Music with Sass

This year's Thunder Bay Blues Festival has plenty of talented women, including Canadian Sass Jordan who was in Thunder Bay in 2016 for Fort William Historical Park's Fort Fest.

FOUR Canadian music events are joining an international pledge to fight inequality in the industry by vowing to have gender parity across their lineups by 2022, the Canadian Press reports.

Why wait? Thunder Bay’s Blues Festival isn’t. The headliners on all three nights this year are women: Melissa Etheridge, Sarah McLachlan and Pat Benatar. Oh, and there’s Sheryl Crow!

Of 19 acts at the July 6-8 waterfront festival, 10 are women or bands headed by women.

The move to get more women at live music events is being led by U.K. talent firm PRS Foundation, which founded a program called Keychange in the hopes of "empowering women to transform the future of the music industry." Montreal's electronic music festival Mutek, western Canadian-based conference BreakOut West, and both North By Northeast and Canadian Music Week in Toronto are among 45 global events agreeing to take part in the initiative.

“We are already ahead of the curve on this one,” says Bob Halvorsen, chief organizer of the Thunder Bay Blues Festival which is 17 years old this summer.

Asked what prompted him to beat most other festivals to the punch, Halvorsen said it began with McLachlan, this year’s first 2018 Bluesfest signing some three months ago. “I got to thinking about her and Lilith Fair (a concert tour and travelling festival she co-founded in 1997 consisting solely of female solo artists and female-led bands). I did some research on who played with her on those tours — naturally Sheryl Crow was first on the list,” Halvorsen explained.

He contacted Crow’s agency, William Morris, and told them he was thinking of staging an all-female headlining festival similar to Lilith Fair. “We had never done this in the history of the Bluesfest,” said Halvorsen. “That and what has been transpiring around the world today (the resurgence of women as a powerful social force) — that got Sheryl involved. And the rest of the headliners (Etheridge and Benatar, who was also at the original Lilith Fair) evolved from there.”

This is the latest development in the evolution of Bluesfest in Thunder Bay. What started as an all-out blues affair was forced, like most such events, to adapt to the tastes of a wider audience in order to survive. While always maintaining a healthy blues component, the festival recently weathered the decline of the loonie in relation to the U.S. dollar by staging all-Canadian events. This year, with women asserting themselves in entertainment and politics, the Lilith Fair model served Bluesfest’s interests.

Etheridge headlines the festival’s opening Friday night. A double Grammy winner for Ain’t It Heavy and Come To My Window she is a consistent chart topper with many other hits sure to be included at Bluesfest including Bring Me Some Water and I’m The Only One. She is also a leading activist for the LGBT community.

Etheridge and Saturday night’s closer, McLachlan, have just finished touring together — or, rather, floating together on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. The Melissa Etheridge Cruise was another take on Lilith Fair with 19 female musicians and McLachlan as special guest.

McLachlan is a global superstar whose life has been a mixture of success and sadness that inevitably finds its way into her music.

As noted in these pages prior to her second Community Auditorium performance in 2014, “McLachlan is a source of national pride whose music is played and loved by Canadians of many ages for its ethereal quality mixed with compelling melodies and identifiable lyrics.” Songs like Building A Mystery and Angel and LPs such as Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Surfacing put McLachlan and her mezzo-soprano voice in a league of her own.

Benatar is a staple of rock music. Her career began in the 1970s when she quit her job as a bank teller and took her interest in music to an open mic night in New York. Despite being 27th on the list, her 2 a.m., rendition of Judy Garland’s Rock A Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody “sent the crowd reeling” as related on her website. Career highlights like Love Is A Battlefield and Hit Me With Your Best Shot confirmed a bold and distinctive artist whose enduring partnership with guitarist Neil Giraldo is also a rock ‘n’ roll love affair.

Crow is surely one of the greatest pop-rock-blues-country artists of her generation. From 1994’s Tuesday Night Music Club and smash singles like Leaving Las Vegas and All I Wanna Do, it was instantly apparent that this was a star in the making. Her second, self-titled album confirmed it with hits like If It Makes You Happy and A Change Would Do You Good. An amazing and eclectic catalogue has followed. A DVD of of her 2003 C’mon America tour performance at the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, Ohio, is a masterpiece of live music. A must-see performer with her veteran band, Crow is a musical force to behold.


While the big names for this year’s Thunder Bay Blues Festival are Melissa Etheridge (Friday), Sarah McLachlin (Saturday), Sheryl Crow (Saturday), and Pat Benetar with Neil Giraldo (Sunday), fans who come early won’t be disappointed with the rest of the lineup.

FRIDAY, July 6

• Big Wreck. Canadian-American band featuring originals Ian Thornley and Brian Doherty.

• Sass Jordan. A perennial Canadian favourite with 3 Junos for Best Female Vocalist.

• The Angies. An all-woman Stones band named for the 1973 hit, they won a Thunder Bay Blues Society spot at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

• Arley Hughes. Another local Blues Challenge winner now working on her second album.


• Arkells. Hamilton’s favourite band, and one of Canada’s.

• Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers. A woman whose saxophone and vocal talents bring to mind Jr. Walker.

• The Blues Brotherhood. A tribute to the Blues Brothers. • Spencer Mackenzie Band. New Artist of the Year Maple Blues Award winner at 18.

• Boardroom Gypsies. A longtime local favourite band, with twin female vocalists and killer horns.

SUNDAY, July 8

• The Magpie Salute. Prediction: this will be the pleasant surprise of the 2018 festival, headed by Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson and including other Crowes members.

• Alan Doyle. Never a dull moment. A Canadian music treasure.

• Mary Bridget Davies. An International Blues Challenge winner from Cleveland, she was named Best New Artist at the 2013 Blues Music Awards.

• Blackburn. Three brothers and a bassist from Toronto, nominated for Blues Album of the year at the 2016 Junos.

• The Chain. Headed by vocalist Chrissy Ewacha Klass, “The Chain plays a sparkling platter of blues, rock and R&B with smile fetching enthusiasm,” writes local blues authority Ken Wright.

• Southern Comfort. Fronted by perhaps the city’s finest slide guitar player, Dave Jonasson.

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