Photos by Laura Carbone
At a true festival, live music takes over an entire city. The small city of Trois-Riviѐres, in northeast Canada, celebrated their ninth anniversary, and the blues echoed from the city streets to the major amphitheater, then heated up the bars at night. Situated on the Saint Lawrence River halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, this beautiful Quebec town offered ticketed all-star shows in the new Amphitheater and free shows throughout the city for three nights.
The legendary prog-rock group Styx opened the show on a Thursday night with power ballads and one of the best live rock acts that there ever will be. Friday, the Memphis-based Ghost Town Blues Band opened on the arena grounds, with horns ablaze, leading into the amphitheater show where Mavis Staples and her long time guitarist Rick Holstrom showed everyone why she remains a legend, singing “Respect Yourself,” “You are Not Alone,” “Slippery People” and a rousing “I’ll Take You There” with her message of love and equality. Blues rock veteran Walter Trout delivered a solid show along with his gratitude about surviving recent health battles.
Saturday, on the streets of downtown, newcomer Heather Gillis (a protégé of Butch Trucks and a package deal of youth, powerful vocals, charm and talent) held a slamming solo set. Next, Toronto-based guitarist Sean Pinchin, a nominee for this year’s Juno for “Blues Album of the Year,” delivered soulful lyrics, humorous stories and amazing guitar licks; Michael Jerome Brown, without doubt one of Canada’s’ finest roots musicians followed, and Jamiah Rogers, one of Chicago’s most talented child musicians, recalled Hendrix. The highlight for this writer was Shawn Holt and his professional band: they delivered real-deal Chicago blues that bought the crowd screaming to their feet and would have bought “Teardrops” to his daddy Magic Slim’s eyes.
Saturday night at the Amphitheater was the Danielle Nicole Band (including guitarist Brandon Miller and drummer Rodd Bland, son of the legendary Bobby Blue Bland), packing a mean bass, a golden voice and moving ballads. Jonny Lang the Festival headliner, lived up to his icon status with a hair-swinging and musically mesmerizing set. Lang played hits from the spectrum of a career that began at the age of 15, including “Angel of Mercy,” “Rack Em Up,” “Red Light” and ending with a slower, sultry version of his breakout hit, “Would I Lie To You?”
Sunday afternoon featured the hotly-contested finals for the Solo-Duo competition to become the Montreal Blues Society’s entry in the 2018 International Blues Challenge—hard fought with good reason—the Montreal Blues Society captured both the first and second place winners the last two years. This year the torch passed to Steve Hill, already known as one of Canada’s top guitarists, a player who should be standing on the finals stage at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis next year.
Sunday night, a welcome return performance of the Danielle Nicole Band as well as Memphis’s Blues sweetheart, Gracie Curran and her High Falutin’ Band packed fun into live blues. Then the unassuming Joanna Connor melted the faces off the audience with her stunning guitar prowess; she was joined on stage with a sacred steel guitar performance by Heather Gillis, who Joanna fondly called her “long-lost daughter.” The Chris Duarte Group closed the show with his signature ferocious acid blues. Diehard blues fans then repaired to the bars for a last drink and a late-night Sunday jam with Dwane Dixon, Chris Duarte, Timo Arthur of the Gracie Curran Band, Jamiah Rogers and his drummer, Cameron.
With a range of shows from newcomers on the streets to major arena artists and set in the charm of a beautiful small Quebecois city, this festival should be on everyone’s vacation list.