied to the three days of free locally sourced programming. Groove Kitchen, Don Peterson Blue Sky, Adam Robert Thomas and Bill Johnson Band are on deck at Ship Point on Saturday, while the Deb Rhymer Blues Band, McKinley Wolf, David Vest, and Uncle Wiggly’s Hot Shoes Blues Band perform Sunday, and the Maureen Washington Blues Band, the Kingmixers, Brett Smith-Daniels, and the Midnights go live on Monday.

By offering afternoon performances from a dozen Victoria acts, 70 per cent of the Blues Bash programming is presented free of admission. Coupled with a pair of legitimate touring headliners, Mar feels that Blues Bash offers one of the fan-friendly values in what is becoming an otherwise expensive festival environment.

“We’ve been really modest with our expectations, because of the outdoor site. The maximum we can have down there is 1,200 people at one time, and we present the festival within our limitations. I don’t go for the big money acts just to generate a lot of publicity but not sell enough tickets to cover that. The focus is on presenting local and regional acts in the afternoon, and a couple of touring acts in the evening.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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