Rain? What rain?
Yeah it poured for about an hour in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, but the crappy weather did little to dampen the spirits of Thunder Bay Blues Festival attendees or the musicians there to entertain them.
“(I) had a great time in spite of the weather,” said teen guitar virtuoso Matthew Curry, the 17-year-old collecting a legion of new fans with a blistering afternoon set that set the stage for the headliners to come.
By the time legendary blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan hit the stage, a couple hours before dusk settled in over Marina Park, the rainclouds were long gone, and though the skies remained overcast, the party had just begun.
Vaughan roared through a collection of his laid-back catalogue, highlighted by his two-decades old tribute to his younger brother Stevie Ray Vaughan, killed tragically in a 1990 helicopter crash leaving Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley amphitheatre.
Six Strings Down brought a crowd aching to dance and sing to its feet, chanting along as the elder Vaughan welcomed his brother into heaven’s greatest jam session, alongside other blues guitar greats like Albert Collins, Muddy Waters and the Voodoo Child himself, Jimi Hendrix.
“It’s great being here in Thunder Bay, thanks for having us,” said the no-nonsense Vaughan to the audience, preferring to let his music speak for him for most of this night.
The 63-year old co-founder of the Fabulous Thunderbirds (whose songs were not included in his set) paved the way for up-and-coming rockers Rival Sons, taking time for a quick backstage photo shoot with Vaughan, who spent a good 20 minutes signing autographs for fans and even invited several local musicians back to his trailer to talk shop.
Arriving just as the sun was starting to set over Thunder Bay, the American rockers channelled their inner Led Zeppelin, did their best Bad Company impression and threw a little Deep Purple vibe into the mix for good measure.
While not thoroughly versed in their music, the crowd ate up the unlikely headliners, a favourite of festival organizer Bob Halvorsen, pumping their fists and grooving out to the likes of Pressure and Time and Keep on Swinging, songs that have received plenty of radio airplay in recent months.
Other highlights of Day 2 included a rip-roaring performance by up-and-coming brother act Colin Campbell and the C-Notes, who provided a mixture of their own tunes – including one the 17-year-old lead singer and guitarist wrote in seventh grade – and rocking covers ranging from John Fogerty to Chuck Berry.
As always, the Groove Merchants were on hand, honouring the legend of their former leader, the late Walter Smith.
Smith always considered Thunder Bay a second home, and his widow Shirley on Saturday made sure a part of him remained in the Lakehead forever, spreading some of his ashes into Lake Superior in an early-evening ceremony.
Festival spokesman Trevor Hurtig said the weather was touch-and-go for awhile, but all-in-all things worked out well.
“There’s a really nice crowd here,” he said. “I always say, Thunder Bay is fantastic at the one swift motion of pulling your hood up on your jacket, getting your umbrella up and you don’t even miss a beat. It’s just fantastic to see that there are dedicated fans out there. And the music, I think, was worth staying for.”
The festival wraps up Sunday, with the likes of Serena Ryder, the Spin Doctors and the Wallflowers topping the bill. Local act Tracy K kicks things off at noon. The gates open at 11 a.m.
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