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Thunder Bay Blues Festival cancelled for 2020

Lack of headline-worthy acts available to come to Thunder Bay in July cited as the main reason the event won't take place this summer. Organizers holding out hope they can bring it back in 2021.

THUNDER BAY -- The Thunder Bay Blues Festival will take the summer off.

Organizers, citing a lack of availability of headliner quality talent to top the bill at the three-day waterfront festival, said it became clear that in order to maintain the standard set in recent years it was best to skip 2020 and concentrate on 2021.

"We pull out the stops to try to make things happen," said the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium's Trevor Hurtig, recalling a deal to charter a plane to allow Sara McLachlan to fly to Toronto after her Blues Festival appearance to see her children, clinching the deal.

"To make something not happen, it's just against our nature. It's not something we like to do by any means. But unfortunately this year there wasn't much option."

It's not for a lack of interest on the part of the ticket-buying public.

The event quickly sold out the past two summers, with the likes of McLachlan, Bryan Adams and Sheryl Crow topping the lineup.

This year was a different story, with one potential headliner backing out and several other options, including Neil Young and Stevie Nicks, proving too expensive for the market to bear. Joan Jett, who was on their early radar, instead decided to tour with Motley Crue, Def Leppard and Poison.

"It really came down to the fact that a lot of these artists were going out on these mega tours, where there are four or five artists on the bill and they're going all over North America and Europe. When those artists come out of the mix, it's really hard to put together a lineup for a single festival, because they're just gone," Hurtig said.

Other artists were holding out for tours of their own, weren't planning to hit the road, or declined the offer.

The event began in 2002, with Canadian legend Colin James and the late, great Jeff Healey among those sharing the stage.

Over the years the festival began a gradual shift away from the blues, acts in the genre generally relegated to an afternoon billing.

Legendary acts like Dr. John, Buddy Guy and Ten Years After are among the memorable Blues Fest alumni over the years. In later years, acts like the Spin Doctors, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Kenny Wayne Shepherd took the stage.

Organizers considered curating a festival with lesser tier acts, but were worried a lack of big names atop the lineup poster could hurt ticket sales.

"We did look at that, but it really came down to the fact it would be bands that have been through here so, so many times," Hurtig said. "Even at that point we were getting a lot of pushback and resistance that they were waiting to see what was going out and what they could latch onto as well.

"That was really the final crux. When we got down into the B-level acts, if you will, and they were still somewhat unwilling to commit, the writing was on the wall. We just couldn't proceed."

Hurtig said the plan is to regroup and see if the festival can be brought back next year.

"We're definitely hoping to revive this and keep it going in the future. For this year it was obvious we weren't going to be able to get the talent we were looking for." he said.

Music fans won't be completely left without options on the waterfront this summer.

Country on the Bay, featuring Toby Keith and Terri Clark atop the bill, is scheduled for the same Marina Park venue from July 24 to July 26. Blues Fest had originally been announced for July 10 to July 12.

The Wake the Giant Music Festival, which last year brought July Talk, Coleman Hell and Metric, is scheduled for Sept. 19 at Prince Arthur's Landing. No lineup details have yet to be released.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith has been the editor of Thunder Bay Source for 18 years and has served a similar role with since 2009. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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